From rust bucket cities to cultural capitals

9 November 2009

Cities once labelled 'rust buckets' after losing their manufacturing industries have successfully used the creative arts to help reinvent themselves as 'cultural capitals', Deakin University human geographer Associate Professor Louise Johnson has found.

Her examination of four cities – Glasgow, Bilbao, Singapore, and Geelong – is the basis of her book Cultural Capitals: Revaluing The Arts, Remaking Urban Spaces.

"Each of these cities was a centre of industry until, beginning in the 1970s, their industrial foundations faltered and they were labelled 'rust bucket' cities," Associate Professor Johnson said.

"To survive they had to shift, sometimes painfully, towards becoming service economies. To hasten this transition these cities all utilised the creative arts, with the goal of becoming 'cultural capitals'.

"For Geelong, the path to becoming a cultural capital included a re-imagining of the waterfront precinct and, beginning in the late 1990s, a bid for a southern hemisphere Guggenheim Museum."

Although the city did not end up with a local branch of the Guggenheim, Associate Professor Johnson believes contemplating it as a possibility gave the city permission to think about the possibilities provided by the arts.

"Today Geelong has a refurbished waterfront, arts policies, public art and well-developed plans for an arts precinct."

Geelong isn't the only city in Associate Professor Johnson's book where the Guggenheim name features.

"In the case of Bilbao, a new airport, upgraded public transport and a relocated port were among the huge investments which stimulated its economic recovery. But it was the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum which ensured a new image and a flood of international tourists.

"For Glasgow, becoming the 1990 EU City of Culture not only ensured a huge number of events over that year, but again this designation and commitment to the creative industries helped turned this once great ship building city into a centre of broadcasting, urban design and interior design, all within a regenerated inner precinct.

"And for Singapore, while the collapse of manufacturing wasn't on the scale of Glasgow or Bilbao, in moving to become a 'Renaissance City of the Arts' it has not only invested heavily in the creative industries, it has also loosened its strict censorship codes so that innovative performance arts can occur. A commitment to being a heritage city also saved much of the older domestic architecture of the city."

Associate Professor Johnson describes the book and her findings in optimistic terms.

"This is a story of hope about the creative arts and about creating value and valuing creativity. I think I have shown that the arts really do matter in all manner of ways when it comes to sustainable urban regeneration.

"Establishing a service economy, reinventing city spaces, improving social integration – the creative arts have a role to play in all of these areas.

"Developing the arts in itself isn't going to soak up the unemployment caused by the shutting down of industries, but it can help to create a community with the type of environment that helps it to hang on to the people it needs to create new opportunities – the entrepreneurs and the visionary thinkers," Associate Professor Johnson said.


Media contact

Rebecca Tucker
Media and Corporate Communications
03 5227 8568, 0418 979 134
Email Rebecca

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