If creativity is the answer, what is the question?

One of the functions of the Guild is to act as the bridge between York as a UNESCO Creative City and the international network of Creative Cities. What do the 180 UNESCO Creative Cities from 72 countries around the world have in common?

Photo of the York Guild of Media Arts Logo projected at night in Fabriano, Italy
The Media Arts Cities Projection Project in Fabriano. Photo: Chris Bailey

The Annual Meeting, which this year took place in the Italian city of Fabriano, is an opportunity to find out. We Media Arts City delegates are often surprised by how similar our situations are. Just in our modestly sized group of 14 cities, most of us worry that artists are being priced out of working, living and trading in city centres, we all find that city authorities are hard to persuade that in fact our sector punches way above its weight in economic and social impact, and that ‘austerity’ or its equivalent in other economies, is stifling the supply of talented young people ambitious to get into the creative economy. We have moans aplenty in common, but equally we understand that creativity drives educational success, leads to improved wellbeing, generates higher income levels and helps make more liveable places.

Fabriano is a City of Crafts and Folk Arts and a name probably familiar to you if you have ever bought a sketchbook. An enormous but currently derelict factory that was once capable of producing some of the world’s finest papers and cards, from watermarked government stationery to high denomination banknotes, employed many of the city’s population, which is currently only one-fifth the size of York. The centre of Fabriano was virtually flattened in the late ‘80s by a major earthquake, was then meticulously rebuilt in medieval style, only for the city to be struck again only a few years ago. The extent of the human tragedy is evident. The strategic response has been impressive; achieve the UNESCO designation, establish cultural organisations with the support of local industrial donors, then host the UNESCO Network’s main international meeting in front of your backers and national politicians.

Senior political figures, including Italy’s President Sergio Matarella, came to the meeting in Fabriano to lend their weight to the city’s regeneration, basing their case not just on civil engineering and repairs, but on rebuilding lives and communities around new sectors including the creative industries. The creative cities expert Charles Landry recently reported to UNESCO on what should be done to develop the Network. Alongside some common-sense proposals to do with the structure and management of the Network, he had this to say about our common aims.

"At its simplest a creative city provides opportunities for people, organisations and the city as an amalgam of entities to think, plan and act with imagination in solving problems and creating opportunities and addressing the issues that really matter to them and the world".

We have only just begun to work out how York’s cultural organisations, festivals, research projects, creative industries, education institutions and wellbeing initiatives, could join forces with, for example, Tel Aviv/Yafo’s DLD StartUp Festival, Gwangju’s annual Media Arts Policy Forum, Dakar’s Afropixel workshops, or the large scale media city developments in Chinese cities such as Qingdao, which is a UNESCO City of Film.

The opportunities, if not boundless, are still vast. The first question, to which we have perhaps too many, conflicting answers is, ‘As a city, what does really matter to us and the world?’ As York’s only creative Guild we ought to be able to help find an answer.