“City DNA: Urban Cultural Policies 2016” – a report on cultural policy in Poland

The report “City DNA: Urban Cultural Policies” published by the Res Publica Foundation is the first research project on cultural policies in Poland that presents unique data on a national scale.

Since 2010 expenditure on culture in Poland remains on a very similar level. At the same time, there is a growing disproportion between the amount of money that is being invested by provincial capitals (18 biggest cities) and other cities. According to the Central Statistical Office of Poland more than 80% of Poles consider culture
as an important or very important part of their life. This is perhaps one of the reasons why we have spent as much as 42 billion PLN of public money on culture in the period between 2010 and 2014 – funding theaters, museums, libraries, cultural centers, nonprofit organizations and organizing countless concerts, festivals and art exhibitions. At first glance it would seem that the mechanism works flawlessly.

“Eight years ago, when we started our work as the research team City DNA (DNA Miasta), the situation seemed rather simple. Civil servants working in local administrations were responsible for the bad state of affairs in urban culture, and the best solution was establishing sensible dialogue and participation with the residents of cities. What we quickly discovered was that this strategy turned out to be too simplistic and schematic, especially when we consider the gross deficit of professional knowledge about cultural policy in Polish cities. There was almost no data available for interpretation – especially on financing culture or even on defining what is cultural policy and how different actors defining the role of state and city officials. The creation of the City DNA research program was guided by our decision to fill these gaps with substantive knowledge based on extensive research of the cultural field. We wanted to find out how cultural policies actually work in Poland. We searched for an answer to one fundamental question: what kind of cultural policy is the best?” – explains Artur Celiński, the head of the research team and creator of the urban think-tank “City DNA,” which also includes the interdisciplinary quarterly “City Magazine” (“Magazyn Miasta”) specializing in urban issues and promotion of progressive policies on sustainable city development.  

Our report is the product of the research project on cultural policy in Poland conducted for the first time on such an enormous scale. We examined 99 largest Polish cities, analyzing more than 1300 budget documents, reports, and reaching for the opinion of more than 1300 residents (including civil servants, artists, animators, managers of culture, representatives of cultural institutions and NGOs). The large set of unique and rich data we acquired made it possible to formulate specific conclusions and recommendations on the condition of culture in Poland in both the micro and macro scale, while also allowing for comparative research with other similar studies conducted in the last years throughout Europe.

The report “City DNA: Urban Cultural Policies 2016” is divided into four parts. The first part examines the different processes that regulate cultural activity and the people responsible for making decisions that influence the development of local cultural policies. As it turned out the respondents of our study have a rather ambivalent opinion on the decision process and activity of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Only one third of civil servants have a positive opinion on the usefulness of the Ministry. Another major problem or setback relates to insufficient methods of evaluating cultural policy. There is a visible (and problematic) tendency to construct assessments of cultural policy based only on such imperfect sources as subjective opinions, attendance at events, informal conversations or discussions in social media.

The second part of our report concerns the problem of financing culture by public capital. There are enormous disproportions in the budgets of the 99 biggest Polish cities, most arresting especially in cultural infrastructure and expenditure per capita. This is undoubtedly a major challenge for the anyone who believes in and promotes a modernized, more sustainable development of Polish cities. Top ten cities in our list are able to keep their expenditure on culture on an average of 7,9% of their total budgets. In comparison, the last ten cities must satisfy with an average of 1,6%.

In the third part, we take a closer look on strategic documents on the development of culture introduced by Polish city authorities in the last years, presenting a general overview as well as recommendations. The closing fourth chapter entitled “Perspectives from cities” provides in-depth case studies of cultural policies realized in specific cities: Gorzow, Jelenia Gora, Koszalin, Katowice, Olsztyn and Slupsk.

The full report “City DNA: Urban Cultural Policies 2016” (ENG)

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