York wins UNESCO Media Arts status: Here’s what that means

1 Dec 2014 @ 12.35 pm
| Business, News

World cultural organisation UNESCO designated York a City of Media Arts on Monday (December 1).

On the back of the award, York hopes to double its creative economy from £165m to £330m in ten years.

The new status was hailed by city leaders as a major boost for the York’s global profile, a catalyst to bring more jobs here and an opportunity to build on our reputation for world-leading creativity.

“This clearly flies the flag for York’s bid to be the first port of call for media arts in the UK, and indeed, one of the most creative cities in the world,” said Kersten England, chief executive of City of York Council.

“This designation recognises all of the people involved in York’s vibrant digital arts scene: computer games designers, digital archivists, film producers, light artists, online publishers and many people who play a supporting role.”

What is a UNESCO City of Media Arts?

It is all connected to the Creative Cities Network, put together by UNESCO.

This brings together cities with proven excellence in their creative field. There are now 69 around the world.

Other British cities involved are:

  • Dundee, which on Monday became a UNESCO City of Design;
  • Edinburgh and Norwich (existing UNESCO Cities of Literature);
  • Bradford (Cinema);
  • and Glasgow (Music).

York’s new designation, City of Media Arts, is shared by French cities Lyon and Enghien-les-Bains, Sapporo in Japan, and fellow newbies Gwangju (Republic of Korea), Linz (Austria), Dakar (Senegal) and Tel Aviv (Israel).

According to its mission statement, the Creative Cities Network fosters “international cooperation among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable development”.

Objectives include:

  • promoting creativity especially among vulnerable groups, including women and youth, and
  • improving access to, and participation in, cultural life.

How did York become a Media Arts city?

To achieve the status, cities have to…

  • demonstrate development of cultural and creative industries triggered by digital technology
  • successfully integrate media arts into urban life, and
  • widen access to culture through digital technology development.

York’s creative and digital sector is growing. In recent years £20 million has been invested in the Ron Cooke Hub for creative enterprise and £30 million in the Heslington Studios at the University of York.

Charles Cecil, founder of York video games company Revolution Software, said:

“York is becoming a media arts hub because it is an ideal international meeting point for ideas and creativity.

“The city is an exceptional and inspiring place to live and work, embracing its past whilst also celebrating the present, making it the best possible environment to foster and develop creativity and stimulate the imagination.”

York already offers free wi-fi in the city centre and plans to develop super-fast network connections.

This makes it easier

“for people to both work in the digital arts sector, and also for citizens to engage with this new art form, whether by seeing projections onto the sides of buildings, or using their own mobile technology to access other interactive arts”

– Mat Lazenby of creative agency Lazenby Brown.

How will the status boost York?

Four aspirations

These are the four aspirations as set out in the York Unesco City Of Media Arts Plan 2015/16.

1. To double the size York’s creative economy from £164.8m to £329.6m by 2025

2. To increase engagement in the arts from 50.3% to 75% by 2025

3. To double the proportion of schools in the area with Arts Council Artsmark accreditation from 17% to 34% by 2025

4. To increase the proportion of cultural tourists from 17% to 25%, contributing to a doubling of the value of tourism to York to £1bn by 2025

“This prestigious recognition of York’s creative and media sectors will
boost these existing strong industries in York,
raise the profile of the city globally,
attract new businesses and
provide employment opportunities for York residents for years to come.”

Those are the words of council leader James Alexander.

The new status will also trigger a plan designed to ensure more participation and enjoyment of the arts in York over 2015-16. You can read the plan here.

An “international programme of cultural festivals showcasing media arts” will feature. And the digital and media arts centre in the Guildhall will be advanced.

How will it be run?

The plan is to create an office run by a two-person management team “tasked with
the management, promotion and development of ‘York UNESCO City of Media Arts’”. They will be based at the HQ of new tourism, culture and inward investment organisation, Make It York.

A board would oversee their work, meeting four times a year.

How will we measure success?

A “full business plan, including targets, will be developed by Make It York within three months of designation”, the plan states.

The two-person management team “will identify key performance indicators and targets for the main objectives for designation.

“It is recommended that the socio-economic impact is tracked by existing city measures for competitiveness, employment, and investment and community participation in the arts.”

The York UNESCO City of Media Arts Office will publish an annual report detailing its ongoing activities and accomplishments, an operating and financial review, and performance against key objectives.