Krakow’s Creative Pulse and the UNESCO Creative Cities Network

Creativity is a renewable resource and heritage a non-renewable resource, although its interpretation and meaning might change through time. Together they shape, make and co-create the evolving culture of places in a process that is continually negotiated. Harmonizing the potentially diverging priorities or even tensions of past achievement and contemporary exploration is a wider aim of UNESCO. It can be a positive experience and trigger imaginative responses.

In the global imagination UNESCO remains mostly associated with heritage and its tangible and intangible heritage listings are what it is known for. Its scope of work is of course wider, such as in education and science. Since the early 1980’s it has been concerned with creativity as a form of cultural expression, source of distinctiveness and later a source of wealth creation, employment, image and perception of place. But only from the 2000’s onward did the term creative industries come into popular use. This culminated in the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions under which the Creative Cities Network falls.

The Creative Cities idea was proposed to UNESCO by Lesley Hinds, the then provost of Edinburgh in 2003. The idea had been suggested to the city leadership by Edinburgh’s cultural community and accepted by UNESCO’s then Director General Koïchiro Matsuura.

In parallel from 2005 onward UNESCO undertook substantial advocacy work encapsulated in initiatives such as the International Fund for Cultural Diversity launched in 2010, a multi-donor, voluntary fund that relies on donations from governments, individuals, civil society and the private sector. Related advocacy work and documents include the 2013 Creative Economy Report.

The Creative Cities Network launched in 2004 started with a group of six cities. Currently it is a network of 180 cities from over 70 countries. It is focused on seven fields literature, music, design, film, crafts and folk art, gastronomy and media arts. Celebrating contemporary manifestations of creativity is the raison d’être of the network. Creativity is a powerful renewable resource and heritage a non-renewable resource, although its interpretation and meaning might change through time. Together they shape, make and co-create the evolving culture of places in a process that is continually negotiated. Harmonizing the potentially diverging priorities or even tensions of past achievement and contemporary exploration is a wider aim of UNESCO.

Effective networks are increasingly fluid structures and processes through which ideas and values flow and come alive with network nodes providing the energy rather than the centre. Their coherence comes from the multiple relationships, interactions, joint projects and crosshatches of activity that are bound together by common values and aims. They are alert and responsive, where difference and diversity is encouraged, yet consensus is a common goal. They are more driven by principles than tight guidelines.

In fact, it is more the person who collaborates rather than the abstraction that is the city. Networks are a human endeavour. Their engine is shared values, agreed aims, co-created ideas and programmes, joint planning and ventures. These pre-conditions get people to exchange information, knowledge and their potentially powerful tacit and unexpressed insights. This can generate the desire to create time and extra effort, in spite of other obligations, to develop projects.

The cache of the title acts as a badge of honour and can have multiple impacts if cities understand the title as a flexible tool and what it can do. Then it can be an accelerator of opportunities. Drawing the threads together we can see that the designation is an organizing device for certain cities at a point in their development and related to their size. For these cities, like Krakow, its vision should be stated with clarity, purpose, specific aims and targets. This should combine realism and idealism.

Crucially every city with the right attitude can be more creative than it already is. A creative place has a strong culture. It is somewhere where people can express their talents which are harnessed, exploited and promoted for the common good. Things get done. These talents act as a catalyst and role model to the development and attraction of further talent. It is a place with myriad, high quality learning opportunities, formal and informal, with a forward looking and adaptable and highly connected curriculum.

The physical environment functions well for its inhabitants, it is easy to move around and connect with each other. Its high level urban design inspires, stimulates and generates pride and affection. The architecture, old and new, is well-assembled, and the street pattern is diverse and interesting. Webbed within the ordinary is the occasional extra-ordinary and remarkable.

It is an environment in which creators of all kinds are content and motivated to create and where there are outlets and channels to exploit innovations or for the sale of their work. It is a natural market place, where people exchange ideas, develop joint projects, trade their products and services, or work in its advanced industries.

It offers rich, vibrant experiences through for example gastronomy, the arts, heritage and its natural surroundings, including thriving mainstream and alternative scenes and a healthy network of third spaces. Opportunities abound: the place is welcoming and encouraging. Its dynamism makes it a magnet and so generates critical mass that guarantees longevity.

The political and public framework has a clarity of purpose and direction, and understands the importance of harnessing the potential of its people. It is lean, clear and focused. Its bureaucratic workings are easy to navigate and it is accessible, open and encourages participation. Public employees here are focused on the job at hand regardless of departmental boundaries. Differences are a natural part of this discussion culture. They are debated, accepted, negotiated and resolved without rancor. Its leadership has vision and is strategic yet is grounded in day to day reality. It is respected and trusted and recognizes its vital role in continuously identifying new opportunities and future-proofing.

At its best, there is a high degree of cohesion; this place is relatively open to incomers and to new ideas, even though these can sometimes be uncomfortable – indeed, creative places are often not that cosy and can be somewhat edgy. You feel this place enjoys its status as a creative hub and the physical environment in which it exists. Levels of crime are in general low, the place feels safe and standards of living are relatively high. It is socially alert and seeks to avoid ghettoizing its poorest. Social organizations are active, well-funded and constructive.

Industry is innovative and design aware, with a strong focus on new trends, emerging technologies and fledgling sectors such as developing the green economy or creative industries. It is well networked and connected and its commitment to research and development is well above average. Cross fertilization across even the most diverse sectors occurs as a matter of course. The business community is entrepreneurial, has drive and is forward thinking. It harnesses existing talents and acts as a breeding ground for new skills.

Business leaders are respected figures in their community and give something back. The community in turn is proud of their products and services and the reputation they bring to the place. There are effective communications systems including local and international transport, high speed internet access and connectivity to the world at large.

Overall, as in all creative places, this place is unlike any other. You can feel and sense the buzz, it is obvious to residents and visitors alike. It accentuates its distinctiveness in a relaxed and nonthreatening way. It is at ease with itself. Its history, culture and traditions are alive, receptive to influence and change, absorbing new ideas which in turn evolve and develop its distinctiveness and culture.

Krakow became a UNESCO City of Literature in October 2013. As a result of the designation the Krakow UNESCO City of Literature Office was created within the structures of the Krakow Festival Office. The programme assumed ten key areas as important to the development of its local literary community:
1. Integrate a diverse literary sector
2. Create links between literature and other creative industries
3. Shape attitudes to reading and literature
4. Organize literary events and festivals
5. Support the development of the book industry
6. Improve conditions for the presence of literature in public space
7. Expand scholarship programmes
8. Strengthen connection between literature and human rights
9. Deepen international cooperation
10. Develop literary education programmes

After four years in the network, the City has seen success unlike many other cities in the network, from developing its festivals, which have won international accolades, to retaining its position as the coordinator of the UNESCO Cities of Literature – from culture to diplomacy, it is highly active and effectively taking advantage of the international opportunity and tool that the UCCN is for reaching global goals.

But how well does it do outside of the literature field? Is it using the designation to uplift other creative sectors and artistic fields? We’ll evaluate this through the Creative City Index (CCI), which my team and I are in the process of carrying out.

To participate click on this link to take a short or long survey and express your views on how creative Krakow really is.
Prepared by: Charles Landry

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