Beyond the Cultural City

MADE hosted a talk in November 2011 by Dr Jonathan Vickery on Cultural Policy and the City, during which he suggested ways of thinking about how culture can work with, rather than for, communities

National cultural policy as it stands is fixation on international contemporary ‘artworld art’ – of effectively evangelizing on behalf of this artworld and attempting to convert the public into art spectators. It rather needs to consider how to turn art spectators into cultural citizens, whose life in real cities can be creative and generative of the non-capital investment social investment that is the only way to develop an urban ‘way of life’.

MADE was delighted to welcome Dr Jonathan Vickery, Associate Professor in the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick, to speak on Cultural Policy and the City and suggest ways of thinking about how culture can work with, rather than for, communities.

The Creative City is not just an idea or theory, but has become a symbolic marker of a now defunct era of economic optimism. Throughout this era, ‘creativity’ held out the promise of radical change, and was ubiquitous. The actual ‘Creative City’ idea emerged in strength the mid-1990s as a kind of avant-garde cultural policy. Framed by a growing political investment in urban regeneration in the UK, it aimed for its wholesale policy re-orientation – with the arts, public art and urban design as symbolic leaders in a new city ‘creative turn’. The avant-garde thrust of the Creative City idea was in the promise of a cognitive as well as philosophical alternative to the development of the neo-liberal city after the collapse of modernist urban paradigms in the 1970s. ‘Creative’ would be a way of turning art into life – a new way of thinking, as well as a modus operandi of policy makers, urban planners, city officials, and even industrialists. The artist would displace the engineer as the model of professional labour in the hard physical contexts of the urban realm.

Download the paper 'Beyond the Creative City'

Dr Jonathan Vickery is Associate Professor in the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies, University of Warwick. He has been a Henry Moore research fellow, a director of a research initiative into management and aesthetics called The Aesthesis Project, editor of the journal Aesthesis, and reviews editor and regular contributor to Art & Architecture Journal. He has published articles on urban space, public art, regeneration and art theory. He has co-edited with Diarmuid Costello Art: Key Contemporary Thinkers (Oxford: Berg, 2007), and is editor and author of FLASH@Hebburn (London: A&AJ). He also works as an art critic. At the moment he is writing a book on art, cultural politics and the public sphere, and developing the Art and Architecture Journal with Jeremy Hunt, involving a new website for urban research and a cultural documentary programme.


Refreshing.  The creative city diatribe is a bit like one of those bad spam emails…you think it has been well and truly debunked and pronounced dead; only for it to resurface as some kind if rediscovered deliverance.  We seem to have plenty of folk who ascribe to the cake-mix approach to urban design and planning.  Cities are complex ecosystems, for people to think for one minute there is a template or formula to makin them all identically vibrant and ‘creative’ is the stuff of dreams (nightmares even!).  I liked the aticle by Communian a while ago, and the writings of Julier also.  Let us not get lazy. Cities and the people within them are what will grow and invigorate a city.  Citizen initiated and motivated design and planning is a key to interesting places.  Well done MADE.

Ross Montgomery