Bilbargo: Between the Bilbao Effect and the Cargo Cult. White Elephants of Culture and Their Influence on Polish Cities.

Monday, 16 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Tomasz SZLENDAK, Institute of Sociology, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Poland
Presentation concerns cultural superinstitutions. New contemporary art centers, philharmonics, operas, ultramodern science centers and museums, which with the use of EU funds have been emerged in Poland in the last few years and effectively change landscape along with socio-cultural urban fabric. They grew on a paradigm known in the cultural economy as Bilbao Effect. The mechanism is as follows:1) The decision has to be made to invest in cultural infrastructure with emphasis on attractiveness, to do so starchitect is required - to add some splendor,2) A building with appropriate significance would attract tourists, 3) Around the superinstituton – the attractor – the whole network of various services would develop and as an effect the investment would pay off in taxes, 4) Urban fabric would renew, the attractiveness of the city as a place of residence and entertainment would increase, which also would contribute to local budget, 5) Superinstitution would help to deal with the demographic challenges of the city. The only problem is that this kind of investments, which were supposed to increase the cultural participation and at the same time contribute to local budget, had been built almost like bamboo planes known in social anthropology as manifestations of the cargo cult. “Let's build a superinstitution and the Bilbao Effect will appear as in the well-known literature”. The reality was different. The effects came as if magic at large. Cultural supernstitutions caused unexpected effects in Polish cities: In one city, the cultural policy pursued by such white elephants was based on the principles of Bilbao, while in the others it strengthened gentrification or the traditional socio-structural divisions. Some are examples of cultural industry development, some of decay. Presentation is based on a long-term ethnographic research project conducted in 2016 and commissioned by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.