No Turkish city in UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network

Since 2004, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been adding cities from around the world in its Creative Cities Network(UCCN), giving the dozens of cities on the list a permanent title that denotes their excellence in fields ranging from literature to film, and from music to media arts.

Sadly no Turkish city has ever been included in this network, a fact that makes it necessary for Turkey to reflect on its cultural policy, and with the country's general election coming up in less than two months, the recently announced election manifestos of the country's political parties become all the more important.

It's difficult to say that Turkey's cultural policy sits on a well-built foundation. Although the field of arts and culture constitutes a key item in the policies of several countries, in Turkey it is usually a victim to day-to-day politics, and clearly the governments don't really want to spend too much time thinking about matters of arts and culture.

With next month's 2015 annual meeting of the UCCN in Japan approaching, the fact that no city from Turkey is on that list is highlighted once more.

With the inclusion of five new cities in December, the network is currently made up of 69 cities from 32 countries classified under seven categories of excellence, such as Cities of Film, Cities of Design, and Cities of Gastronomy, to name a few.

Unlike the European Union's yearly series European Capital of Culture, UNESCO's UCCN is a project aimed at celebrating and maintaining cultural diversity and the title earned by a city in the network is permanent.

İstanbul holds the potential to become part of the network of Creative Cities in more than one field, but looking back on the city's rather unpleasant tenure in 2010 as a European Capital of Culture, greatly overshadowed by controversy surrounding projects designed for the program, and considering what is left of that experience, five years on, it appears Turkey needs to revise its cultural policy.

UNESCO aims to widen its network by including more cities from around the world that have “identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development” and create international partnerships among these cities on various levels.

Edinburgh, Melbourne, Norwich, Dublin, Reykjavik, Iowa City, Krakow, Granada and Prague are among the Creative Cities of Literature, while the Creative Cities of Music include Seville, Glasgow, Ghent, Bogota, Hannover and Mannheim. The most recent category, Cities of Film, created in 2009, includes five cities -- Bradford, Busan, Galway, Sofia and Sydney.

Election manifestos of political parties

The İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Art (İKSV), one of the city's most active institutions in the field of arts, this year released a special report titled “Cultural Policy Priorities and Recommendations to Political Parties for Election Manifestos.” The document, released in January, just in time for Turkey's political parties to read and learn, details the foundation's suggestions in the field of cultural policy in 10 items.

One of those 10 items read: “In order to transmit [Turkey's] accumulation in the field of culture and arts to the international fora, developing comprehensive programs that will reflect the cultural wealth and diversity of Turkey and underscoring the potential contribution of Turkey to future global culture in cultural diplomacy should be defined as objectives.”

In the run-up to Turkey's 2015 general election, once again items outside cultural policy, particularly those related to the economy, are dominating political discussions.

The prospect of the cultural collaborations that would be enabled by becoming a UCCN member can bring vitality to a member city. It's true that especially municipal administrations will have a lot of responsibility in such an undertaking, but first of all, creative industries, which play a major part in a country's economic development, must take a place as a major item in the country's cultural policy.

Musa İğrek, London
Today's Zaman
25 April 2015