What we can learn from other cities about tackling racism
Updated: Jul 6
Many cities across Europe and beyond, including Leeds, have seen an increase in tensions between communities in recent years. There is a lot of great work taking place in Leeds, but we don’t kid ourselves that there isn’t more to be done.
We were delighted to be invited to an international seminar in Malmö, Sweden, 20-23 September, on how culture policies can help tackle racism. The seminar was organised by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), a global network of cities and local, regional, and metropolitan governments and their associations.
The event was hosted and led by Malmö City Council’s Culture department - Malmö’s high level of immigration and concerns about tensions between communities precipitated the need for direct action to combat racism.
The Leeds team included David Hopes, head of Leeds Museums and Galleries and Gilda Smith-Leigh from Economic Development. They were joined by colleagues from Lisbon, Sao Paolo, Barcelona, London, Bilbao, Izmir, and Istanbul.
The seminar did not stay just within the confines of Malmö’s City Hall but took our team to cultural venues across the city, including City Archives, City Library, a cinema, and two museums of art, using the city’s own situation and budding anti racism programme as a way of sharing ideas and practice.
David and Gilda also heard about how Malmö is putting art at the heart of its Anti-Racism work. They are running a three-part public art programme stimulated by the discussions around Lindberg's 1960s sculpture in front of Malmö City Hall that has become a focus of controversy for its depiction of a black man with exaggerated features. This involves workshops and events and temporary artworks, and ultimately a new permanent artwork.
There were plenty of ideas that might be applied in Leeds. Some of these are procedural: ways of improving the structure and accountability of decision making bodies; thinking about how we fund and staff anti-racism work; sustainability, community engagement and more.
From a specifically cultural perspective though, we can see how we have a role in encouraging bridgebuilding between different communities. There was definitely also food for thought about how public art can stimulate conversations and reflection.