Drivers in cultural planning today – Part 1

By Greg Baeker

In my cultural development work, I’ve learnt that no two cultural plans can be the same; every plan must respond to the unique issues and conditions on the ground. However, a series of ‘macro’ issues or themes can be identified that are impacting cultural planning and development globally. This is the first of two blogs that will examine these drivers.

Balancing Cultural Consumption and Production

On the consumption side of the equation, cultural plans prioritize the development of cultural attractions and major festivals as magnets for tourism, retail and associated services. With cultural tourism as one of the fastest growing segments of a global tourism industry, a focus on these strategies is legitimate and important. But too great an emphasis on consumption may leave both the cultural sector and the local economy vulnerable to larger economic trends and downturns over which neither can have much influence.

Cultural plans must also stimulate the production side of cultural development, including a focus on a wide range of activities from fashion, music, media and publishing to digital technology services, design and crafts – collectively what are referred to as the creative cultural industries. Support for development in this sector generates higher paying and more sustainable employment than the often seasonal, low-paid jobs associated with tourism and retail.

Successful cultural plans will nurture both production and consumption, ensuring that they are mutually supportive and that local producers develop goods and services to meet the needs of a wide range of consumers and leverage business development opportunities.

Government Roles and Collaboration

There is a shift occurring in governments at all levels from a traditional “planner-provider-deliverer” model to an increasingly collaborative “enabler-convener-catalyst-broker” model or approach to advancing public agendas. Collaboration, within and between local government departments; between local government and the wider public sector and its agencies; and between local government and the wider community and business spheres offers civic government the potential to pool talent and resources and address social, economic and cultural opportunities in a more consensual way.

In cultural plans these trends frequently manifest themselves in recommendations regarding cross-sectoral leadership groups (sometimes referred to as Cultural Roundtables or Cultural Leadership Councils) to sustain communication and collaboration between the municipality and its cultural, business and community partners.

Diversity and Inclusion

Rising levels of diversity in cities in Canada and globally present both opportunities and challenges in cultural development. Growing diversity make cities more vibrant and cosmopolitan, providing residents with access to a much wider range of food, cultural traditions and forms of artistic expression. However, this same diversity brings with it the challenge of ensuring cities are welcoming places with responsive and relevant cultural programs and services.

Many established cultural organizations grew up at a time of greater cultural homogeneity than is the reality of cities today. Many cultural organizations are working hard to reimagine programs and services to respond to the cultural needs and aspirations of an increasingly diverse population. There is now concrete evidence in Canada that these efforts are having an impact. Cultural participation rates among diverse communities are growing. In many communities cultural plans are calling on cultural organizations to play a role in fostering intercultural exchange and providing inclusive spaces and platforms for community participation.

In my next blog, I will examine three more issues impacting the development and implementation of cultural plans.