By Donald Hyslop

17 July 2014 - 15:54

Aerial view of London's Tate Modern under construction, before the neighbourhood went through a period of regeneration. Photo courtesy of Tate.
Aerial view of London's Tate Modern under construction, before the neighbourhood went through a period of regeneration. ©

Photo courtesy of Tate.

We tend to think of museums as places we can visit to look at valuable things, for example art. But they can have positive effects beyond their exhibiting function. Donald Hyslop, Head of Regeneration and Partnerships at London's Tate Modern, tells us how the museum has regenerated a whole neighbourhood since it first opened in 2000.

Cultural regeneration: the example of Tate Modern

From the very start of the Tate Modern Project, we sensed and hoped that we could breathe new life into an important historical area of central London. To make this work, we set about building relationships to widen our impact beyond the building itself. Maintaining conversations with local communities, businesses and political authorities has been a crucial part of the huge transformation of the area around Tate Modern over the last 15 years. In that time, as millions of visitors from all over the world have flocked here, we have seen the number of people living in the area double, and thousands of new workers arrive as large and small businesses move to the area. New hotels, cafés, shops and restaurants have also sprung up to cater for these new communities.

The importance of engaging the local community

But this urban and social change is neither purely physical nor a matter of chance. The good quality of life, transport connections, facilities and distinct identity based around food -- the world-famous Borough Market is close by -- and culture have all been achieved through a series of projects aimed at keeping some balance between the needs of local communities, businesses and tourists. These projects include employment and training, urban planning, community cinema, business improvement districts, travel planning, urban arts festivals, greening projects and neighbourhood planning. The list is long and getting longer.

One of the great benefits Tate Modern can bring to all these initiatives is to encourage creative thinking, for example by bringing artists into many different contexts. This has seen creativity spreading to the areas around the museum through the active participation of local communities. It's about continuing a dialogue, often through small projects which on their own may seem incidental but, when viewed as a whole over time, form a mesh out of which communities and neighbourhoods can develop. I believe that this more considered, natural and inclusive approach to change in neighbourhoods will be the model for the future, replacing old-fashioned and outdated master planning of cities and communities.

The Bankside Residents Forum (BRF) is an example of this. In the early 2000s, seeing the wave of development about to take place in the area, the community took a decision to concentrate efforts on engaging with developments through the planning process to ensure the greatest benefits. They are now at the centre of forming a Neighbourhood Plan for the area, which will guide how the community will benefit from future development.

The challenges involved in cultural regeneration

Of course, like any family and community, there have been lots of problems along the way. Regeneration, even when it is driven by culture, can be disruptive; it can change the character of an area, and crowds of visitors can also mean noise, litter, petty crime and higher prices. We haven't got everything perfect, but through maintaining a conversation with local communities, we can look for solutions and, on the whole, avoid major conflict. Better Bankside and the Bankside Urban Forest are good examples.

Ironically, London's amazing success as a city is presenting one of the biggest challenges for us at the present time. It's difficult to spend much time in London without being affected by rising property prices and everything that comes with those. Parts of central London, including ours, are currently going through a major period of change and development. Trying to preserve a sense of balance for existing communities is the biggest challenge we now face. Tate Modern itself is in development, with a new extension taking shape on the south London skyline. The New Tate Modern will both increase our exhibition space, extend other activities, and also help us maintain a strong cultural presence in the local area.

How cultural and creative activity improves the places we live and work in

From cave paintings and land art, most civilisations and societies have used creativity and architecture to seek advancement and change. More recently in 20th-century Europe, we have seen new approaches such as investment in the Guggenheim & Maritime Museums in Bilbao, and urban planning linked to culture, heritage and the Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Often, people look at cultural organisations working outside their immediate art form or buildings as worthwhile, but perhaps do not see it as a major force for change and development in the broader scheme of things. However when you think about it, we're all part of local communities and many of us these days are linked through family, work and friendships to different communities across the world. We all face the same challenges in our everyday lives, whether it's good housing, open spaces, transport, relationships, play, health or getting a job. Culture can play an essential part in all of these things, and its influence can reach far beyond the walls of our various institutions.

Recent examples of cultural regeneration from around the world

I think of colleagues in Medellin, Colombia who have used escalators and public libraries to give poor mountainside communities both physical access to their homes and places of cultural congregation along the way. I think of Nantes, France, where arts and culture are central to their city and economic development plans. Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the shadow of the Maracena stadium, Contemporary Dancers are sharing facilities with carnival performers, thinking, talking and educating each other in an inner-city community. And in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the City Museum is working with the city and its communities as its 'muse'. These are all local projects, but they are also important far beyond their immediate localities. It's in areas like these that the local and the global can truly come together.

Donald Hyslop is Head of Regeneration and Community at Tate and Chair of Trustees of Borough Market. He is involved with the Creative Economy programme for the British Council, recently working in Sao Paulo and Porte Alegre. Donald will be taking our international Young Creative Entrepreneurs on a study tour when they arrive in London this week.

To find out more about the importance of the cultural sector to prosperity, download Policy Investigations: UK/Brazil Creative Economy Dialogue, featuring senior voices from Tate Modern, the University of São Paulo and Manchester Metropolitan University.

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