the path of this blog...

The New Liberty: A public sculpture in Douala, Cameroon

The New Liberty: A public sculpture in Douala, Cameroon

At its heart

This blog focusses on culture in cities, in the Global South. It is not a travel blog, rather it’s a personal take on how cities in countries : parts of Asia and the Pacific, Africa, the arab world, Latin America and the Caribbean; are approaching cultural development in their contexts.  

My key interest is in understanding the role of culture in sustainable development, in urban centres.  I am inspired here by Agenda 21 for Culture, a groundbreaking programme by the UCLG’s Culture Committee which looks to bring culture to its rightful place as a key element in citymaking and governance, focusing on sustainable growth through creativity and innovation.

I use this blog to reflect on  contemporary cultural practices: how these have emerged contextually, what they seek to achieve, the ways in which these are organized, what (if any) urban cultural policies or strategies are in place, amongst others. to support these practices. What emerges from below as artists, creatives, social entrepreneurs, cultural workers respond? 

A performance on the Sea Point Promenade in Cape Town in 2013

A performance on the Sea Point Promenade in Cape Town in 2013

Re-imagining Cities

I have focused on societies, impacted often by colonialism and/or related social upheavals, faced by a range of socio-economic and sustainability challenges, and how these respond to their contexts and futures through culture.  I look here, especially, at how artists and other creatives, and the institutions set up to support them, help re-imagine their societies and the importance of  local cultural resources in doing so.   I am  fascinated by the the politics of public life, how diversity and debate are fostered and whether space is facilitated to enable opportunity and so result in social, cultural and urban transformation.  For these reasons I am interested in public art, cultural spaces,  place-making and the politics of representation. 

Many cities around the global south today, share similar stories, borne out of their varied struggles for independence and an ongoing drive to build stronger civil societies.   Culture remains key in this equation.  I believe it is important to counter the pessimism surrounding many countries in the South by telling inspiring stories focussing  on the  creativity and innovation  emerging from their contemporary societies.  We need to understand culture and development, at various local scales, viewing local culture resource as an important source of knowledge and innovation.   Documenting how  creativity transforms this new knowledge into  responses that positively reshape cities, is what this blog is most interested in. 

The Thanh Ha Terra-cotta Park 3km outside the city of Hoi An in Vietnam in August 2016

The Thanh Ha Terra-cotta Park 3km outside the city of Hoi An in Vietnam in August 2016

learning from similar experiences

Creative City South seeks to bridge the experiences of cultural practitioners from across the global south.  While many face similar problems of poverty, inequality and infrastructural challenges as each other,  those who are working at this coalface are doing so in astonishing and inspiring ways. Often facing considerable resource burdens, they succeed in numerous small ways that have bigger ripples, sometimes with profound outcomes.  

The series on SE Asia which follows on this piece, is a partial look at some cultural initiatives in a few cities in Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam.  I had some brilliant contacts from the region courtesy of a personally influential Salzburg Global Seminar:  Beyond Green:The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability, which I had attended in February 2016.  What seemed to be happening in that region  was interesting.

an exhibition on design development at the Thailand Creative and Design Center in Bangkok in September 2016

an exhibition on design development at the Thailand Creative and Design Center in Bangkok in September 2016

what to expect

Over the next few months  I will cover a range of issues, all held together with being personally  curious about the cultural life of each of the cities i visited.  I wanted to see what each place would say to me, if I could find meanings in these stories, and what i thought valuable to share with others.  

You can follow my journey from now (early March to late September 2017).  There will be posts weekly, starting with a series of articles looking at Cebu, in the Philippines.  Pieces will be posted over the next few months covering:: human capital development in Thailand through cultural institutions based in Bangkok and Chiang Mai;  pieces on contemporary arts and culture in  Saigon in Vietnam; a report on the Second UCLG Culture Summit on the Island of Jeju; and a piece on the influence of South Korea on the SE Asian imaginary..  Other pieces may emerge as I travel and explore.  By September, there will be  a consolidated response to these parts of SE Asia I visited.

 Alex Face (or Patcharapol Tangruen) is a a well-known and influential graffiti artist in Thailand.  This very large piece appears in the Siam District in Bangkok. September 2016 .

 Alex Face (or Patcharapol Tangruen) is a a well-known and influential graffiti artist in Thailand.  This very large piece appears in the Siam District in Bangkok. September 2016

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Clearly this is only a piece of a bigger story as there are a significant set of stories in other parts of SE Asia not covered this time around: amongst these are in Bandung, Indonesia, a leading example of creative city practices in the region, and Malaysia's Georgetown in Penang.  Like Cebu and Chiangmai, these are cities in the SE Asian Creative Cities programme. All are secondary cities in their respective countries, but have innovative practices that are important to share.  

Interested in feedback

I don’t claim these early writings to be rigorous pieces.   They are a personal take on cities informed by my 25 years of knowledge and practice in the field of culture and social change, and responding to the experiences and knowledge of others I meet along the way.   I’d value feedback and critique on my observations, I’m happy to learn from others where I may have misunderstood, or to hear from you if something resonated.  I don’t imagine this will appeal to a mass audience, but I do want it to accessible and easy to read. 

Interested in collaboration

My wish is that others, who are also working in culture in the global south, and are committed to a more sustainable planet – socially, economically, spatially and culturally in itself – are inspired enough to want to share their stories.  I would be overjoyed if others saw this platform as an opportunity to share their experiences in their city in relation to the various questions this blog tries to grapple with – whether in words, in video, in photographs or more.   I would like Creative City South to be a collaborative project in as many ways as possible.   Please contact me, let’s try to make a difference, in a small way, together. 

The Siam Discovery Centre in central Bangkok.  September 2016

The Siam Discovery Centre in central Bangkok.  September 2016