Creative Cities & COVID-19

Blog 10th May 2023

This guest post from Dr Lauren England, Professor Sami Moisio and Professor Ugo Rossi details some of the activities held and supported by a USF Seminar Series Award grant during 2021-2022.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, urban creative economies and policies scholarship needed to be readdressed to develop more inclusive and sustainable models for development. This need was heightened by a pandemic in which Creative and Cultural Industries (CCIs) were among the worst-hit sectors of the economy alongside radical changes to population distribution and interaction within and with urban spaces and transformations in creative production and cultural engagement. In response to this, the European Creative Cities and COVID-19 event series was developed.

The series included three Urban Forums (primarily online) in 2021 and 2022, and a colloquium in 2022, which expanded geographically and conceptually to focus on “Reimagining Creative Economies”.

The events, particularly the colloquium, supported the development of a network of researchers with a shared interest in rethinking the frameworks of creative cities and urban creative economies, with opportunities for further research and collaborative projects arising.

The event series began with a primarily European focus, with three Urban forums taking place between June 2021 and March 2022 across the three host institutions in Dundee (Scotland), L’Aquila (Italy), and Helsinki (Finland). The Forums were designed as open discussion spaces focusing on the local context, including presentations from local academics and policy stakeholders, round table and panel discussions and interactive workshops using Miro. Participants attended the Forums online due to COVID-19 restrictions. Overall, around 80 people participated in the events, including policy makers, creative and cultural industry representatives and practitioners and academics.

Orange sheet with hand-drawn elements and annotations with post-it notes in different colours
Visualising colloquium discussions on ‘Reimagining the Creative City’ (source: author’s own)

The Dundee Urban Forum (June 2021) was led by Lauren England. The event took place online but was hosted by University of Dundee. The forum began with a presentation from Dr Husam Al Waer (University of Dundee) on “Facilitating 20 min Neighbourhoods: Catalysts for Creative City”. The presentation was followed by a “Creative Economy Futures Workshop” by Professor Mel Woods on virtual co-production methods using the visual collaboration platform Miro. Two panel discussions then took place: the first was a Dundee round table, followed by perspectives from Cape Town, South Africa. Both cities are UNESCO Creative Cities of Design. Local discussants at each panel addressed the impact of COVID-19 on the city’s creative economy, alternative forms of creativity and urban interaction emerging during the pandemic and local opportunities for sustainable and inclusive (re)development. You can find the Miro board and panel discussions here.

The L’Aquila Urban Forum (October 2021) “The visibility and invisibility of culture: Experiences and policies for local community development” was led by Ugo Rossi. The event was held online and in Italian and saw the participation of local artists, cultural activists, PhD students and academic researchers. An opening lecture was delivered by Alessandro Crociata (an associate professor at the GSSI), “The economics and politics of culture-led local community development”. The lecture was followed by an interactive Miro workshop, “Making culture visible in L’Aquila and the Abruzzo Region”. The workshop focussed on the following four issues: 1. The transformation of public space and its impact on urban culture and arts; 2. How to financially support independent cultural workers and artists; 3. The role of cultural institutes and locally active educational institutions; 4. The involvement of local communities in the cultural scene. The Miro board is available to view here.

Two roundtables then took place, chaired by Valeria Pica (GSSI). The first roundtable, “Cultural projects and practices as urban commons”, included the participation of a local artist, a local cultural organiser, a member of a nationwide advocacy campaign for precarised cultural workers, and an art historian. The second roundtable was titled “Voices from the European South: Creative economic practices from below in Southern Italy” and was based on a conversation between Marianna D’Ovidio – an academic researcher of the University of Milan Bicocca who reported on her field research on grassroots economies and their contribution to the bottom-up urban regeneration of Taranto’s historic centre – and Florinda Saieva – the co-founder of Farm Cultural Park in Favara, Sicily, a social project which aims at reusing dilapidated buildings in Favara’s historic core for cultural purposes. Professor Rossi is continuing to run urban forums in L’Aquila.

The Helsinki Urban Forum (March 2022) “Creative economy in the aftermath of the pandemic” was led by Sami Moisio and Ilppo Soininvaara. The idea of the event was to bring together representatives from national and local state level, social movements and academia. The Forum began with a presentation from Petra Tarjanne, Ministerial Adviser for the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy in the Innovation Department on Intangible Value and Digital Transformation. A roundtable discussion followed, with presentations from Salla Mistola – an expert in cultural policy, culture and management and Special Planning Officer for the City of Helsinki – and Jaakko Blomberg – a founder of Helsinki Urban Art NGO. This was a hybrid event, although attended primarily online (given the COVID-19 situation in Finland).

Landscape photograph of the Fondazione Pistoletto skyline, Biella (Italy)
Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella, Italy (source: author’s own)

At the end of June 2022, a two-day in-person colloquium “Creative Cities & Covid-19: Reimagining Creative Economies” was held at Fondazione Pistoletto in Biella, Italy, a UNESCO Creative City for Craft & Folk Art. The event brought together the key themes from the Urban Forums with discussions on key issues emerging.

Photograph of a group of people sat around a table watching a man standing up and speaking with a microphone
Professor Ugo Rossi speaking at the Colloquium, Biella (source: author’s own)

A main focus of the colloquium was on supporting the development of academic papers on Cities and COVID-19. The colloquium also included two guest talks. The first, by Dr Andrea Pollio and Dr Liza Cirola (online) on “Crafting African-Start-up cities: perspectives from Cape Town, South Africa”, provided an opportunity for Global South perspectives to be shared during the colloquium. The second, by Elena Federica Marini, a consultant and project manager at BIA on “Biella UNESCO Creative City, a case study”, provided a stronger connection with the local context and the topic of the colloquium. Whole group discussions considered emerging issues and research directions and questions such as: “In what ways do we imagine reframing & reclaiming the creative city?”; “Who would be reclaiming it for?” and “Who is the audience for this work?”. The event concluded with a whole group reflection on the event and discussion on developing a proposal for a special issue or edited collection focusing on rethinking creative economies for more sustainable and just cities in an era of crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic will be reflected on specifically, but also situated in a longer view as part of unfolding socio-ecological crises and a challenging macroeconomic environment. We continue to explore these opportunities and expand the network.

In June 2023 a “Beyond the Creative City” workshop (hybrid) will take place in London, hosted at King’s College London in partnership with Dr Abigail Gilmore at Manchester University. The aim of this workshop is to further unpack the practical and conceptual dimensions of the “Creative City”, develop the special issue publication and support opportunities for further research and collaborative projects.

To further explore the urban creative economy dynamics of the global South highlighted during the original seminar series events (at the Dundee Forum and Colloquium), a final “African Creative Cities” workshop will be held in Lagos, Nigeria, in November 2023.

Further information about these events will be made available on the project website.