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Grow Your Own: Developing Creative Capital from the Ground Up in Amsterdam

I have just returned from a conference on “cultural education” (in school, out of school, museums, concert venues, schools, libraries, historic sites, etc.) organized and hosted by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science, the National Centre of Expertise for Cultural Education and Amateur Arts (LKCA), the Cultural Participation Fund, and the city of Amsterdam. Already the names and the number of organizations imply a forceful recognition of the role of cultural participation in national identity, education, innovation, and the economy. Nowhere was this clearer than in the speech by the Alderperson from the city of Amsterdam, Carolien Gehrels, where she described the civic cultural planning process she oversaw during her 12 years in office. As part of that speech she shared the city’s scheme for becoming the city with Europe’s fastest growing creative sector. Unlike many U.S. cities that try to attract adult “creatives,” Amsterdam is determined to grow its own. (See the graphic below.) The process begins with the “Standard Package for Art and Cultural Education” that guarantees every child three in-school hours of cultural education a week throughout primary school: one hour of music, one of visual arts and heritage, and one hour dedicated to a discipline of the school’s choice, such as the performing arts. In addition, secondary schools enroll every student in Creative Arts Class and provide each with a Culture Card, a kind of passport to venues and events. In addition, the city’s cultural institutions have been funded to provide robust extracurricular programs — for instance, the Rijksmuseum provides free visits and free transportation to schools throughout the Netherlands. The city hosts a growing number of post-secondary entrepreneurial art and design opportunities like the Jean School: a program devoted entirely to denim studies, from design and cutting to retail. THNK is the city’s new college for creative leadership in design, manufacturing, and social entrepreneurship. At its apex, the entire city becomes a cultural campus. (Click here for details on other sectors of the overall plan.)

City for Talent Development in Arts

UNESCO has recognized Amsterdam’s ring of canals that thread through the central city as a World Heritage site, pointing to them as one of the earliest and most effective models of large-scale town planning that integrated the domestic, commercial, and cultural lives of the city. This made me think: Maybe UNESCO (or a world conference of mayors) ought to recognize cities that build the conditions for developing creative capital by providing all children and young adults with pathways to creative lives — whether as artists and performers, architects or entrepreneurs, citizens or caregivers who pass along singing, drawing, design, or performance. Suppose you sat on the committee designing an index to identify such places. What ingredients would be on your list?

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