An ART-idea conversation with the authors of Eventful Cities, Greg Richards and Robert Palmer, took place in Barcelona on 17th April 2013. The event brought together a select group of experts and practitioners from across Europe to share and discuss ideas about the future of cities and events.

Eventful cities are constantly evolving in the face of emerging challenges, particularly the current economic crisis and major shifts in the social fabric of communities. The discussion identified a number of key issues, ranging from the understanding of multiple identities of cities, changing nature of city governance, increasing complexity of brokering relationships with increasingly diverse city stakeholders, and the need for new approaches when bidding for international events, to the limitations of current methodologies and the deliberate misrepresentation of results of event evaluations and impact studies.

A need was identified to move from economic based event indicators to a wider concept of public value. The value-led argument should no longer centre on economic benefits but rather incorporate a more sophisticated and multi-polar approach to assessing the value of the cultural events.

The final session of the conversation was dedicated to looking at the future challenges for cities and considered wider implications for events in cities. Several challenges were highlighted:

– Increased demand by citizens to reclaim public space

– Growing need amongst people to come together in mass events (what Greg Richards referred to as the “need for physical co-presence.”)

– Rising disillusionment with mega events that exclude genuine citizen engagement

– Proliferation of spontaneous events (that ignore rules of conventional event management as practiced traditionally by local authorities)

– Growth in events that challenge the boundaries of authority and usual consumer behavior

Taken together, these trends point to significant challenges to the approach of cities when managing events. It will be increasingly complex to manage security by issuing permits –the flash mob disappears before the police arrive! The renewed demands from citizens for the right to utilize public space in “their” city will be increasingly difficult to ignore, persuading authorities to re-examine and embrace the demonstration of different expressions of public creativity. It may be that city authorities will need to find ways to allow citizens to design their own events, taking what Robert Palmer identified as a more “prosumptive” approach to participation that will require events facilitation rather than management. Managing spontaneity will demand a new set of skills.

The next Conversation will be held in September 2013 and will consider “the possible end to the approach to city cultural policy as we know it.” With redundant art forms, new forms of participation, the changing role of arts subsidy and a new ecology for culture, the debate will look at the feasibility of a needs/rights based policy approach that is no longer driven by economics. Watch this blog for more news!

The aim of the conversation is for you to have an input and use the opportunity to ask burning questions or test your own theories and analysis. The conversation takes place in a combination of formal and informal settings -and is moderated to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate.