Wide Angle

Culture: giving cities a human face

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“We Are All One”, the world’s largest mural (3,000 square metres) painted by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra to mark the 2016 Rio Olympics. Five massive faces represent the five continents.
When mayors of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) got together from 30 June to 2 July 2017 in Enghien-les-Bains (France) for their XIth Annual Meeting, they put culture at the top of their agenda. This included respecting and appreciating the cultures of the different communities living in their cities, involving artists and citizens in joint projects, and fostering dialogue between communities – in other words, recognizing the role of culture as a factor in urban development that is inclusive and reassuring. 

At the meeting, the mayors adopted a new strategic framework and called on cities in the network to do more to integrate culture and participation in their policies. Mayors from Brazil to New Zealand all agreed that culture helps communities live together harmoniously.

Interviews by Lucía Iglesias Kuntz

Zenaldo Coutinho, Mayor of Belém do Pará (Brazil), 1.5 million inhabitants.

“Belém is the first port of access to the Amazon, giving it an extraordinary cultural diversity. Culture helps communities to express their local identities and encourages dialogue. It stimulates intense interaction between socio-cultural groups and the local authorities, especially as Brazil is going through a dire ethical and economic crisis.” 

Brandi Harless, Mayor of Paducah, Kentucky, United States, 25,000 inhabitants.

“Culture can be a mechanism for peace, specifically in the US at a time when our politics are very divisive. I am in a city of non-partisanship where we are all on the same level. We talk about city issues rather than partisan political issues.

Culture is our foundation, and we all resonate with it. We are known for our quilt-making, and have the National Quilt Museum. About fifteen years ago, we had a decrepit neighbourhood that needed to be revitalized. The city offered houses to artists for $1, which they had to renovate, and include an art studio. This attracted about fifty artists, providing a new creative environment that we didn’t have before.”

Marc Chassaubéné, Deputy Mayor of Saint-Étienne (France), 170,000 inhabitants.

“Artists have been working a lot with the people of Saint-Étienne. Jordan Seiler from the United States, for example, is looking at urban advertising with residents. He has invented the “NO AD” app, which displays a work of art on a screen when you put your smartphone or tablet up against an advertising display. Getting everyone − from the mayor to a child from a working-class neighbourhood − to work on the same art project, is an ideal way to nurture ideas of equality.”

Asaad Zoghaib, Mayor of Zahlé, Lebanon, 150,000 inhabitants.

“I think the most important thing to have culturally, in a country like ours, is public awareness − when people know themselves, and recognize the rights of others. Our city is working on building public awareness, transparency and accountability.”

Dave Cull, mayor of Dunedin, New Zealand, 125,000 inhabitants.

“New Zealand’s first inhabitants, the Maōri, lost their land to colonizers in the nineteenth century. We are now going through a healing process, where they are being compensated, and getting back their pride.  

Today, my city is a refugee resettlement destination for Syrian refugees − we have taken in 200 so far. One way of using culture to achieve peace is to accept more diversity − to respect and to commemorate the cultures that make your community what it is.”