Arts, Sustainability and the City

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Feb 25, 2016
by Louise Hallman
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Arts, Sustainability and the City

What role do cities play in using culture and the arts as a catalyst for sustainability? Panelists Marco Kusumawijaya, Zayd Minty, Ania Rok, Margaret Cullen and Anupama Sekhar 

At the international policy level, such as the Sustainable Development Goals or Agenda21, explicit references to “culture” are often left out, but cities are included – “and once you have cities, you have culture, because cities know the importance of culture,” said a panelist at the Salzburg Global Seminar program Beyond Green: The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability.Session 561

Thus cities prove a valuable means of promoting culture at the international level. Some dismiss the need for explicit inclusion in such agendas because “culture is everywhere,” but “if culture is everywhere, it will be nowhere.”  

Cities “understand” culture, as well as heritage and tourism. Their smaller size and forms of representation means cities can engage their citizens in a more direct manner than states and regions, and art can be a valuable method of engagement. “The time that the town hall makes all of a city’s decisions are over,” remarked one Fellow; cities need to engage their citizens. Artists are especially well-placed to help assert the fact that cities are a place for solidarity, community and equity, especially in cities where there are huge disparities between the rich and the poor, rather than just drivers for economic growth and development.

This is not to say that artists should be willing to be “instrumentalized” by their cities, but instead form partnerships and help cities imagine artistic engagement in manners they may never have considered – and imagine a shared future. Co-creation and participatory design projects can help promote dialogues throughout the city. As one Fellow remarked, “We need to build dynamic relationships that allow people to articulate what they want at a grassroots level.” 


The Salzburg Global session Beyond Green: The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability is part of Salzburg Global’s long-running Culture and the Arts series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, the Bush Foundation and Red Bull Amaphiko. More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/561. You can follow all the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.