Culture Shock at Remaking Cities Conference

By Lily Oppenheimer

The world, and it’s diverse, growing cities, are in the hands of both the big-shot buyers and the starving artists. However it is the artists who control the cultural appeal of a city, and thus, it is the imagination of an artist that also drives a thriving economy.

The city of Torino, Italy, displays an energy that rises above the snow-capped mountainside outside the city’s urban center. Despite the effect of the 2008 financial crisis that threatens Europe’s GDP and economic growth, this new Torino is the Detroit of Italy; an artistic and cultural gem, an example of how creative innovation can alter the dynamics of a city. Torino fought for the globe’s attention, and now reaps the rewards.  These rewards were demonstrated during the 2013 Remaking Cities Congress, held in the rebuilt and revitalized city of Pittsburgh, PA, where the arts and cultural attractions take center stage.

In the 1950s, Torino boasted FIAT, the largest car plant in the world, bringing in workers from Eastern and Southern Italy and even testing these exotic vehicles on a racetrack above the plant. Yet, Italian delegate Anna Pratt recalls the swift tragedy that struck FIAT.  “In 1973, the oil crisis led to the slow decline of FIAT,” Pratt spoke to her audience. “In the 1980s, over 100,000 factory jobs for workers were lost.”

It took a gain of public funding to change Torino.  But Torino is an example of a city that gained acknowledgement and empowerment through the arts.  Remarkably, Torino utilized tourism and art to remake the city, proof that the quirky, interesting objects of our fantasy can play a giant role in the overall happiness and growth of a city.

“Torino’s cultural offer expanded, and administration focused on museums, which were redone and re-promoted for tourists,” Pratt said. “ We also rediscovered the cinema industry, creating a film commission, film festival, museum for the cinema, and a new economy altogether that was never expected in the first place.”

Artists, art fairs, and new museums blossomed. Artists were paid to create high quality public street lighting in creative designs, and public, contemporary art spread across Torino’s nooks and crannies.

“We commissioned a major restoration of a royal palace,” Pratt said with pride. “In 2006, we hosted the Winter Olympic games, and this was our highest point of local pride.”

The citizens of Torino realized that their city was beautiful and capable of an impression, and people gained confidence in what the city and mountain areas could become.  The economy and identity were connected to both the city and the mountains.

Similarly, Mayor George Furgusen of Bristol, England, emphasized the importance of celebrating local and international artists, dead and alive, which rubs off on citizens and creates a more livable city. Furgusen was impressed by the infamous rubber ducky, 40 ft. high and floating alongside Pittsburgh’s Point, designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman.  The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust said the duck has drawn over 100,000 visitors since it floated in from Japan on September 27th.

“It’s a great thing, to celebrate local talent,” Furgusen said. “Tourist attractions are primarily good for the revenue and pride of citizens.”

Bristol’s equivalent of the rubber duck is the Gromit, from the hit English series Wallace and Gromit.  The Gromit Unleashed auction involved multiple Gromits created by famous artists, designers, and celebrities, which were auctioned off to raise money for Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Appeal.  The money would support sick children and their families at Bristol Children’s Hospital.  1.18 million people visited the Gromit trail and brought amazing revenue for Bristol’s economy. Many visitors even came from overseas.

“These Gromits penetrated the whole of the city,” Furgusen said. “The clever thing is to get tourist attractions not only in the cities, but in the neighborhoods as well. That way, everyone will benefit, both the rich and the poor.”

The point? Every starving artist is able to hold a city’s fate like a paintbrush. These artistic investments and bursts of culture are what create pride, growth, and strong appeal to a city such as Torino, Bristol, and Pittsburgh.


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