Whanganui joins UNESCO Creative Cities Network

Creativity, innovative spirit, cultural integrity and strength of artistic tradition have won Whanganui recognition as an internationally significant UNESCO City of Design.

The designation earns Whanganui a place in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and recognises the city’s historic and contemporary contributions to design in innumerable and varied forms.

Worldwide, 49 new cities have joined the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) following their designation by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, in recognition of their commitment to placing culture and creativity at the heart of their development and to sharing knowledge and good practices.

Whanganui & Partners embarked on the application process to be recognised as a City of Design beginning in August 2020. Dr Emma Bugden, Strategic Lead – Creative Industries, led the application and worked with more than 100 stakeholders, partners and professional bodies throughout the process.

Bugden had invaluable input from Cecelia Kumeroa, designer and Tupuho Arts Representative, and the assistance of the City of Design coordination team; Scott Flutey, Heritage Advisor for Whanganui District Council, Jonathan Sykes, Acting CE of Whanganui & Partners and Rebecca Black, Senior Communications Advisor for Whanganui & Partners.

Bugden said Whanganui’s status as a member of the UCCN would be championed and celebrated and should be a source of pride for the whole community.

“The designation will be at the forefront of Whanganui’s profile in the city’s promotion and in our sense of identity. It is our intention that our city’s narrative; the way we speak and think about ourselves, will include our status as a UNESCO City of Design as a matter of custom.”

Bugden had contacted all 41 international Cities of Design to notify them of Whanganui’s application and had spoken to representatives from Singapore and Geelong, Australia to gain insight into the process.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network was created in 2004 to promote co-operation among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development.

There are 246 cities in the network, all of which put creativity at the heart of their development plans and co-operate with other international cities that share these goals.

As a City of Design, Bugden said Whanganui would learn from and partner with a global network of leaders.

She said being part of the Network would strengthen Whanganui’s connections with indigenous creatives around the world, “Particularly focusing on how indigenous voices are reflected in place-making and the visual identity of cities.”

The designation would help create international partnerships for major institutions and education facilities, enabling them to exchange and share knowledge – which would be particularly beneficial for emerging designers and makers.

Mayor Hamish McDouall said the Network’s aims aligned with Whanganui District Council’s Leading Edge philosophy by encouraging partnerships, promoting connectivity, championing innovative approaches and safeguarding cultural heritage and natural resources.

“Our creative environment has always nurtured makers in our community, from our significant artistic legacy to our position as a creative hub. Joining other UNESCO Creative Cities will give us a connection to like-minded places and enable Whanganui to contribute our singular vision to this creative community.”

Whanganui is New Zealand’s fourth city to be recognised by the Creative Cities Network, Dunedin is a City of Literature, Wellington a City of Film, and Auckland is a City of Music. Whanganui will be the country’s only City of Design, based on New Zealand’s population size.

UNESCO runs a number of hōtaka (programmes) in New Zealand, including the Creative Cities Network. The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO applies its collective resources, networks, programmes and connections in ways that benefit Aotearoa.

Bugden said Whanganui could celebrate the meaning behind the UNESCO recognition in stories exploring our design heritage. It was a chance to share Whanganui’s narratives within the Network and find common ground and unique characteristics to celebrate and explore.

“Our connection with the Network will form a sense of community and supportive understanding as we learn from other cities. Reflecting on their stories will allow us to embrace this exceptional status as being a reflection of shared values and character.”

Bugden said being a City of Design reflected Whanganui’s historical contribution to creativity, from Māori designers’ artistry and innovation alongside the awa for more than 800 years, to the visionary architects who created the city’s breath-taking landmark buildings.

It also showed the promise of Whanganui’s design future.

“Our creatives can take pride in this recognition,” Bugden said. “We are confident in Whanganui’s ability to contribute to a creative international community.”

Whanganui & Partners will be celebrating Whanganui achieving City of Design status with a launch in 2022.

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