In the period 19 – 22 April, representatives of European cities and regions studied the experience of Sofia in the field of public-private partnerships in the sphere of culture.
The study visit was part of the Culture for Cities and Regions initiative, implemented by EUROCITIES, KEA and ERRIN, through which the Fund for Innovations in Culture was selected as one of the 15 European best practices for which study visits are being organized. The visit was hosted by Sofia Municipality through Sofia Development Association.
Transferrable best practices identified:
• Strongly expressed shared leadership in the cultural processes in the city: political will, support and participation of the artistic sector, business and civil society. Shared vision and commitment to development. An important role of culture not only in itself (which could lead to its separation and ultimately to a certain marginalization), but also in the key strategic documents of the city on economic development (Strategy for Smart Specialization) and social development.
• Atypically for Europe, local government plays a leading role in building relationships with the private sector through the Fund for Innovations, the Business Council to the Mayor, etc. This leads to more private participation in the funding of cultural and artistic projects and processes, relationships of trust and pooling of resources for the benefit of the city and its residents and guests. An important lesson learned is the work both with individual sponsoring companies and with business associations, which facilitate the outreach to a larger audience, institutionalization of achievements.
• Important role of an intermediary organization – Sofia Development Association – which speaks the language of both business and administration, as well as of artistic circles, and in this way facilitates the collaboration process.
• The Fund for Innovations in Culture itself is the best transferrable practice. What is innovative in it is its structure of management, flexibility, support for ventures and admitting the possibility of failure, allowing individual grants (ineligible in most participating cities), as well as the overall positioning of the Fund as an instrument aiming at innovation and the future, and changing the status quo. This combination allows the Fund to achieve significant results, despite the relatively small budget, perhaps the most important of which is the creation of community.
• Efforts of the city (municipality) for spatial distribution of investments in cultural and artistic projects - in various neighbourhoods and communities, regardless of the budgets of the programs. Sofia exerts these efforts against the prevailing European trend of concentrating investments in "artistic neighbourhoods" in the cities, thus undoubtedly allowing for more access to cultural participation.
• Commitment of the city (municipality) to promote and popularize art projects and events (through ads on rockets, websites and social media, electronic newsletters, access support and media coverage, etc.) - an enormous help for cultural operators which is not offered by the participating European cities.
• Commitment of the city (municipality) to invest in increasing the capacity of cultural operators by the Cultural Management Academy.
• Very inspiring examples of how artists are a source of innovation: the ticket sales in cans by Sofia Film Fest, reaching to new audiences; the Muzeyko character that animates communication in Muzeyko; the interactive and creative activities with Cyrillic letters in the Urban Reading Room; the new approach in the urban tour of Free Sofia Tour and many others.
• Commitment of the city (municipality) to use any additional opportunity (e.g. a cocktail reception) to promote social causes and encourage social integration.
Recommendations to Sofia:
• Specific recommendations to the Fund: to introduce mentoring for the beneficiaries, many of whom are young organizations/artists with limited experience.
• Sofia Municipality should establish a permanent team with representatives of various departments who will be familiarized with the supported projects and who will assist their implementation according to the powers of the respective directorate (example – the Municipality of Birmingham).
• Sofia Municipality should facilitate the process of renovating municipally-owned spaces for and through culture. A possible model would be the community asset transfer applied by the Municipality of Birmingham.
• Sofia Municipality should establish a sustainable system of measurement, data collection and evaluation of cultural projects and processes. There are a number of good European examples from different cities.
• Sofia Municipality should expand its partnerships nationwide, for example in terms of developing and adopting a national strategy for development of culture, interaction with universities (the need is evident, for instance, from the film school at New Boyana), etc.
• Sofia Municipality should prepare itself for an increasing internationalization and globalization with projects and processes for social inclusion, language access, international marketing, without missing the opportunity to participate in European and international projects and making full use of its membership in the major European networks.
The report could be found on: