I was recently invited to be part of a panel presentation at the Creativity World Forum 2017 in Aarhus, Denmark. I was there to share more about Creative Cardiff’s work and in particular our activity in partnership with Cardiff City Council and Arts Council of Wales titled “Creating Cardiff”. However, as Aarhus is European Capital of Culture 2017, it also allowed me to find out more about a city hosting this year-long programme of events – and a city that is rapidly thinking and re-thinking its cultural offering.

My three-day visit was extremely stimulating on many levels. I learnt a lot at the conference itself, met some brilliant people and got the chance to consider another city’s approach to its cultural position and offering. I returned to Cardiff with many thoughts about what I had seen, heard and learnt and about how it relates to our work.

Here are my three key observations:

  1. Aarhus

Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city and dates back to an 8th century Viking settlement. Aarhus has many high quality museums and galleries as well as top class music venues and creative hub spaces. It is a compact and well thought-through city, offering many of the benefits that come from being a second city.

The focus of this year as European Capital of Culture is the rethinking of Aarhus’s offering and narrative and also encouraging us (the audiences) to reconsider our relationship with art, each other and the world around us. Aarhus 2017 has produced an astounding 350 projects under the banner of “Let’s Rethink”, based on three core values: democracy, diversity and sustainability.

There was an infectious energy in the city while I was there – partly from the conference and partly from the city’s general approach, including 10 months as capital of culture and a programme of events, with something always going on.

  1. The conference

This was the 13th Creativity World Forum, and the programme offered high-level talks, co-creative activities, and satellite events in venues around the city.

It all ran seamlessly, with consistently high quality talks and breakout sessions, and there were so many takeaways to consider from 25 keynote speakers.

My key learnings were:

  • From Steve Vranakis, Creative Director, Google Labs: “We are all creative activists!” - the importance of using creativity to do good, including addressing some of the world’s current big issues. In particular his reflections on developing an app to help refugees.
  • From Vivienne Ming, theoretical neuroscientist, technologist and entrepreneur – the need for us all to work harder to unlock our creative potential and maximise the potential in the workforces in our organisations. Vivienne has been named one of 10 Women to Watch in Tech by Inc. Magazine and is also an expert in AI and robotics.
  • From Jan Gehl, legendary Danish architect – the importance of public spaces and remembering people in urban planning. He talked about the life between buildings, and designing places that impact people positively.
  • From Tom Kelley, CEO, IDEO – the importance of remembering empathy in everything we do, and work often being about wrestling with complexity in order to deliver simplicity.
  1. Reflecting on Cardiff from a distance

It is always good to go away and reflect on what you have been doing, by comparing it with other efforts in the same vein. I presented at a breakout session, facilitated by Aarhus University, which enabled me to do just this. Aside from telling Creative Cardiff’s story, I shared more about our work with partners Cardiff City Council and Arts Council of Wales and the creative identity of the city.

We believe passionately in the importance of partnership working and co-production, and it was clear from other presentations that this is vital to their work too. I was particularly impressed to hear more about the Creative Ring project a European-wide, technology-supported experimental ecosystem for creative talents, professionals and stakeholders working in and with the creative industries which also works in this way and hope to engage further with this initiative in the future.

Next year’s Creativity World Forum is in Antwerp, Flanders in Belgium. The bar has been set very high. I wish the team planning this all the best in preparing for 2018.