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Culture: a tool for strategic change in place management

Piece Hall, Halifax

Just as place management structures include a core cohort of representatives from local government, education, health, voluntary / social / community / faith organisations, business and anchor institutions and employers - so it should include creative thinking via local artists and creatives.”

 By Amy Lewis, Culture & Place Consultant at IPM Partner, CTConsults


The use of culture and heritage as a tool for placemaking and regeneration is well documented and increasingly well understood. Culture is the dynamic expression of place. It’s what animates, inspires and draws people to it. Cultural placemaking interventions are enormously valuable in developing civic pride and driving economic growth, amongst multiple other benefits. And, more often than not, it’s local culture and heritage which provides distinctiveness to your place.

The Local Government Association’s paper ‘People, Culture, Place’ offers plenty of examples of excellent cultural and creative interventions, which have improved place perceptions, involved communities and used co-creation practices. It’s brilliant to see culture being embedded as a tool and a catalyst for regeneration and placemaking, helping communities understand and celebrate what makes their place unique.

The challenge

Cultural placemaking is part of the regular cycle of having to make the case for investment in culture. The mentality must shift from perceptions of culture as a subsidised luxury, to a powerful - and huge - industry sector that is a foundation stone of a successful place. It’s hard to name one successful place around the globe that is not culturally-rich.

We know that regeneration and placemaking is often driven by funding requirements - and while the likes of UKSPF are very welcome, the funding is often held by those who lack experience, expertise and connections in the cultural sector, and so the investment isn’t strategic - either for place or culture. Another challenge is securing the legacy of a cultural intervention. Recent place-based strategic funding programmes have focused on capital projects, with little revenue funding for ongoing or sustained activity. Securing the legacy of a programme is as difficult for a small community programme as for a UK City of Culture.

However, all too often the impact of these programmes is largely temporary. In too many places, culture is an afterthought or viewed as ‘a nice to have’. As with many arts programmes, funding for cultural placemaking interventions is project-based and therefore time-limited or lacking depth and quality. And whilst communities may have a brilliant experience in their place through such programmes, the impact is inevitably somewhat short-lived. We regularly see cultural interventions such as murals celebrating a local hero, or participatory parades with local community groups. These are great interventions for those involved, but are not enough to shift the dial on place perceptions for the long-term.

Promoting structural change

How can culture be used to create real structural change in places? One solution is incorporating local expertise in culture and heritage into place management structures.

Just as place management structures include a core cohort of representatives from local government, education, health, voluntary / social / community / faith organisations, business and anchor institutions and employers - so it should include creative thinking via local artists and creatives.

In doing so, you are also embedding place-based, authentic, creative thinking into your place values, brand narrative and decision-making practices - from the outset.  Not only will this prioritise the very sector which creates differentiation for your place, but it will usually offer new perspectives and yield surprising (and ongoing) results.

And importantly, they should be fairly compensated for their time and expertise. Much of the creative sector is non-salaried, so preparing for and participating in meetings on a voluntary basis comes at an opportunity cost for paid work. CTConsults recently supported Blackpool through a strategy development process where non-salaried participants were compensated for their time to attend and prepare for meetings.

Embedding creative thinking into place management:

We can all rattle off the big UK cities and the wave of cultural regeneration that has spread the love from London to Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol continues, especially across the post-industrial North. It’s easy to dismiss the cities as ‘of scale’, with considerable assets and investments and therefore not comparable to smaller or more rural places. But it is less about what you have, and more about what you do with culture to embed it into everyday life, that counts. Take Halifax: the Piece Hall, an 18th century cloth hall, was once marked for demolition but now is host to gigs, theatre, art installations, markets and the centre of Halifax’s cultural repositioning and place management; or Folkestone - its cultural renaissance began in the town centre, bringing in artists, who created work, which people and communities wanted to engage with, and so more artists came and lived there. It is now of-scale, embedded, and part of Folkestone’s success.

Piece Hall, Halifax

Above: a view of the Piece Hall in Halifax, a grade 1 listed former Cloth Hall

Great practice is out there; in towns, villages, cities and regions, rural and urban, wealthy and struggling. And it can be in your place too, with the right connections, partnerships, and leadership. Major changes can be made, one step at a time. Lowestoft is using heritage and culture as regeneration drivers, even attracting a major art studio to the high street in the former post office - but creative community practice and enterprise is at the heart. In Withington (Greater Manchester), a street art programme ‘Withington Walls’ has been crowd-funded by local people and businesses (and the council) to make the shop shutters and gable ends into a public gallery - and paying local artists for their work. And Cumberland has created a Citizen’s Assembly, which has already helped to commission new artwork in Workington. All of these are examples of local people who have been empowered to use culture and creativity for placemaking and regeneration in their own communities, in a way which is sustainable.

What does this mean for you?

So, my call to place leaders is to consider how your place partnerships actively embeds culture and heritage. Ask yourself:

  • What makes your place different from the next place over? Is it culture, heritage, arts…?

  • Do you really understand the importance and potential of culture, heritage and the creative industries to your place?

  • What is the cross-sectoral composition of your place management organisation? Does it include a representative from the cultural / creative sector?

  • If / when you do have a creative representative in your place management group, to what extent are they encouraged and enabled to exert their creativity (via strategic programming and decision-making?)

  • Freelance or non-salaried creatives need to be compensated fairly for their time. Can you commit to this on an ongoing basis? If not, can you offer other valuable compensation (such as free use of space for creative practice)?

  • Do your major capital programmes include an appointed artist / creative producer / cultural coordinator from the outset, or can they?

  • How can you involve your community in creative commissioning and placemaking… and ensure artistic quality?

  • What is the legacy of your creative commission? How can the activity, and impact, be sustained?




Amy Lewis

About the author

Amy Lewis

Amy joined CTConsults - a Partner of the Institute - from a career dedicated to using arts, culture and heritage as catalysts for regeneration, placemaking and audience development. She loves to think creatively and strategically, and consider questions through different lenses.

Amy has worked for many of the cultural organisations around Manchester and the North West, from stewarding events in a high vis to securing multi-million pound grants for capital projects. Amy combines her tenacity, perceptivity and experience to help destinations understand how culture can be used as a tool to achieve their ambitions.

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