Barcelona. Montreal. Edinburgh. London. What do all these places have in common? Well, they have all been termed ‘creative capitals’, large metropolitan areas with vibrant arts and cultural centers which define them as places ‘to be’. They are also known for their outstanding and omnipresent public art work which infuses their public spaces so that art envelopes you as a tourist but also as an inhabitant. But you don’t have to be a large metropolitan area to become a creative city.
Take Gateshead in the North of England. Central to my own cultural identity, Gateshead as one of the larger boroughs in the industrial, coal mining, ship building North had its heart ripped out of it as money, trade, jobs and people moved to the hipper southern cities like London after the wars of the last century. Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne and the neighboring cities lost their youth, lost their economic health and lost their pride. But the turn of the millennium was to change all of that. With large buildings left empty by lost industries the community and local government dedicated themselves to discovering what ‘Gateshead’ meant –what it meant to be in ‘the North’, what it meant to be from the North and the unique characteristics of the place and its people. Digging deep, the Gateshead Council and community reflected on all the creativity and entrepreneurial activity that had led the area to become a bustling industrial city. They reflected on the craftspeople who had lived there, like the esteemed stained glass maker William Wailes and reconnected with their artistic community. They decided to rebuild major sections of the town and install large innovative pieces of art like the Angel of the North with its arms embracing all who travel north along the A1 and the Millennium Bridge which aside from its beauty, is highly functional, opening to welcome ships entering the city along its river. Both installations pay tribute to the historical nature of Gateshead and the artistic capacities of her people.
Like most creative cities, Gateshead is full of people driven by a strong need to express themselves and do things differently says Laurent Simon, Associate Professor of HEC Montreal. Creative cities encourage connections between individuals, between creative communities and between institutions themselves. They thrive on experimentation and collaboration between different sectors of the community. They engage in cultural programming, community engagement and leadership incentives, considering how to share and exchange ideas and skills throughout the community interactively. In Perth, Western Australia, the community and city leaders have engaged in a vibrant process of ‘place activation’ encouraging creatives to grow their business and artistic practices, apply creative design ideas to other industries and encourage and facilitate greater public access to and engagement with creative activities, projects and performances.
How can we add Fort Collins to this list of creative cities? What is unique and authentic about this community which extends beyond our place as one of the most livable small cities in the nation? How does our public art communicate who we are? How do we begin to participate in the creative and cultural activities of Fort Collins to define ourselves? What do we hold dear and how can we share that with others in meaningful ways? As Spring arrives, with its promise of new beginnings, we can look forward to the beautiful flowers along College Avenue, the Spring Community Market in March and a slew of thought leaders in our speaker series. We hope you will join us in growing our creative city of Fort Collins and our creative place here in Northern Colorado!
Through art, we thrive.