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Culture in cities and regions

Stortorget place in Gamla stan, Stockholm

Across regions and cities in the European Union, culture is highly valued by residents and visitors alike. Cultural and creative industries (CCIs) are also a vital asset for regional economic competitiveness and attractiveness, while cultural heritage is a key element of the image and identity of cities and regions and often times the focus of city tourism.

The 2018 New European Agenda for Culture of the European Commission recognises that cities and regions across the EU are at the forefront of culture-led development and constitute natural partners for experimentation, anticipating trends and exploring models of social and economic innovation.

The latter is also underlined in the Work Plan for Culture 2019-2022 of the Council of the European Union. This also underlines that Member States should pay special attention to the role of culture at local level, to the quality of architecture and the living environment.

The European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage also includes a number of specific actions that are relevant for cities and regions. The proposed European initiatives focus specifically on regenerating cities and regions through cultural heritage, promoting adaptive re-use of heritage buildings as well as balancing access to cultural heritage with sustainable cultural tourism and natural heritage.

Supporting culture on the local level

The European Commission has three main roles in this context:

  1. To provide financial support to local and regional authorities.
  2. To raise awareness about the potential of cultural and creative sectors for regional and local development.
  3. To help local and regional authorities formulate integrated strategies.

Funding for regions and cities is available through a number of EU programmes, also supporting culture in regional development. The European Commission also works with national, regional and city authorities as well as competent international organisations, to share best practice on culture and regional development.

EU funding for culture in cities and regions

Financial support is provided primarily through the European Structural and Investment Funds, consisting of

The cultural and creative sectors need to be integrated into regional and local development strategies in order to promote traditional cultural assets and cultural heritage, stimulate the development of creative businesses, support investment in infrastructure and in human capital as well as bring spill-over effects into the wider local economy. This is in line with the regional economic development principle of Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3), identifying particular strengths and potentials as the basis for investments.

Under European Structural and Investment Funds and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in particular, around 100 European regions have cultural and creative industries and/or cultural heritage included in their Research & Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation, both within regional and national S3 priorities in 2014-2020.

Within Interreg, one of the key instruments of the EU to support regional cooperation across borders through projects co-funded by the ERDF, culture constitutes one of the most popular topics. Between 2014 and 2020 more than 4000 projects and more than €1 billion were devoted to cultural heritage and arts within Interreg.

Relevant recent examples of culture-related Interreg projects can be found, for instance, in the “Connecting Cultures, Connected Citizens” online publications issued by Interact on the occasion of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018.

EU-level cooperation shaping local cultural policies

The European Commission has been working together with the Member States on the topics relevant for cities and regions, including via the Open Method of Coordination. Issues tackled included, among others, the role of public policies in developing entrepreneurial and innovation potential of the cultural and creative sectors and the strategic use of EU support programmes for culture.

As a stand-alone initiative within the EU’s cultural actions, under the European Capitals of Culture programme, cities have been highlighting the richness of European cultures and allowing European citizens to share celebrations of their diversity since 1985, while successfully integrating culture into long-term development plans.

The role of culture for local development has also been addressed at the European Culture Forum, a flagship event of the European Commission organised to raise the profile of European cultural cooperation, and by the Voices of Culture, the European Commission’s structured dialogue with cultural sectors. In 2020, a Voices of Culture group working on the topic of ‘The role of culture in non-urban areas of the European Union’ was convened, with 35 organisations from across Europe to address the question of what the EU can do to promote culture in the peri-urban spaces (outside of urban centres), the suburbs and the periphery.

Within the framework of the Urban Agenda for the EU, a new multi-level working method promoting cooperation between Member States, cities, the European Commission and other stakeholders, a new Partnership was initiated in 2018 on the topic of Culture and Cultural Heritage. More than 30 partners are currently involved in this process.

Helping cities, regions and local stakeholders to learn from each other

The European Commission works with local and regional authorities as well as local cultural stakeholders by facilitating peer-learning and mutual exchanges of good practices.

In 2015-2017, a peer-learning project Culture for Cities and Regions, funded by Creative Europe, examined selected existing cultural initiatives and their impact on local and regional development. Outputs of this project included a catalogue of 70 case studies, study visits to 15 cities/regions, and expert coaching for 10 cities/regions.

In 2016-2018, European Creative Hubs Network project was co-founded by Creative Europe, bringing together more than 200 platforms or workplaces for cultural and creative sectors scattered across European cities, in order to foster their exchanges, strengthen cooperation and facilitate capacity building.

From 2018 to 2021, Cultural and Creative Spaces and Cities policy project co-funded by the Creative Europe programme seeks to develop new ways for cities and regions to bring together the public administration and the cultural sector to co-create public policies. The goal of the project is to show that culture and common practices can transform neighbourhoods and cities into more sustainable places, catalysing better lives for their communities.

In 2020, the European Commission launched Cultural Heritage in Action, a peer-learning programme for local and regional policymakers to exchange knowledge on cultural heritage. 30 initiatives are to be featured in an online catalogue and 12 peer-learning visits will take place, bringing +20 participants each. The initiative is one of the actions of the European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage.

Helping to provide data and analysis on culture for cities & regions

Initiatives facilitated by the European Commission can help to collect data and measure the impact of culture on the local level.

In 2017, the Joint Research Centre developed the first edition of its Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor that aims to show how well 168 selected cities in 30 European countries perform on a range of measures describing their cultural vibrancy and creative economy. The monitor was further updated in 2019.

Since 2019, the European Commission cooperates with the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities on a joint policy project for regions on cultural and creative sectors and local development. This project is part of the European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage, and is co-financed by the Creative Europe programme while it is the OECD Local Employment and Economic Development (LEED) Programme that implements it. Its aim is to provide evidence and guidance to cities and regions on ways to maximise the economic and social value of cultural heritage and support the emergence of the creative economy.

A number of specific initiatives is being carried out on the topic of measuring the socio-economic impact of cultural heritage at territorial level. These are part of the ESPON 2020 Programme, aimed at promoting and fostering a European territorial dimension in development and cooperation by providing evidence, knowledge transfer and policy learning.

In 2018-2019, a targeted analysis HERITAGE - The Material Cultural Heritage as a Strategic Territorial Development Resource was undertaken, while in 2020, an applied research Cultural Heritage as a Source of Societal Well-being in European Regions – ESPON HERIWELL was launched.

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