Cultural strategy St. Pölten 2030 – Potential topics and areas of action

The following topics and guidelines for a cultural strategy St. Pölten 2030 have emerged after analysis of the city’s current situation and general conditions. They are in line with the basic concepts and requirements of the mid-sized town as a model (“Modell Mittelstadt”), a concept for cities with a population of 20,000 to 999,999 inhabitants. These topics and guidelines will be the subject of discussion during KulturFORUM #2. Aimed at 2030, the city’s cultural strategy defines the focal points for arts management and cultural work in the next few years. It also forms the basis for the bid to become European Capital of Culture 2024.

1. St. Pölten as a European role model for a liveable mid-sized city in a metropolitan region

St. Pölten is one of many mid-sized cities that have developed in the shadows of European metropolises and are increasingly gaining significance. Mid-sized cities like St. Pölten have an important regional function: they are hubs connecting town and countryside, centres of administration, production, trade and culture. St. Pölten is a model of the past, present, and future mid-sized city. In 1986 it became the regional capital with the clear intention of boosting the creation of a regional centre beyond the metropolis of Vienna. Today, St. Pölten is an important centre for business, science, culture and administration with supra-regional reach. The aim is to build on this asset and to strengthen and develop St. Pölten as a model mid-sized city with a high quality of living within the metropolitan region and in a Europe of Regions. (see also the chapter on mid-sized cities on page 6 of this issue)

2. City – region – landscape: the urban/regional archipelago of St. Pölten

With its diverse neighbourhoods, government and cultural district, lakes, industrial zones and business parks, St. Pölten forms an urban archipelago. Urban settings like the city centre emerge like islands from a sea of land- and cityscapes. Landscapes and cultural areas like the corridor formed by the river Traisen weave through urban and rural landscapes like “green veins”, dividing and structuring them. As a city of culture, St. Pölten integrates these formative free spaces into its urban tissue and connects them with the city’s own recreational and leisure areas.

The historic city centre is the unmistakable centre of the urban/regional archipelago of St. Pölten. With its cathedral, Domplatz square, Rathausplatz square and numerous public institutions, it is the geographic and symbolic epicentre of the provincial capital of St. Pölten. This symbolism manifests itself in the architecture, which is defined by a high density, prominent buildings and characteristic public spaces. Few places are more memorable than the historic city centre of St. Pölten.

The city centre offers diverse possibilities for synergies that are unmatched anywhere else in the city. This diversity generates public life, but requires attractive public spaces. And this is what the cultural strategy for St. Pölten 2030 should focus on: developing the city centre, affirming its importance for the entire city and region, enhancing its qualities and setting new priorities. This includes redesigning Domplatz square as well as making the roads to the city centre more attractive. This concept adds another focus to the cultural strategy for St. Pölten as provincial capital: making use of the proximity of the historic city centre to the cultural and government districts.

Change is ever-present in the islands of the urban archipelago of St. Pölten, i.e. within the various neighbourhoods, along arterial roads, in newly built and transforming districts, and in areas with an industrial heritage. In this growing archipelago, a sense of purpose and courage will be needed to shape this special cultural space according to high cultural and architectural standards. As well as material aspects, this also involves immaterial goods such as traditions and customs, festivities and social practices that are socially inclusive and intergenerational. This goal must be reflected in the cultural strategy St. Pölten 2030!

The underlying principle of these topics is the city’s specific urbanity and the challenge of positioning St. Pölten and the Cultural Capital Region as an alternative model to Europe’s increasing dichotomy of attractive urban spaces and emptying rural areas.

3. Founding the Cultural (Capital) Region: a spatial network defined by art and culture

St. Pölten is the cultural capital of Lower Austria, as demonstrated by its many cultural institutions: three theatres with coordinated programmes, a multitude of literary performances at the highest level, as well as dance, cabaret, contemporary music, various museums and art galleries, and many more. Independent artists and other creatives add to this wide array. This makes the mid-sized city of St. Pölten an important centre of the Cultural (Capital) Region. 

This is the foundation on which to build in order to consolidate and strengthen the position of St. Pölten as the centre of the Cultural (Capital) Region in a Europe of Regions. The cultural strategy for St. Pölten 2030 will (have to) accept this challenge and focus on the development and inclusion of established cultural institutions in the urban spatial context of the city.

St. Pölten does not stand alone. The city is part of a region full of cultural activity. It is not a politically and geographically defined region, but a regional network defined and heavily influenced by art and culture. The cultural strategy will involve discussing the spatial connections of this cultural network with Vienna, Melk and Krems, as well as Mariazell and other culturally charged cities and towns. The goal is to create opportunity and freedom for regional development and cooperation. This concerns strategies and concepts for tourism as well as the development of the entire economic and cultural sphere.

True to the motto “culture for all”, this will also entail enabling easy access for larger target audiences, regardless of age, heritage or personal background.

4. Image/identity: a city defines its standards. What are the architectural and cultural standards expected from a self-confident Provincial Capital (of Culture) and a European Capital of Culture?

Identity helps the inhabitants of a city or region to become aware of their home and heritage. A common history, traditions, values and symbols become the “cultural putty” of the urban region, while the urban/regional self-image expresses itself in the forging of an identity. The aim is to strengthen the citizens’ attachment and commitment to their city and to open up opportunities for regional development. At the same time, the urban region needs to become recognisable and identifiable from the outside, honing its profile in a national and international context.

In the age of internationalisation there is an increased need for places and processes that offer orientation and dependability in social and cultural contexts. Aside from many other aspects such as political culture, social participation, labour market, etc., architectural culture is becoming an increasingly important factor in people’s ability – and willingness – to identify with their city.

Good architecture and building culture not only have an effect on social processes, but are also always a visible expression of cultural achievements and a society’s commitment to its city. Architectural culture is an important part of the cultural capital of a city and its region, continually shaping their image and identity. It both reflects and influences a city’s awareness and social commitment. Architectural culture manifests itself in buildings, streets and squares, in transportation and infrastructure, in town centres and business parks.

A vibrant architectural culture must engage with the city’s history and tradition. It faces present and future challenges, is open to the new and innovative, and thus defines tomorrow’s architectural heritage. Processes of architectural culture are therefore always processes of social and cultural learning, education and communication.

From this perspective, cultures of building, planning and cultural education are necessarily interconnected and interdependent. They should aim to open up opportunities for participation and establish special processes and procedures for communicating culture. Boasting a centre of historical importance, the city of St. Pölten must accept this challenge and make architectural culture, cultural education and cultural communication the main aims of its cultural strategy 2030.

5. The transformed city: an industrial city becomes a city of education, art, culture and creativity.

We live in a time of rapid, intensive and far-reaching technological and social change. Digitalisation, for example, is causing a fast-paced transformation of the retail, industry and mobility sectors. Knowledge, education and culture are increasingly becoming the driving forces behind this transformation. They play a significant role in the structural economic and social change. Art, culture, knowledge and education also have unifying powers in our society and are the prime capital for our future. Strengthening them also strengthens the inner cohesion of urban society. The foundations are laid in kindergarten and school, and are then reinforced and enriched by adult education, museums, libraries, theatres, etc.

With this in view, education, knowledge, art and culture can give strong impulses to the transformation at hand and can contribute to integrating technological innovations into social processes. Art and culture must be seen as the fertile ground on which creative environments can flourish, as the driving force behind economic and social transformation. The city’s innovative power and future-readiness depend on its support for art, culture, the communication and distribution of knowledge, and on creating cooperation projects for generating and sharing knowledge.

6. Inclusive art and culture is low-threshold, multifaceted and appealing to a broad audience, especially children and young people

St. Pölten has several special traits that it should focus on in its cultural profile: its size, regional context, diverse range of schools and higher education facilities, and a manageable scope, which allows the city to accept responsibility in cultural and social matters. Among other things, St. Pölten can tackle the challenge of making the city more family- and child-friendly, and can expand on this idea with confidence as part of its bid to become the European Capital of Culture 2024. One of the aims is to nurture critical and creative thinking and gain expertise in a variety of areas, including in the social and intercultural fields.

Cultural education should be intensified, supplementing the existing school programmes, and cultural programmes should be developed that help introduce children and young people to culture. For example, an arts centre could be set up for children and young people as first point of contact with artistic and cultural techniques or in the context of cultural education. A central brick of such a strategy could focus on securing and developing consumption-free spaces for children and young people, which are currently lacking in St. Pölten.

St. Pölten needs formats that provide easy access to art and culture and are attractive to a broad audience, not just children and young people. Cultural education needs to be relatable and explanatory in ways that people can understand, conveying matters at intellectual and emotional levels. The aim should be to interest people, stir up their curiosity and enable them to understand and appreciate artistic and cultural contents and programmes.

7. Reflecting and experiencing Europe in St. Pölten: new forms of neighbourliness, community and cooperation

The history of the city of St. Pölten is closely tied to the process of industrialisation and therefore the phenomenon of immigration. Many people from various European countries came as guest workers and have since become an integral part of St. Pölten society. They have a large impact on cultural life in the city’s individual districts and are an irreplaceable part of its cultural diversity. St. Pölten is their home – be it their first home, second home, or their home of choice. It makes no difference if they were born there, grew up there, moved (back) there or are connected to the city for any other number of reasons. This is where you can experience Europe in St. Pölten. The diversity and rich cultural background have to come to the fore in the bid for European Capital of Culture 2024. The goal is also to include people for whom St. Pölten has become a new home. This involves documenting the contributions of migrants to the social life and cultural diversity of the city of St. Pölten in (and for) Europe.

8. Open spaces of opportunity – nurturing commitment and creativity and making room for experiments

The development of St. Pölten’s cultural profile is supported to a large degree by a strong civic and neighbourly commitment. Social/cultural commitment is broadly regarded as an obvious and rewarding task for the community. New forms of civic commitment fill gaps and spaces where the state or city cannot bear sole responsibility.

Deserted industrial areas and business premises are revitalised and play host to cultural events, and new cultural centres are developed in various districts and locations, which then become new spaces of opportunity and experiment in the cultural city of St. Pölten. Examples include the “Sonnenpark” as well as the transformed Glanzstoff factory premises, where cultural festivities and festivals lend a special urban flair to the city.

St. Pölten’s independent art and culture scene gives important impulses and is therefore an significant node in this network. It is a reflection of the framework which society provides for discourse, participation, exchange, experiments and innovation. The Capital of Culture can unleash its potential wherever initiative, spontaneity and temporality of use are permitted, demanded and supported as part of the city’s development policy.

There is always an element of testing and crossing the boundaries of convention and routine. Unique urban spaces and networks of protagonists can become visible along with their potential for change and development. They can be formed in the service of creative urbanity. This is why the Capital of Culture St. Pölten must provide the space and freedom required for developing such spaces and places. The bid for European Capital of Culture 2024 is also an opportunity to understand that developing a city’s cultural profile always involves learning and experimentation.

18 May 2018

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