Glasgow is Named UK’s Top Cultural and Creative City

It’s almost 40 years since Alasdair Gray wrote his seminal novel Lanark, set in the dark, sombre, smoke filled streets of 1960’s Glasgow and the dystopian alt-reality town of Unthank.

In a belittling tone, reminiscent of a backbench Westminster Tory MP, Glasgow’s cultural relevance at the time is summed up in the line “Imaginatively Glasgow exists as a music-hall song and a few bad novels. That’s all we’ve given to the world outside. It’s all we’ve given to ourselves.” This is Gray at his best, penetrating the fog of the cultural cringe that had long clouded Glasgow’s cultural horizon.

Ten years on from the publication of Lanark, Glasgow was (surprisingly to some) named the European Capital of Culture; it was a decision that would spark the minds and imagination of the city like little before. Our confidence boosted by the support of our European partners, we took our first tentative steps as a cultural capital and we haven’t looked back since.

Today’s Glasgow is a city brimming with confidence, teaming with young people, holding an audacious belief in its own cultural vibrancy and creativity.

The creative arts are one of the main drivers of our economy and the city’s 3rd largest employment sector. We have a network of world class, independent, commercial and public funded galleries and arts spaces who contribute to our year round festival programme.

All but one of Scotland’s performing arts companies are based in Glasgow and we are so proud to be the home of so many local and international artists who add greater colour to our city and who have helped Glasgow forge our unique reputation as a true global arts capital.

That reputation continues to grow and I’m proud to have the political responsibility of delivering the key strategies to continue that growth in the decades ahead and for championing our art, artists and creative entrepreneurs. In the near future we will be launching a co-produced culture plan for Glasgow that we have developed in partnership with our cultural sector and that will lay the foundations for the next 25 years of Glasgow’s cultural growth and development.

This week we celebrated a further cultural milestone as the city was named as the UK’s top cultural and creative city as part of a landmark report by the European Commission.

The Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor for 2019 has put Glasgow ahead of London, Bristol, Brighton and Manchester who make up the rest of the top five in the UK, while Edinburgh is ranked at 6th place on the list. The Monitor report looked at 190 cities from across 30 European countries and ranks 29 different aspects of a city’s cultural health, including its cultural vibrancy, creative economy and a city’s ability to attract creative talent and stimulate cultural engagement

As befits the city’s ‘People Make Glasgow’ slogan, the report also ranked Glasgow as Europe’s best City in regard to ‘openness, tolerance and trust’.

This is a result everyone in Scotland can be proud of; it’s a vote of confidence in Glasgow by our European allies in the same week that Glasgow was announced as the European Capital of Sport for 2023.

Glasgow is at a tipping point, arguably our international reputation has never been stronger as a city, but we face a choice and two possible futures.

Isolation with Brexit or as an independent nation, liberated in part through our cultural growth and confidence.

Glasgow cannot afford Brexit culturally, socially or economically; we can’t afford another out of touch Westminster Government, neither can Glasgow afford a return to Gray’s Lanark…

‘Glasgow is a magnificent city. Why do we hardly ever notice that?’ he wrote.

We can’t afford to go unnoticed ever again, instead we must grasp the opportunity of independence to renew our vision and commitment to stand as a beacon for hope and progress and to use culture to build bridges between nations and people.

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    One might think then that Glasgow’s sectarian divide had been consigned to history…

    What the report says about their indicator Openness, Tolerance & Trust (D3.2) is nuanced to the point of contradicting itself and basically saying the authors might have resorted to making most of it up:
    “While this result confirms the presence of culturally diverse and generally well integrated communities in UK larger cities, it should however be read with caution. The indicators Tolerance of foreigners, Integration of foreigners and People trust are indeed based on personal perception. In addition, most of the underlying data have been estimated due to poor data coverage.”

    I am not sure that a concern with boosting your international reputation is compatible with civic responsibility. Perhaps we should welcome a citizenry who might be confident (or just honest) enough to start taking some responsibility in penetrating a rather more self-serving fog of amnesia:

  2. Alistair MacKichan says:

    I was Parish Minister in Drumchapel for four years, and the people there were great. Sauchiehall St. was colourfully arrayed with commercial invitations. In earlier years I had traversed Hill St. to the Dental Hospital, and found there a culture of student training and patient care which is a model. Byers Road was trendy, and the West End swang. I ate there in “The Ubiquitous Chip”. Down in the mercantile quarter by the Highlander’s Hat (Central Station), I discovered a Polish tailor who altered army uniforms to my size – a Patriot in his own right, and a lover of Scotland in all he did, revealing a deeply cosmopolitan underbelly to the city. I did get wheel-clamped in a narrow road somewhere near the Western Infirmary, and cursed the Cooncil that day. I walked beside the Kelvin in its parkland in all the seasons, from continental warm to snow, and visited the fossilised forest at Scotstoun a number of times, mainly to cheer up the student wardens at its gate, who get utterly bored but clearly get quality reading done whilst at work there. My main memory is of Glasgow’s character and characters – the many districts of Glasgow are each one so unique and self-aware. All in all, I am in no doubt that Glasgow is a truly great City, and deserving of every accolade that comes its way.

  3. mm says:

    Isolation with brexit or as an independent nation? Yes and don’t forget 2+2=5.

  4. mm says:

    Have you ever been to a gsa degree show? It’s basically a bunch of hipsters standing around in front of piles of junk (art) with oversized sweaters and bad haircuts sipping cheap wine whilst congratulating each other on being such special and gifted little snowflakes completely detached from realiity in their progressive/ socialist group think hive mind bubble. All financed of course by capital taken from people who actually work for a living supplying goods and services of actual value. It’s a Godd*m circle jerk sh*t show.

    1. Are you the editor of the Gammon Art Review?

    2. Arboreal Agenda says:

      Actually they are mostly English and pay their own fees, bankrolling the GSA in the process for the rare Scottish and EU student to get free tuition. So your financial analysis is wrong. Of course it makes sense for the GSA to very much encourage and welcome such fee-paying students.

      There is a great Films of Scotland film called Seaward the Great Ships about Glasgow shipyards made in 1961 (the first Scottish film to win an Oscar) that shows a pretty vibrant place in the 60s despite what it says above about Gray’s vision. It is still a great city today but the though the film is a visual and sonic spectacle, it is also so much romantic advertiser’s copy, the decline of the shipyards, uncertainty and danger of the work and terrible general poverty in the city is totally ignored. Articles like this, laudable as their aim is, do read a bit the same.

  5. "none of the above" says:

    Thanks for reprinting this “rallying cry of the revanchist city” from David McDonald (SNP) City Convener for Culture, Vibrancy and International Co-operation, Depute Leader of the Council, and Chair of CSG/Glasgow Life.

    I say thanks as it leaves no doubt it’s businesses-as-usual regarding the talking-up of neoliberalism in Glasgow and the function awarded ‘culture’. Something Alasdair’s cohort were fairly vocal about in fact – the immanent relaunch of the ‘scurrilous’ Keelie not being before time 😉

    Those of us who’d held out some hope of the new SNP administration pursuing an altogether different urban strategy in the city have to concede we were wrong. The naturalisation of market discipline through a symbolic language of innovation is to continue apace, even after decades of proven critique of these market ideologies and a mea culpa by its once most highly-paid advocate.

    1. 'none of the above' says:

      published on the cusp of the financial crash, ‘an indictment of ideology…the embodiment of the truth that ideas have consequences’, here we are still moribund over a decade later:

      “Creative industries has an ambition to hardwire its concepts into infrastructure. Policy leads to urban development, employment conditions, flows of economic investment, border movements, and so on. The macro dimension operating here is simply too big to set aside. You will be affected whether you like to not. So press that delete button, but do so at your own peril. Policy as a genre isn’t exactly bedtime reading. It’s all too easy to ignore for that reason. But like any game, rules can always be broken. Where is the cheat-sheet for creative industries policy?
      Governments are slowly acknowledging the human dimension to climatic change, but there is still a remarkable indifference by creative workers to connect their own conditions to the shaping effects of ministerial directives. It seems totally bizarre that many seem to have a non-secular version of working life. No matter how alien it appears, policy does not drift down from the heavens.
      Yet so often policy seems to have forgotten its own material constitution and reason of existence. Why, for instance, have the experiences and conditions of creative workers been ignored in the policy realm for so long? This is no accident. Policy formation has been notable for its monopoly of expectations.”

      MyCreativity Reader: A Critique of Creative Industries (2007)
      edited by Geert Lovink And Ned Rossiter

  6. Gordon Asher says:

    Deeply disappointed to see Bella, which claims to be independent, radical/critical media, providing an uncritiqued platform for the SNP/Glasgow City Council/Glasgow Life with this – and on this topic (what amounts to the deep neoliberalisation of SNP’s continuation, indeed ramping up, of previous policies – as, neoliberal cultural nationalism?)!

    In context, given the timing, it seems not unlike The National’s indy demo – in practice at least, if not intent – to be little short of electioneering for the SNP?

    I do think there is a clear need to foreground, for this piece, the very relevant, actual roles/positions of the author – David McDonald (SNP) City Convener for Culture, Vibrancy and International Co-operation, Depute Leader of the Council, and Chair of CSG/Glasgow Life.

    To quote from Mairi McFadyen’s latest piece, in Bella, on some of those neoliberal realities as to ‘creativity’ and ‘culture’, as leveraged by the corporate/state/quasi-corporate/quasi-state nexus (my italics/bold):

    Mairi McFadyen: ‘The concepts of the ‘creative economy’ and the ‘creative industries’ as they currently exist are actually fairly recent inventions….Forged in the neoliberal context of Blair and the New Labour project in the late 1990s, the creative industries were a political construct linking culture and creativity to the drivers of economic growth, defined as ‘those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property’ (DCMS, 2001).

    The idea first emerged in the context of regeneration in urban and industrial settings, quickly spreading to the rural periphery. Professor Ullrich Kockel writes,
    “In conjunction with tourism and a ubiquitous resource called ‘heritage,’ ‘creative industries’ came to be seen as the salvation of regions that were otherwise considered economic basket cases, and the ‘creative economy’ as one sustained by its continuously renewable, freely available primary resource: human creativity.”

    The political spin was that the creative industries would champion the social utility of arts and culture as progressive realms to engage fractured communities, realise progressive values and create a more sustainable economic world.

    In Scotland, the fledgling Labour-led Scottish Executive adopted a cultural policy on this economic model. This era saw the creeping in of technocratic forms of governance, based upon quantitative data, economic indicators and market pricing. In arts, culture and heritage, state-led policy filtered down to arts institutions and then on to artists, participants and audiences via funders. When the SNP came to power, they too drank the Kool Aid, embracing this policy wholeheartedly with the creation of Creative Scotland.

    People will argue that the creative economy has been an unquestionable economic success story. At what cost? Over the past two decades, we have witnessed the ongoing neoliberal transformation of our cultural practices into economic activities. So much of our arts, culture and heritage has been co-opted and commodified into the tourism and creative industries, stripping out so much of what sustains culture and community at the root in favour of innovation and market competition. Markets have thin commitments to localities, cultures and ways of life.

    What has happened here reflects a broader trend in global society: a shift towards the financialisation of almost all aspects of life. Everything of potential future value is transformed into an asset to be leveraged; relationships are turned into services, commons into commodities, humans into economic agents, artists into professional entrepreneurs. This has been described by commons scholar David Bollier as the ‘great invisible tragedy of our time’.

    Hitched as they are to the pursuit of endless economic growth, the tourism and creative industries are entangled and implicated in the global systemic crises – economic, social and ecological. As part of a wider movement demanding systemic change, then, we need to radically rethink and reorient the creative economy.

    As it currently exists, this is a system built on individualism, competition and the extraction of cultural and social wealth: it commodifies collective constellations of meaning and singularises that which is common.

    There are plenty of critiques to be found. In a recent blog post (‘Low Culture: Neoliberalism, Conservative Social Practice and the Universal Marginality of Everyday Life’, Oct 7, 2019) community artist Stephen Pritchard writes about the alienation, isolation, marginalisation and powerlessness that results when the laws of the market are the rule, reflecting on the cumulative and corroding effects of neoliberal policies on the arts and artists, on people and communities, on places and spaces.

    All-too-often, he writes, creative ‘strategies’ such as ‘placemaking’ or ‘community engagement’ are neo-imperial projects that ‘offer ideological cover for market driven or state assisted gentrification’, using state-approved art to colonise communities via ‘inclusion’ initiatives from the top down, whilst continuing to oppress and displace them.

    In his provocative book Against Creativity (2018), Oli Mould makes similar arguments: that modern capitalism has hijacked the word ‘creativity.’ Under this economic regime, to ‘be creative’ means finding new and agile ways to survive in a hostile and precarious environment from which all solidarity has been ruthlessly eliminated.

    The mainstream version of creativity that we are sold by government, he argues, actually serves to maintain the status quo, upholding existing capitalist relations and systems of oppression – systems which ‘create rampant precariousness, the emboldening of global fascism, climate catastrophe and all the other ills that we see marching towards us on the horizon.’

    Mould argues that the creative industries are harming, not helping artists, feeding off an army of freelance, precarious and volunteer workers. Always despite this, people still find ways to make art, to connect, to make meaning, to build community. For over two decades now, he writes, ‘all but the very few fortunate of creative labourers have had to live cobbled-together portfolio careers and sell their artistic soul for a few grand of arts council funding’.

    We need to acknowledge the creative industries for what they currently are, he writes: ‘a political concept that serves no other purpose than to allow capital to do what it does best: serve the few at the expense of the rest’.’

  7. Arboreal Agenda says:

    People always forget that Theodor Adorno invented the phrase ‘culture industry’ in the 1930s as a damning indictment on the crass commercialisation of the creative act such that it rendered art as just another ‘factory product’. Creative industries – sucking the life out of what art should really be: a spontaneous act that counters the status quo, not joins in with it, cuckolded by grant applications detailing its ‘value’ and ‘impact’.

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