Following the successful UCLG Culture Summits held every two years since 2015, UCLG officially launched its 4th Culture Summit in Izmir, Turkey, under the title “Culture: Shaping the future”.
On 10 June 2021, mayors and cultural stakeholders committed to the relation between culture and sustainable and people-centered development met virtually and in Izmir, Turkey, to officially launch the 4th edition of the Culture Summit of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG).
The event gathered up to 240 participants, among which mayors and elected representatives of cities and local and regional governments from across the world, representatives from international cultural organizations and networks, academics, activists, artists and cultural actors to discuss the place of culture in development, and more particularly in post-covid19 recovery strategies and policies.
The President of UCLG, Dr. Mohamed Boudra, welcomed the participants and argued that cultural rights are essential in the safeguard of freedoms for all and therefore they must enlighten public policies at all levels, including cities and local governments strategies in the long-term. He stressed the need for “communities and cultural agents and actors not only to take part in, but to be at the core of the global conversation on development and debates on the future of humanity” and recalled how the covid-19 crisis has triggered a wider reflection on the relationship between humanity and nature, the role of creativity, innovation and science, as well as the time and resources dedicated to cooperation and solidarity before the outbreak of the pandemic.
Tunç Soyer, Mayor of Izmir, as host of the UCLG Culture Summit, emphasized the crucial role played by culture in local development: “cultural engagement plays a key role in poverty reduction and strategies to support communities-at-risk. It helps cities develop compelling narratives. Culturally rich districts enhance quality of life, and cultural heritage is a key factor in rural development, supporting tourism and community renewal”. He welcomed all participants to this Launch event and announced that the Summit (from 9 to 11 September 2021) will allow cities of the world to work together to connect culture and urban resilience, exchange experiences and ideas to foster cultural policies on heritage, creativity, diversity and knowledge, and promote culture as the fourth pillar of development and a cornerstone of global solidarity.
Culture at the core of a renewed social contract
Lourdes Arizpe, Professor of Social Anthropology, former member of the United Nations Commission on Culture and Development, and former UNESCO's Assistant Director General for Culture and Pierluigi Sacco, Professor of Cultural Economics, Senior Researcher at the OECD, Senior Researcher, metaLAB, Harvard and Rectoral Delegate for European Projects and International Networks at IULM University, held an inspiring conversation facilitated by Serhan Ada, Associate Professor, Head of Arts and Cultural Management Department and Director of the Cultural Policy and Management Research Center at the Istanbul Bilgi University.
Together they debated on the cultural impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as on the role of culture in the post-crisis recovery. Various issues were addressed such as the role of culture in the generation of a new social contract for the future centered on people and care; the relationship between knowledge, innovation, technology and the digital era and human structures and social behaviors in cities; the place of cultural and creative production and consumption and its relationship with solidarity and health, as well as the tremendous impact of the pandemic on artists and cultural and creative sectors, and the need to devote collective efforts, in conviviality, to imagine new models in order to allow them to continue questioning mentalities. The floor was opened for questions and comments, which revolved around the importance for urban life to protect, promote the intangible urban heritage, and concerning policies for the LGBTQ+ community, among others.
The taste of Izmir
Onur Eryuce, advisor to the Mayor of Izmir, introduced local artists and cultural creators from Izmir. The musician Gazapizm Anıl Acar performed a rap song which reflected some of the concerns of the youth in Izmir. A Zeybek dance accompanied by a local Aegean folk song, shot in the historical Kemeraltı Bazaar of the city, illustrated resistance and bravery of Izmir people, and a presentation of Rebetiko music accompanied by a local orchestra brought to the audience the sounds of the Aegean Sea. After the performances, the journalist and author Ece Temelkuran recalled the profound need of cities for culture as a basic human necessity, since humans are what make cities.
Standing on the shoulders of powerful host cities
Core cities and local governments, including the former hosts of the Summit, were invited by Jordi Pascual, coordinator of the UCLG Culture Committee, to deliver key messages as well. Juan María Aburto, Mayor of Bilbao, host city of the Summit in 2015, recalled the crucial role of local and regional governments in promoting culture as a central component of public policies and strategies, as guardians of public life and human well-being. WON Hee-ryong, Governor of Jeju, stressed that hosting the Summit in 2017 had been vital to share innovative ideas and collective wisdom to recognize arts and culture as the driving force towards building sustainable cities. Enrique Avogadro, Co-President of the Committee on Culture of UCLG and Minister of Culture of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (host city of the Summit in 2019), emphasized the urgent need to build back better through culture and to rebuild and reactivate resilient and sustainable cultural ecosystems which were already precarious and have been even more undermined by the pandemic.
Catarina Vaz-Pinto, Vice Mayor on Culture in Lisbon and also Co-President of the Committee on Culture of UCLG, stressed the need for public systems to guarantee adequate funding to cultural institutions and the non-profit sector, and to preserve and protect “slow culture movements” that question existing creation and production models. Finally, Nidai Güngördü, Mayor of Kyrenia and President of Committee on Culture and Tourism of UCLG-MEWA, affirmed that art and culture allow to promote peace and tolerance and are key in conflict resolution, which is very much needed in these times of crisis.
UCLG sections play an important role in the preparation of the Summit. Mehmet Duman, Secretary General of UCLG Middle East and West Asia (UCLG-MEWA), highlighted that “the 4th Culture Summit of UCLG will reinforce the commitment of cities towards the central role of culture in sustainable cities, facilitate the coordination between culture and other policy areas such as education, environment, social inclusion or tourism, align all sub-topics of culture, especially heritage and creativity, with local agendas, and most importantly, emphasize the role of culture in shaping the future”.
The session concluded with final comments of Emilia Sáiz, Secretary General of UCLG, who highlighted that “The right to culture, the access to culture, the capacity to discover, to create, to share, to protect and to enjoy culture will need to be critical to the type of transformation our world needs”. She affirmed that the UCLG Pact for the Future that the municipal movement is developing in 2021 and 2022, for the People, for the Planet, for the Governments, will place culture as a core component. She also acknowledged the appropriateness of organizing the 4th Culture Summit in Izmir given the long trajectory of the city in terms of the protection and promotion of cultural diversity. She finally invited all panelists and participants to join the Summit on 9-11 September 2021 and contribute to the debates on culture and sustainable development, as well as to explore Izmir and its diverse cultural treasures.