Arts and culture can contribute to urban growth. Here’s how. #FOI2024

By Sol Gonzalez

GovInsider’s Festival of Innovation invited leaders in the arts, culture and heritage to share their insights on innovating the sector for the growth of the city.

The experts highlighted the potential of the arts and culture in providing well-being and promoting economic growth for the city. Image: GovInsider.

“Name one city in the world that has a very weak arts and cultural sector that is either known or desirable.” This question was posed by Co-Founder of Creative Bureaucracy UK, Charles Landry, moderator of Arts and Heritage Panel: Unlocking Arts and Culture for City Growth at  GovInsider’s 2024 Festival of Innovation.  


Panellists from the public and private sector shared how the arts and culture can contribute to nurturing a healthy society, build identity and nation-branding that in turn can attract tourists, and generate economic growth. 


It was highlighted that while arts and culture can support tangible goals like economic growth, it can also promote well-being amongst residents. 


Senior Director of Heritage Policy for the National Heritage Board (NHB), Yeo Kirk Siang recalled the streets of Paris, with its museums and iconic monuments like the Eiffel Tower which attract millions of visitors and aspiring residents all year long. 

Arts and culture for urban well-being


“When we think about cities, we have become obsessed with economic growth. That has diluted the value of the things that really matter. Why are we all chasing economic success? It is to be healthier. And in many ways, the wealthiest and healthiest of places are the ones which celebrate art in public places,” said Managing Partner of XDG Labs in Singapore, Anupam Yog.


He was referring to the positive relationship between living near heritage areas and improved well-being. Earlier this year, research by Historic England found that residents in England who live closer to heritage sites report higher levels of life satisfaction, after adjusting for other factors, including socioeconomic status.

Senior Director of Heritage Policy for the National Heritage Board Yeo Kirk Seng pointed out the role of culture in place-making. Image:GovInsider.

This is particularly so in multicultural societies like Singapore. Personal identity and sense of place are important issues in Singapore “because through understanding another’s culture, people can live together in harmony”, Yeo said.


The panellists pointed out that policymakers and community leaders can enhance existing infrastructure with the arts to create meaning for residents.


In Dubai, art patron and local developer Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal transformed what used to be an industrial warehouse zone into a vibrant arts and culture hub that is now “the creative focal point of the city”, shared Anupam Yog. The Alserkal Avenue hosts over 70 art galleries, cultural institutions, and creative communities.


When community members modify spaces, it encourages further use of the space, contributing to the vitality and the conservation of such infrastructure.


Investing in the arts and culture is an “investment in urban life” said Assistant Professor of Arts and Culture Management at Singapore Management University, Dr Sue Fern Hoe, noting that an active cultural sector contributes to capacity-building and innovation for the current and upcoming generations.

Innovating cultural infrastructure in digital times


“Why are we talking about heritage and arts in a festival of innovation?” moderator of the panel, Charles Landry questioned the floor. Panellists emphasised that it is important to consider past perceptions, ideas and plans to better innovate in the future.


Innovation can redefine what cultural infrastructure — museums, parks, and galleries —mean to the city and to its residents both at present as well as in the future.

Vice President of Singapore Heritage Society, Dr Pang, emphasised the potential of intersecting technology and heritage. Image: GovInsider.

Technology can make the museum experience more innovative with social and interactive elements. For instance, the National Museum of Singapore presented a digital exhibition that connected Artificial Intelligence (AI) and artwork to attract visitors of all ages, GovInsider reported previously.


Heritage and culture benefit from digital media innovation, shared Vice President of Singapore Heritage Society, Dr Natalie Pang. With 3D scanning, curators can reproduce physical artifacts and assets of the built environment to improve conservation and preservation plans.


The Ministry of Culture Community and Youth (MCCY) reported that in-person visits to national museums and heritage institutions increased by 7 per cent to 2.2 million in 2021.


Embracing culture and heritage for economic growth


Arts and culture also provide value to citizens, visitors, and the city environment, and the tourism industry.


Yeo pointed out that Korea is showing the way in promoting its national culture worldwide. Now, the country attracts millions of visitors yearly, generating billions of dollars in tourism revenue.


Singapore is advocating for urban planning and arts and culture policies that engages the communities to create a vibrant environment for residents and tourists alike, shared Dr Sue Fern Hoe. The Singapore Arts Museum is activating the urban area in Tanjong Pagar and has established itself as the everyday museum that is always accessible for everyone, she said.


About the tourism value of arts and culture, Yog suggested that Singapore should aim for a more sustainable model of tourism where visitors add positive value to their destination. This way, the local economy and communities benefit from tourism and can continue to offer rich experiences for visitors in the future.


To watch the panel recapped on this piece, do follow the link:

Arts and Heritage Panel: Unlocking Arts and Culture for City Growth