Culture opening spaces for dialogue: highlights from the Culture forum in Dresden

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126 representatives from 64 cities met in Dresden on 25-27 April 2018 to discuss the role of culture in opening spaces for dialogue in cities.
Why this theme? The city of Dresden has become a focal point of political polarisation and an increasing community division. This local situation reflects a more general European division that has taken place over the last years and that strongly impacts cities.
The following take-aways were identified:
1° Culture is a tool for cities to involve citizens in a dialogue about our common future
Culture creates opportunities for local authorities to engage in democratic dialogue with audiences through events (Karlsruhe and the Festival of European culture), specific venues (Base for Art in Utrecht), or educational projects (‘Leave the Mark: integration paths through comic strips’ in Milan).
Cultural initiatives can make visible what is not and give a voice to invisible parts of the population. They can help deconstruct prejudgments and encourage social inclusion. Arts and culture, in their various forms, provide a mean to bring more enthusiasm and curiosity in the local governance.
2° Art in the public space is a tool to foster dialogue
Discussions emphasised the impact public art has on generating sustainable and fruitful exchanges between local authorities and locals.
Dresden showed example where art provoked dialogue and interrogated what ‘living together’ means. The city recently hosted an Aleppo-inspired bus barricade sculpture in the city centre which provoked tumultuous scenes between opponents and advocates of this piece of art. Different opinions, included the extreme ones, should be collected, heard and considered by local authorities to rethink local governance.
Based on the experience of 25 European cities, a new EUROCITIES study presents how European cities deal with public art: How do they understand public art? Why and how do they support it?
3° Citizens’ involvement: gathering intelligences
Co-creation is necessary to outline common narratives and to counter extremist discourses. Cultural institutions can use co-creation and participation tools (e.g. cultural mediators) to assimilate citizen’s experience and expertise to be more intelligent and sustainable. Diversifying languages used in the local cultural landscape has also been identified as a mean to widen dialogue.
The EUROCITIES campaign Cities4Europe- Europe for citizens highlights local initiatives and encourages diverse forms of projects where people come first and where trust between citizens and public authorities is strengthened. 
4° Connecting culture to other policies for more impacts and more funding
Connecting culture to other sectors as education or health and well-being can help deepen the impacts of cultural projects and increase funding.Supporting cross-sectorial and participatory projects can help tackle the governance and the financial challenges faced by cities.
Focus on Dresden: All the City is a stage
In 2017 Dresden adopted a strategy to strengthen public engagement and civic and international dialogue. It aims to create a public respectful dialogue. This strategy includes measures to enhance the feeling of security in the streets as well as artistic actions to promote dialogue around controversial issues in central public spaces.
The city hosts installations and performances in third places to provoke, to gather opinions and to generate stories on citizens’ experience of public spaces. The city has become a stage for things to be told, included unpleasant ones. These initiatives have rose opposition but have also created a dialogue with new audiences on topics that the citizens found relevant. Arts has been driving a more general reflection on how to live together.
Details on the forum are available here. Next EUROCITIES Culture Forum will take place in Lisbon (17-19 October 2018) and will focus on how to keep spaces for art and artists in cities’ gentrified areas.

EUROCITIES staff contact

Julie Herve