Arts and culture build a city: Panel experts

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - Infrastructure alone cannot make a city liveable, says Adelaide Lord Mayor at World Cities Summit forum

A strong arts and creative culture is the bedrock of what makes a city liveable.

Mr Martin Haese, Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Australia, said this in his keynote address yesterday at Shaping Cities Through Innovation and Collaboration in Culture, a forum by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth in partnership with the World Cities Summit.

The summit, being held at Marina Bay Sands until tomorrow, features experts in discussions to explore how cities can be more liveable. Some 20,000 participants from 100 countries are expected.

Speaking with forum moderator Warren Fernandez, Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/ Tamil Media Group editor-in-chief and The Straits Times editor, the Lord Mayor noted that it is not infrastructure but culture that holds a community together, and that a deep-seated multiculturalism is central to a city's liveability.

"What makes a city tick, what drives a city forward, what holds a community together? It is the culture - not the buildings, not the roads, not even the data networks - but the people."

Adelaide was the first British "free colony" established after the Great Reform Act was passed in the British Parliament in 1834. It hosts the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the second-largest annual arts event in the world, after the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland.

At a panel discussion following the Lord Mayor's speech, National Arts Council chief executive Rosa Daniel said Singapore and Adelaide have much in common as social experiments grown through migration.

During the panel discussion, she spoke on issues such as the role of the state in developing the arts and increasing arts engagement in society. Visiting experts Ambeth Ocampo of Ateneo de Manila University, Sarawak Museum Campus project director Hans van de Bunte, and Mr Aaron Seeto, director of Museum Macan in Indonesia, also took part.

Artists who take funding cannot have pure autonomy - rather, said Mr van de Bunte, it is a "balancing of stakeholders".

Said Mr Seeto: "If artists are there just to achieve a certain government agenda, they're just like pets. That's not what I understand artists to be - if we want artists to be pets, that's not the full gamut of artistic expression."

Mrs Daniel said that privately funded art "may not be as autonomous as you think - private giving comes with its own conditions".

Professor Ocampo cautioned that without culture and the nurturing of a national identity, a country risks having its young generations go abroad with no desire to return.

"Before you give somebody wings, you have to give them roots. They can fly anywhere else but they will always come back, and you teach that in the realm of culture, identity and the arts."

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