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CULTURAL PRECINCTS Art or commodity?


Platform Paper 44


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An estimated $250 billion will be spent worldwide in the current decade on creating ‘cultural precincts’, collections of buildings with some arts-related function. Today, both capital and regional cities are building precincts which make grand claims for artistic collaboration, urban renewal, tourism and ‘liveable’ residential development while bringing substantial economic benefits. But is any of this true? Are they creative and profitable? Justin Macdonnell surveys the literature to uncover who really benefits. Once precincts grew where the people gathered, now they rise in neglected places, in the hope of attracting growth. There’s evidence they sell more tickets, but not that they produce better art. Property values rise, but are artists better rewarded? Does the public have a richer experience or even a more convenient one? Are cultural precincts really just another commodifying of the arts? Is there a better way?

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About the Author

JUSTIN MACDONNELL has been employed in arts management, production and consultancy for forty years, is a leading arts management consultant and Director of the Anzarts Institute. He is also a poet and librettist and the author of two books on arts policy.

At certain times in history powerful people have caused urban precincts to be created for reasons ranging from the religious to the vainglorious—and often they have been the same. Many, throughout history, have become sites of what today we might regard as ‘cultural tourism’. Ancient Delphi is an example. People went there for the good news and adorned the site with thanks if and when they got it. No doubt, as with oracles today, the emission of hot air assisted the process.