by Ares Kalandides
Last month Bogotá was designated “City of Music” by the UNESCO, and it now participates in the growing network of “Creative Cities” that counts 30 cities from all over the word – 5 of which are Cities of Music (the others being Bologna, Sevilla, Glasgow and Ghent). This is how UNESCO describes the decision:
“Bogota is recognized foremost for its fast growing musical sector and dynamic music scene as a major centre of musical creation and activity in Latin America.
In accordance with the mission of the Creative Cities Network, the city promotes music as a tool for socio-economic improvement and cultural diversity. With its unique profile as a cultural exchange hub on a national and regional level, Bogota is expected to strongly increase international cooperation opportunities for the Network.
In addition, the city boasts an outstanding infrastructure for the creation and promotion of all music genres from classical music to popular music as well as the many public and private cultural spaces provided for performing music. It clearly demonstrates solid experience in hosting a wide range of events from festivals to international business meetings for music professionals equally engaging the public and private sectors in the music industry”.
There are very few recent decisions that have made me so happy. When I first got to Colombia in 2008, I was amazed at the richness of the musical traditions of the country, which could be found in a condensed form in the country’s capital, Bogotá: Rhythms and dances such as Cumbia, Porro, Vallenato, Bambuco, Salsa – just to mention a few. But not only that. With time (I travelled about 10 times to Bogotá afterwards) I got to know the rest: a series of events such as the musical festivals in public parks (Rock al parque, Jazz al parque, Salsa al parque etc.), hip-hop schools in the poorest neighbourhoods, a good Philharmonic Orchestra, a worldwide unique theatre festival with a focus on music and a lot more. My realization came at a time when we were designing the Place Branding strategy for the city and music simply stuck out as a very obvious first choice. It took several meetings to get it going, but I think everybody was rather surprised at how obvious the choice was.
Let me explain. The strategy for Bogotá comprises a series of 40 different measures – long, medium and short term ones – in very diverse fields such as economy, culture, environment etc. As the city already had worked on an excellent report on music, we considered that this should be one of the easiest things to implement. Our suggestion was to find ways to communicate this huge asset, while at the same time protecting and enhancing it. The UNESCO network of Creative Cities, despite its many weaknesses, seemed like the right vehicle for it. As I have explained several times in the past (e.g. here and here), I see Integrated Place Branding as a strategy that combines communication and other place-related policy measures. We did not need to invent anything new in the case of music. Analysis simply helped identify it and we needed to find the appropriate channels.
My expectations from such a platform are realistic. Networks are what you make of them. They are not good or bad per se, but depend very much on those involved in them. For example, in my experience, the “Cities of Literature” sub-network is the most active in the Creative Cities programme and owes very much to the leadership of Edinburgh (s. also our blog entry on Edinburgh here). But the reason I like the network most, is because it is based on cooperation and exchange. It is up to the responsible people in Bogotá to make sure they do something about it. I hope they do not think that the designation is the end of the road.
That being said, the beginning is not very promising: I searched the web to find some information and, except for an identical short text (probably a press release) that is repeated in several sites, there is nothing to be found, yet. Of course the news is very “fresh”, but I would have expected some communication “firework” closer to the day of designation. At the same time, the theatre festival just finished and it had caught the whole city in its fever. I saw it happen in Berlin before, when it was designated City of Design. Apart from the self-absorbed people who prepared the candidature, nobody else knew about it (and few still do). Graz on the contrary, decided to go for a very transparent candidature and involve the people from the very beginning (see our blog post here). There are enough good examples around (and just as many bad ones) to show us what can be done and how. I may deliver some thoughts myself in the near future
(More about our work in Bogotá can be found in an academic paper for the Journal of Place Management and Development, 2011, Vol. 4 Issue 3).