Urban Curation - An explorative study on understandings, roles and functions of curating practices in urban contexts

University essay from Malmö universitet/Kultur och samhälle

Abstract: Curating practices appear in various fields as a common practice of immaterial labour today. To ‘curate’ is an active verb that suggests ‘doing’ something. Seldom if ever are the implications of curating critically discussed outside the arts, and this provides a reason for this thesis to investigate. What does ‘to curate’ mean, imply or suggest in the urban context? How are urban curatorial practices legitimized and where can they contribute to urban planning? Embedded in contemporary urban challenges and the “state of crisis” often referred to, this paper introduces curating as an emerging cultural practice into this field. A vital part of the discussion this thesis opens up, is where art can become part of urban planning. Noting that the relationship between arts and urban environments is ambivalent, since the arts’ symbolic power is recognized within international competition of cities, it is about the margin between the field of arts and urban development. By laying a groundwork of contemporary curatorial understandings in the arts, the paper gives an overview on the existing notions and practices of ‘urban curation’ and highlights that there are strong positions but no existing definition as such. A look into urban planning theory pinpoints the crucial role of economic growth and its implications for the organization of urban developments under the term neoliberalism, a condition in which festivals replace urban development policies and culture becomes a structuring element. The occurrence of projects as organizational structure dominates and challenges long term developments. This constitutes the framework in which the paper discusses three very different project examples from Hamburg, Liverpool and Vienna for closer analysis. Between preservation and management, arranging and staging curating can alternatively be understood as an epistemology producing new knowledge. By cross-referencing between the arts, where the critical discussion on curating is held, and urban planning and architecture, where curatorial practice is applied, the paper suggests strengthening the critical discourse on the relevance and use of cultural practices in urban studies.

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