World Cities Culture Forum was founded in 2012 by Justine Simons OBE, London’s Deputy Mayor for Culture & the Creative Industries. Unboxing Bangalore, a participative project to create a new narrative around Bengaluru through multimedia properties, has been representing the city and leading the discussions. The Hindu spoke to Ms. Simons and Prashanth Prakash, chairman of UnboxingBLR Foundation and founding partner at Accel India.
Bengaluru has become the first Indian city to be part of the World Cities Culture Forum (WCCF). What is the Indian perspective it can offer to the network and what does it stand to achieve
Prashanth Prakash: Bengaluru is a dynamic city representing an aspirational India in many ways. It has also been a melting pot of different cultures within the country and is one of the oldest cities, which very few people know about. There is a lot of culture in the city that is not being talked about. Having a global forum like WCCF and not being part of it was a huge waste of opportunity for a city like Bengaluru that has the aspiration to take the city’s culture globally.
But more than that, we wanted to learn from a forum and platform like WCCF as to what it takes to build cultural vibrancy within the city. We are very young or amateur in that aspect because our priorities, as a city, have been different. But when other things keep taking precedence, you lose the identity of the city and what is unique to that city.
A lot has been happening in the cultural space in the city. Those inspired us to think that we need something like Unboxing to bring together all such well-meaning unique initiatives under one platform. Once we had that participation of people under Unboxing Bangalore, it became a no-brainer that Bengaluru needs to be a part of something like WCCF which helps create collaboration and exchange between multiple cities across the world. Those were some of the initial catalysts that made this happen.
Justine Simons: We, as well as a lot of cities that are part of the network, have been keen to have an Indian city as part of the Forum. Bengaluru is a fast-growing city, very diverse and has a big commitment to culture.
It feels like there is real ambition and drive in Bengaluru around the culture story. It is known as a tech city in the rest of the world. This is a fantastic opportunity for Bengaluru to bring the cultural story alongside the tech story.
What helped Bengaluru become a member of WCCF?
Prakash: It started in a serendipitous manner with Justine and her team meeting Abhishek Poddar, who started the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP), in London. He suggested that if we were to become a part of WCCF there was a lot to exchange and co-benefit.
Once we started talking to Justine, we saw there were a lot of shared ideas. We wanted to learn from the 40 other cities that were part of the forum. For us, it was a moment of pride that we could be part of this forum and learn and accelerate our journey of being that city that can engage its citizens with culture. Bengaluru has attracted citizens from across the world. I don’t think there’s any other city that has cultural pockets. Multiple microcosms of India are culturally represented in this city.
Culture is also a big unifier. Today there are apprehensions about different groups within the city. This happens because we don’t understand what they can offer to the city culturally.
Simons: It was just about a year ago when I went to lunch with Abhishek. He was talking to me about the vision for culture in Bengaluru and I was talking about WCCF. And it seemed to be an obvious connection to bring Bengaluru into this global leadership network.
We’re looking for global cities that champion and advocate for culture to become our members. And it is really clear in Bengaluru that there is real commitment and vision around culture.
What kind of collaborative activities can we expect to see in Bengaluru in collaboration with WCCF?
Prakash: We are planning a Bangalore festival in the first 10 days of December where we are thinking of showcasing multiple aspects of our culture - a very vibrant design community, theatre community, food, the Bangalore beer culture, and much more. We want to learn from this forum how such festivals are run globally. For example, in terms of ticketing the Edinburgh Festival is only next to the Olympics and the World Cup. We certainly have a long way to go from piloting this festival to becoming as huge as the Edinburgh Festival. But we want to put that to the test at this festival.
Simons: Bengaluru, as a member, has been invited to join the next WCCF global summit in October in Sao Polo. Bengaluru will also be a part of our future World City Culture Reports. That means there will be a city profile of Bengaluru and all of Bengaluru’s data around culture will then be part of this global landmark report. Bengaluru will be featured as the first Indian city in this global data set. As a member, Bengaluru can also apply for our Leadership Exchange.
A bit about WCCF
Simons: The motivation to form WCCF was really simple - that we’re better together. Cities can achieve so much more by working together, being generous with our ideas, and learning from each other to tackle common challenges and realise the potential of culture in our cities. What really struck me was that even though all of our world cities are different in their culture, character, population, and communities, there are always common challenges that big cities face.
We are deliberately focused on big cities because there is something really particular about the scale of a world city in terms of the challenges and opportunities.
Today, we’ve grown exponentially. We have 40 cities spanning six continents. We believe in culture as a transformative force in cities.
We talk about culture as a golden thread, something that threads through all aspects of city life like health and wellbeing, jobs, economy, and so on. In London, one in every seven jobs is a creative one and is worth about 60 billion pounds a year to the London economy. Tourists are another aspect. Culture brings communities together and builds bridges when there are none.
The challenge we face as cities is that culture often is not on the top priority list. Our job as a global leadership network is to advocate for the fundamental transformative power and value of culture in cities. And to really amplify and unlock this idea of culture as a golden thread.
In practice, we do three things.
Every year we hold a global summit where we all come together. This year it is in October in Sao Polo and that is when in real life we roll up our sleeves and get into the skin of common challenges. It is a global platform for sharing our policy ideas, challenges, and opportunities.
The second is data. We produce a landmark report on culture in world cities. It’s called the World Cities Culture Report. It is the go-to source for data on culture.
The third is the Leadership Exchange which is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. That is about going deeper. Often, we find there is a cluster of cities fighting common problems. Exchange is about going a lot deeper into those problems and trying to find solutions through exchanges between the cities involved.
Post-pandemic the world has been going through turmoil. What is the relevance of culture and WCCF in this context?
Simons: The world has been facing lots of challenges and changes like climate crisis, political instability, mass migration, and more. I believe that means culture is more important than ever. Culture is a growing area of the economy itself. Culture is something that supports individual human beings in crisis. People return to music and dance and other forms of culture and creative expression in difficult times, for inspiration, and energy.