CIBF and impact of culture on economy

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By 2017-09-24

By Indeewara Thilakarathne

Only the very weak-minded refuse to be influenced by literature and poetry." ― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel
"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers." ― Charles William Eliot
In this week's column, I would like to look at the importance of literature, literacy and culture as a development factor against the backdrop of Colombo International Book Fair (CIBF) which by now has become a major annualized cultural event on the cultural calendar.

Colombo International Book Fair 2017 is now being held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH), Bauddhaloka Mawatha, and Colombo 07).
According to organisers of this popular book exhibition, Sri Lanka Book Publishers Association, that there are around 300 – 400 local and foreign book stalls. Apart from being a hub of book fans and literary buffs, the Colombo International Book Fair is the largest book fair in Sri Lanka and annualized event that would attract almost all the stakeholders in the Publishing Industry and in the field of Literature.

Apart from being a major book fair, it has other allied features that constitute the major features of the urban cultural landscape. Another important aspect of culture is that its pervasive impact on the urban economy. Study of cultural economics offers novel avenues that would re-consider culture as a dominant factor and literacy, an important pre-requisite for sustainable development of a nation.

Impact of culture on economy =sub-head
In an academic article "The Impacts of Culture on the Economic Development of Cities " Jan van der Borg and Antonio Paolo Russo observe the vital role that culture can play in the economic development of a city as, " The importance of culture as an engine of urban development can be fully gauged by considering its role in regenerating cities. In the last few years, interest in the cultural industries as an economic force of its own has grown. The European Commission has identified culture and the various sectors of the cultural industry as a major economic and social force in Europe. The growth of cultural employment has been strong in the past ten years, exceeding average employment-growth figures.

Culture is eminently a city industry, and more generally an urban phenomenon. Through ages, and in particular since the end of the middle ages, the most important works of art, the most influential circles of creative thinking, the best schools and universities, and the flourishing of cultural trends and languages, have been closely associated with cities, their power, and their economic strength.
It is thus not surprising that as of today, the cultural heritage of most nations – especially in Europe – is concentrated in cities, and that most starting artists or organizations would look for an urban location, preferably in one of those 'cultural hubs' like London, New York or Berlin, where land values have now reached levels common to any other global industry throughout the world.

Despite its global articulation, culture – owing to its idiosyncratic, highly contextual and inherently unique nature – is a factor of distinction for cities, and this makes it a key ingredient of contemporary urbanization. Each city has its own culture, partly reflecting the historical heritage of a community, partly its projection into the world. Even conventional cultural products like orchestra performances or museums arguably reflect the typical traits of its host community, through their choice of repertoire and their communication style. Cities are indeed badly in need of such elements of distinction. The post-modern city competes for attention on a planetary scale. Under the levelling pull of globalisation, cities have a chance to build 'bridges' (Castells, 1996) that keep together the space of flows of the global economy (made of migrant citizens, information, goods, etc.) with the space of places of the local, and anchor their destiny to it.

Their cultural specific becomes a building block of their economic status and an element of the 'image' that governments and business communities utilize to attract resources, people, and capital. At the same time, cities can project an image of modernity an dynamism by investing in new cultural infrastructure and create an 'artificial distinction' through grand projects; 'flagship museums' like the MACBA, the Centre Pompidou or the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, as well as other stylish new pieces of cultural infrastructure (the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, the new Bridge by Calatrava under construction in Venice) have the potential to bring in a rupture in the urban environment, be 'surprising' and hence remembered.

However, there are warnings about the final outcome of flagship investments (Eisinger, 2000) which regards both the social implications of an excessive centralization of the city's development assets and the possibility of a 'global convergence' in cityscapes (same icons everywhere, often designed by the same architects with the same materials in any place) depleting rather than enriching urban uniqueness. Cultural industries also fit perfectly the requirements of the knowledge economy. On one hand, they are highly transversal to many other urban functions. Their "value chain" is rich; through it, the creative knowledge typical of art and culture, its attitude to reflection, openness and innovation, trickle down to other information-intensive economic sectors. At the fringes of art and culture, there is a whole series of economic activities, the so-called creative industries, in which productivity is linked to the generation and elaboration of cultural content. It should also be remembered that culture is a major driver of urban tourism"

What is important is not only to look into the possibility of further improving the shopping and reading experience at the Colombo International Book Fair but also to create such events and cultural facilities in the city to enhance its image and also to promote urban tourism.

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