Artists and Cities – exploring the relationship

by Manojna Yeluri

It can be difficult to understand the relationship between artists or creative entrepreneurs and the urban spaces they inhabit. When both embrace the idea of working together, they embark on creating a symbiotic relationship that has a great effect on morale, economics and creativity. In India, the partnership between a city and its creative community is something that is steadily catching the attention of economists, urban planners and local policymakers.

Why should cities care about their artists?

That creative professionals and artists help shape a city’s growth is an idea that is beginning to inform the way urban living is accommodating (and possibly even nurturing) the work of creative entrepreneurs. According to Ann Markusen, Professor and Director of the Arts Economy Initiative and Project on Regional and Industrial Economics, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, artists and cultural entrepreneurs have long been acknowledged as contributors to their city’s economies as well as professionals who anchor cultural industry firms like publishing, advertising, music, design and architecture. In her paper titled ‘How Cities Can Nurture Cultural Entrepreneurs’, published in 2013 by the Kauffman Foundation, Professor Markusen discusses the historical support artists have received from cities, and how this fits into a more contemporary understanding of cultural industries in urban landscapes. Although specific to Minnesota, her research makes a very important point — despite the long-standing support to creative entrepreneurship, the policies and laws in place to foster the growth of creative industry don’t seem to work.

How are cities in India re-imagining their relationship with artists?

An increasing number of artists and city authorities are open to exploring ways of collaborating with the goal of enriching the experience of city life. As a result, we’re seeing a lot more initiatives that invite artists to engage and interact with their city’s infrastructure to create art that is aesthetic, educational and a revenue generator.

Some Indian cities have witnessed a relaxation of curfews and restrictions with respect to creative industries that involve the performing arts. For instance, in the city of Bengaluru, venues can now stay open till 1 a.m. — a significant change from the previous rule that forced them to close by 11 p.m. Another instance involved the Goethe-Institut and Jaaga inviting German and Indian artists to enter into collaborations that invigorated interest in urban spaces. Through the mediums of art and performance, artists engaged and interacted with the structures, traffic and passers-by around the Double Road flyover in Bangalore. Local authorities have also been receptive to partnerships with organizations that are interested in using art as a means to engage and educate people on a range of socio-economic issues. For instance, ST+ART has curated a number of street art events in the cities of Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad in an effort to bring an aesthetic transformation to city walls marred by pollution, refuse and neglect. By bringing together renowned and emerging local artists, the organization has lent a great deal of legitimacy and support to a burgeoning group of street artists in India. (You can see some of the work in Bangalore here.)

Church Street

Most of these initiatives and partnerships owe their origins to a change in attitude towards arts, artists and creative entrepreneurship in India. Although Indian history is steeped in cultural expression through diverse art forms, urban India has yet to fully embrace the many ways in which art can have a diverse impact on urban living and economics. The adoption of design thinking and creative problem-solving in the context of urban planning and architecture has been a huge step forward in a time where our population has far surpassed the capacity of our city’s infrastructure. Built into the landscape of skyscrapers and technology parks are an increasing number of intelligent buildings and co-working spaces to help entrepreneurs find a space for themselves. A number of co-working spaces and artist communions have emerged in Indian cities, offering a range of experiences for the cultural entrepreneur. One can choose from working out of dedicated co-working spaces like Bangalore’s Workbench Projects, BeeHIVE to pan-India hybrids such as the SOCIAL franchise which added the co-working element to the agenda an existing dining/drinking establishment.


Is this enough?

Although cities are increasingly opening their arms to new cultural stakeholders and industries, in spite of many new initiatives and policies, there are still a lot of gaping holes in the systemic treatment of creative professionals. Archaic rules that grant local police the right to shut down a venue midway through a performance, improper functioning of collection societies, the absence of significant infrastructure to regulate best practices among venues, curators and festivals — all this (and more) needs re-examination before we can safely say we’ve made the system more artist-friendly.


Proper representation of the creative community and clear communication of expectations to the authorities becomes really important in this journey towards transformation. Events and festivals such as the Under 25 Summit, Construkt, The August Fest, The Coalition and IndiEarth XChange do provide creative professionals in India with platforms, but things are only going to change with precise and action-oriented planning following these panel discussions.

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