What Starts Here

Austin joins 18 international cities on ground-breaking project to save local culture

Austin joins 18 international cities on project to save local culture

Jane Ellen Bryant performs at HAAM Benefit Day ATX sign
Austin is one of only 18 cities to be part of the program. Photo by Ben Porter Photography

Austin is part of a new global initiative to find ways to support the creative class. On October 29, Austin was named one of 18 international cities collaborating to find innovative solutions to the challenges faced by the creative sector, including inequity and financial stress exacerbated by COVID-19. 

Joining Austin in the World Cities Culture Forum’s Leadership Exchange Program, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies & Google Arts and Culture, are: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Chengdu, Lagos, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Milan, Montreal, New York, Paris, Stockholm, Sydney, Vienna, Warsaw, and Zurich.

Local government and creative leaders in each city have been tasked to turn their cities into laboratories, and work together on one of seven challenges over the next two years. Each city will share information with their partner cities, as well as the greater group. 

Among the issues to be tackled are:

  • Supporting culture as an expression of democratic participation
  • Providing equitable access to affordable creative space
  • Addressing at-risk cultural venues
  • Creating models of cultural funding that embrace diverse art forms
  • Using data in mapping access to arts activities
  • And ensuring inclusion in the Cultural Olympiad, a program of cultural events that accompanies each Olympic Games

“As we continue to deal with the devastating impact of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that we work together to improve life in our cities. Culture and creativity have the power to accelerate our economic recovery and to unite our communities during these challenging times, and by bringing cities together from around the world we have a unique opportunity to learn from each other,” said Justine Simons OBE, chair of the World Cities Culture Forum, which began as an initiative by the Mayor of London.

For the next 24 months, Austin leaders will work on two of the seven projects. The first is a collaboration with the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne to create better access to affordable creative space."Austin, Sydney and Melbourne will exchange strategies for increasing equitable access to long-term, affordable creative space, and grow the capacity of the creative community," notes a release. 

Its second project will pair the Capital City with Amsterdam, Barcelona, Chengdu, London, Los Angeles, Milan, Montreal, and Stockholm on cultural mapping and data. The cities "will share and develop solutions to support mapping cultural assets, activities, and participation in their cities." The goal, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies, is to exchange ideas to strengthen the culture of each city.

“By bringing together cultural leaders from city governments across the globe, the World Cities Culture Forum’s Leadership Exchange can inspire and drive problem-solving for the biggest challenges faced by cities," says Kate D. Levin, arts program lead at Bloomberg Philanthropies. "Despite the unique hurdles faced this year, institutions and individuals are meeting the moment and producing creative solutions that demonstrate how important culture will be for recovery efforts.”

And work is already underway. Over the past seven months, city leaders have met virtually to discuss COVID-19 and its continued devastation of cultural institutions, especially in the theater and live music sectors.

Though the coronavirus pandemic has stopped most international travel, city representatives will continue to meet virtually with the hopes of eventually coming together for an in-person event.