Written evidence submitted by Culture Mile
DCMS Call for Evidence
Reimagining where we live: cultural placemaking and the levelling up agenda
Deadline: Friday 15 February 2022 6pm
Word limit: 3,000 words
Formed in 2017, Culture Mile is the City of London’s cultural district, stretching from Farringdon to Moorgate, in the north-west corner of the Square Mile. Culture Mile was established by the City of London Corporation, in collaboration with Barbican, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of London.
Throughout the last five years, harnessing the value of creativity has been a Culture Mile constant: from building economic resilience following the global pandemic, through to developing the most in-demand skills for the next generation of workers. Increasingly diverse stakeholders are acknowledging that culture and creativity play an integral part in bolstering economic growth of individual businesses and the area’s ecology, and this is stimulating an appetite for cross-sector collaboration.
How can culture reanimate our public spaces and shopping streets?
Cultural programmes and events can give a strong sense of occasion and attract large communities to public spaces and retail destinations, especially when well promoted. The content and themes of these programmes can often be based on the heritage of a place and its communities, so typically maximises the general public’s desire for individual, locally distinctive high streets. In addition, place-grounded cultural content has the capacity to not only tell the story of what makes a place unique, but to also coalesce diverse but geographically connected groups in the process.
Some recent Culture Mile examples of public space reanimation include:
The power of culture to reanimate our public spaces and streets was strongly recognised recently through of the work of our Culture & Commerce Taskforce. To harness this potential, several projects were undertaken to test how publicly accessible spaces could be repurposed for creative activity to encourage post-pandemic recovery. More information is available here.
Developers are on the front foot of recognising the commercial benefit of culture, frequently highlighting the arts offer and deploying cultural activations as a means of promoting new developments and areas (for example Brookfield Properties and its Arts Brookfield arm). The critical mass of cultural organisations with charitable status make partnership a ‘win-win’ solution for vacant hospitality and retail spaces; the 80% reduction in business rates is an attractive prospect for a landlord and creative occupation also draws attention back to vacant sites. Creative content can also generate attention-grabbing news coverage, highlight local talent and overcome perceptions of identikit place gentrification.
Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are also recognising the power of culture and, as a result, are often effective partners and commissioners of culture. Plenty of evidence can be seen in the Inspiring Through Places report (GLA/Kings College 2017).
BIDs are increasingly commissioning culture to make their places exciting and appealing to visitors; and Culture Mile aims to evolve the model further through a distinctive ‘culture-led BID’ that can give further momentum to this trend and provide additional ways to maximise the value of and diversify the funding base for arts and culture.
However, the power of culture to reanimate our public spaces and streets is often implied rather than explicit and more is needed to demonstrate the hard economic impact of investing upfront in creative activity.
Culture Mile asks national and local government to support intermediaries nationwide to broker more cross-sector initiatives that reanimate public spaces and streets– sharing good practice examples, sustainable financial models, template licences etc. - to avoid reinventing the wheel and make development of this work more achievable and attractive.
How can creatives contribute to local decision making and planning of place?
Creative Placemaking, the strategic shaping of the physical and social character of places around cultural activities, was first defined in 2010 (Markusen and Gadwa), and the field demonstrates a myriad of ways in which artists, creative sector workers, and cultural assets can be a driving force in placemaking.
The field is fast growing and particularly attracts, and is attractive to, creatives who wish to work outside of traditional cultural spaces and co-create with local communities to interrogate the ways in which places can most equitably evolve. However, artists in particular remain vulnerable to being priced out of urban places so the encouragement of more independent Trusts (e.g., Creative Land Trust) that are tasked with securing land in perpetuity for affordable artist workspace is advised.
Creatives (meaning artists) are still typically peripheral to the formal planning process. However, Culture Mile’s experience shows that inviting artists into design teams is affordable and typically leads to better outcomes. The process can be as much about specification of spaces, securing partnerships, creating community participation and influencing the overall approach to design as it is about public art – so this practice does not necessarily need to imply much additional spend but instead can be a realignment of existing budgets.
Through the Culture & Commerce Taskforce, Culture Mile recently published the Creatives for London report, which explores the value of employing creatives in teams working on built environment projects. This is available here.
Culture Mile believes that transformation of place can only be successful when all parts of the ecology are involved. As a result, Culture Mile facilitates numerous cross-sector forums in order to bring together creative, commercial and civic stakeholders in order to develop and inform local ambitions and decision-making.
Most recently Culture Mile established its Culture Mile Business Partnership, together with a set of Steering Groups, to deliver four local strategic priorities for the area – each of these provides a platform for creative, commercial and civic partners to work together.
Culture Mile calls on the government to safeguard artists’ appetite for local decision making and planning of place through guaranteeing affordable urban studios and sharing examples of positive collaborative practice. Culture Mile also encourages major developer schemes to includes artists and cultural consultants within their design teams, so that scheme designs and partnerships reflect fully the local character, context and creative potential.
How can government support places without established artistic infrastructure to take full advantage of the opportunities that the levelling up agenda provides?
Organisations based in our major cities, including London, can make a strong contribution to the levelling up agenda. Many major arts organisations over the past 20 years have developed approaches which allow them to tour, become resident and develop a satellite presence in places that lack cultural infrastructure. There is also mutual benefit to be derived from London-based & regional organisations partnering to share learning and expertise.
Examples of satellite presence partnership include:
Some new organisations have started specifically on this basis (e.g., METAL Southend; Turner Contemporary Margate; Creative Foundation, Folkestone). Often these rely on significant early investment, a ‘name’ presence and the security of being able to take a long term view. Auditing these projects and other examples to understand the formulae in play would be very worthwhile. (Arts Council England’s Creative People & Places programme is also worth scrutiny.) However architectural proposals should be fully informed by thinking from artists and resident communities at the earliest possible stages.
It is also worth clearly stating London’s role and needs as part of the levelling up agenda. London’s cultural offer plays a critical role in attracting inward investment to the UK as a whole and must not be diminished as this will have knock on effects for the economy collectively. Instead, the levelling up agenda must deliver and maximise impact and investment for places throughout the country, including the capital. In fact, some of the countries most deprived and culturally least engaged communities are still located in London (for example the extreme child poverty in Islington and low arts engagement levels in East London).
As the levelling up agenda creates opportunities for significant and targeted investment in local cultural infrastructure, it is important to bring together local ownership and governance with pre-existing expertise in delivering major projects of this kind (which may come from outside of the region).
Capital projects are by no means the only way to develop significant cultural infrastructure, and can be problematic. There are examples of significant unsuccessful capital projects over the past 25 years (most notoriously, The Public in West Bromwich) and a general focus on capital projects has left the cultural sector with a high fixed costs base overall that arguably limits scope for future innovation.
Therefore, supporting existing infrastructure – including the many ‘amateur’ cultural activities that communities already engage in – as well as existing in digital infrastructure are as much, if not more, critical than landmark capital projects.
It’s worth emphasising that places with advanced cultural infrastructure can coexist with communities that are far from levelled up – historically, many large cultural venues may not have been designed to attract communities on their doorsteps and therefore need to find the balance between their often national/City-wide responsibilities and engaging those less advantaged local communities.
Culture Mile calls on the government to continue to invest in and provide support for levelling up communities across London as well as nationally. In addition, central government should invest in the further research and advocacy required to demonstrate the more substantial long-term commercial wins that can come from investing in creative infrastructure and activities at a nascent stage, and the models that have demonstrated success in this.
How should government build on existing schemes, such as the UK City of Culture, to level up funding for arts and culture?
Big competitions such as UK City of Culture (UKCoC) are undeniably successful for the period when they are operating, but can have a mixed picture in terms of legacy and should not be the defacto format for the wider solution.
The future of long-term financing for arts and culture is an increasingly mixed economy, and what’s compelling about UKCoC is the significant amount of inward investment that can be generated – though it’s worth scrutinising how much of this goes towards funding for arts and culture as opposed to general regeneration investment (infrastructure, new retail centres, etc.).
In the last few years the digital domain has proved that it can be a financially sustainable mechanism for creative expression and engagement, which is not restricted by place. Initiatives like Arts Council England’s The Space, and BBC’s Culture in Quarantine are fascinating case studies that explore how to bring big tech and media companies into this agenda more fully, develop sustainable financial models and link to programmes for digital art and creativity at schools & college level.
Culture Mile calls on the government to commission and deliver research into the investment priorities of funders, understanding their prompts for engagement, how culture acted as a hook and what would entice them to invest more elsewhere. Sharing this insight nationally is an impactful role that Central Government can play.