The Global Cultural Districts Network (GCDN) is a federation of global centers of arts and culture. It is an initiative of the New Cities Foundation, Dallas Arts District, and AEA Consulting. The Network’s mission is to foster co-operation and knowledge-sharing among those responsible for conceiving, funding, building, and operating cultural districts; and to help to ensure that these projects are vital assets for their communities, contributing to the vitality of 21st century cities.
The Network serves to support the leaders of cultural districts – both planned and existing – internationally. It provides the following services for its members:
- Regular convening to share emerging best practices, hear expert panels, and discuss the place of cultural districts in urban policy, economic development, and related areas of public policy such as travel and tourism;
- Original research on topics of common interest such as programming, audience development, cultural tourism, professional development, relevant rends in technology and creative industries strategies;
- Regular summaries and circulation of secondary research and news of common interest;
- Virtual forums for detailed sharing of information and discussion of opportunities and challenges;
- Opportunities for establishing strategic partnerships for content, programming, skills training, and knowledge transfer.
The GCDN is governed by an Advisory Board and is supported by its Members.
Over the next decade, some $US 250 bn will be invested in the creation of new cultural districts around the globe. A successful cultural district is not just one that is built, but one that, once built, thrives and, in thriving, animates the city or region that it serves. This holistic definition of success is central to the Network: success is not just getting an arts building or series of buildings out of the ground, it is about ensuring that they are viable and play a central role in their communities.
Cultural buildings – museums, theaters, performing arts centers, and the like – have played a major role in defining the identity of established global capitals like London, New York, Berlin, and Paris, but many of the entertainment and arts districts in which they are located have developed organically, often over the course of several centuries, and without formal investment strategies. Today, cultural infrastructure is increasingly planned large-scale and top down: Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, Beijing’s Olympic Green, Dallas Arts District, Chicago’s Millennium Park, Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, Singapore’s Esplanade, Doha’s Cultural District offer models of how high-profile urban developments have been planned to embrace cultural activities as an important part of the public realm. These projects are difficult to get right, and expensive and politically embarrassing to get wrong. They also require a great deal of expertise across a range of disciplines.
There is a significant ‘pipeline’ of such projects at the planning and construction stage around the world, in addition to those completed in the past two decades. Over fifty are at planning or in construction around the world, alongside the fifty or so that currently exist. The reasons for this global trend are not difficult to find:
- Cultural infrastructure projects play a significant role in nation-building and urban development; and long-term demand may be a subordinate consideration in planning compared with the political priority afforded these overarching goals. This, in turn, means that strategic investment in audience development, marketing, and programming may be all the more important;
- Globalization has led to competition between cities and regions for inward investment, knowledge workers, and tourists. Large-scale cultural projects are now an increasingly important driver of competitiveness and are key in branding and differentiating regions and cities.
The common agenda of cultural districts around the world includes:
- Content and programming strategies;
- The development of strategic alliances to share content;
- Cultural project management;
- Segmented strategies for development of key audience groups and subsequent marketing (local communities, tourists);
- Marketing, branding and identity;
- The development of education and outreach programs that enable meaningful relationships between the cultural districts and the wider communities in which they are located; and
- Recruitment and training of staff across a range of operational skills, and in particular, curatorial, programming, production, customer service and front of house, and fundraising; and
- The effective integration of technology.
The GCDN is the first forum to exist for those responsible for these projects in which they can analyze and solve their common challenges, the scope for collaboration and evolving practice.