Arts and Culture Play Leading Role in Public Diplomacy of Global Cities

May 6, 2015

As with economic development or civic engagement, arts and culture shape the relevance and reach of global cities
While arts and culture have long attracted residents and visitors to global cities, these museums, architecture and art institutions are increasingly helping define global cities’ relationships and influence on the world stage. From famous examples such as the New York Philharmonic visit to North Korea in 2008 to the throngs of international visitors drawn every day to the Art Institute of Chicago, cultural institutions help extend a city’s reach outward and draw the world inside its borders.
Architect Frank Gehry, artist Romero Britto and Rijksmuseum General Director Wim Pijbes will be among those at the inaugural Chicago Forum on Global Cities, co-hosted by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Financial Times, discussing the ability of arts and culture to extend the relevance and reach of global cities. The forum runs May 27-29, 2015.
“Our museum’s founders — and many of Chicago’s greatest leaders throughout its history — understood that the arts and cultural institutions truly are essential to the fabric of a thriving city,” said Douglas Druick, president and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, where several forum sessions will take place. “They are powerful instruments we use to understand ourselves and the past, and they help advance the public good by engaging diverse audiences in the important issues of our time. We look to cities, cultural institutions and artists to inspire and to educate. Collectively, they have the power to restore community and give form to our loftiest principles.”
In addition to illuminating key issues, arts and culture also influence a city’s prosperity. Great halls of music, dance and art drive tourism, boosting the economy and global status of a city.
Creating and defining a global city’s unique cultural identity can mean millions or billions in tourism-related revenues. The U.N. World Tourism Organization, in partnership with research center CICtourGUNE, reported in 2014 that international tourism accounted for 9 percent of global GDP, 30 percent of services exports and one in every 11 jobs. Further, the volume of travel to cities increased by 47 percent worldwide from 2009 to 2013.
The importance of a city's livability for visitors and residents alike is also critical.
"There doesn’t seem to be much will or interest in building cities that place any value on humanism or architecture," said Gehry.  "If I look at how new cities have been planned and older cities have been adjusted over the last decades, civic leaders seem to be in denial that cities are created for the people who live there and that an investment in good architecture is an investment that results in more human, dignified spaces and in economic vitality for those people.  Good architecture does not mean more expensive; it means more thoughtful.  In order to achieve that, architecture has to be an integral part of the discussion on global cities at the highest levels.”
Moreover, the intertwining appeal of a city’s artistic, civic and economic pillars is what helps set global cities apart from other large urban areas.
“Culture is both a cause and effect of a global city,” said Richard Longworth, a senior fellow at The Chicago Council whose report, On Global Cities, will be issued in advance of the forum. “A strong economy pays for the museums, universities, symphonies and theaters that make a city more than a labor pool. But a vibrant culture – not just museums and theaters but restaurants and rock concerts – is a potent draw for global citizens who can live anywhere but want to be in vibrant cities that are both stimulating and fun.”
The symbiotic relationship between this thriving, stimulating arts scene and educational institutions is another key aspect of global cities – one that contributes to their reputation for thought leadership on the international stage.
“The arts dance across all developmental and educational stages in a global city,” said Brazilian Neo-pop artist, painter, serigrapher and sculptor Romero Britto. “Whether in revered cultural institutions, in venues across neighborhoods or in educational institutions of all types and for all ages, arts education plays a role in developing one of a global city’s key resources: creative people who understand and connect with people within and beyond their borders in a rich and meaningful way.”
Generous sponsorship for the Chicago Forum on Global Cities is being provided by AbbVie, Aon, The Boeing Company, Hyatt Hotels Foundation, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Motorola Solutions, Northern Trust, UL, United Airlines and Walgreens Boots Alliance. Foundation support is provided by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
A list of confirmed speakers and panel topics are available online at Updates will be made on an ongoing basis.
Additional information: 

  • Follow the Forum on Twitter @ChicagoForum and use #GlobalCities2015
  • Follow the Chicago Forum on Facebook
  • Follow the Chicago Forum on LinkedIn
  • For more information about The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, visit
  • For more information about the Financial Times, visit