At a special event to mark York’s first anniversary as a UNESCO City of Media Arts we were honoured to welcome Zamila Bunglawala, non-executive Director of the UK National Commission to UNESCO.

Through her extensive national and international policy, strategy and programmes experience in senior roles – including No.10 Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office, central Whitehall departments, Open Society Foundation, Young Foundation, Brookings Institution, United Nations in Darfur, Sudan and Kathmandu, Nepal – Zamila has led a wide range of policy and program projects, specialising in education and employment, gender, SGBV, ethnic and faith minority groups, humanitarian conflicts and development.

The achievement of securing designation, its wider value to the UK, and the importance of joining the elite Creative Cities Network were all touched on during Zamila’s speech.

For those unable to join us, below is the transcript of Zamila’s speech, which opened the night.




Thank you for kindly inviting me to join you in this evening’s celebration. It is a real pleasure to be here.

On behalf of the UK National Commission for UNESCO, I’d like to say a huge congratulations to the team behind York’s Creative City – in particular Stuart Goulden,  Marcus Romer, the Make it York Team and the current leader of the Council, Chris Steward– for becoming the UK’s first UNESCO City of Media Arts – one of only seven in the world.

As you know, the UK National Commission for UNESCO is a civil society organisation that works to support the UK’s contribution to UNESCO – the UN’s Education, Science and Cultural Organisation.

As a Creative City in the UK, York joins a dynamic group of cities including Bradford City of Film, Edinburgh and Norwich Cities in Literature, Dundee City of Design and Glasgow City of Music.

Worldwide, York joins a prestigious international network of Media Arts Cities spanning from Lyon and Sapporo, to Tel Aviv and Enghien les Bains.

I am sure that you will agree with me that the focus of this evening should be on learning more about the team’s plans for this great city of York moving forward with their new accolade as City of Media Arts.

So I will only say a few words about the UNESCO Creative Cities Network to reinforce the strong significance and global prestige of this permanent status and briefly explore what it means for York both in the short- and long-term.


So, what is a Creative City?

When UNESCO invited York to join its global network of Creative Cities this time last year, York became a member of a dynamic, global partnership of cities that are drawing upon their creative capital to help their cities thrive.

Being invited to join this global network of Creative Cities is no mean feat

The bid process is highly competitive requiring local teams to build up partnership and supporters across the city, the UK and internationally.

UNESCO requires the Creative City bid to include the following:

  • Participatory process involving relevant stakeholders and partners of the public, third and private sector as well as the local community itself.
  • a forward-looking approach with a clear vision for how the city’s cultural heritage and creative assets will be used to achieve sustainable urban development of the city.
  • a concrete action plan of  how the team will turn the bid’s vision into reality outlining specific projects, initiatives or policies at a local and international level.
  • Finally, to demonstrate the city’s ability and willingness to develop dynamic collaborative initiatives at the international level with the global network.

After peer reviewing York’s excellent bid, the UKNC decided to formally endorse the application to UNESCO.

At the heart of our decision was clear recognition of York’s leading role in the UK’s media arts.

York is already a leading destination for creative and digital businesses – the largest growth area of the city’s economy – benefiting from significant investment in supporting infrastructure in recent years.

This includes the £30 million Heslington Studios at the University of York – which are also hosting the £18m new Digital Creativity Hub, which alongside and the recently announced £100m Enterprise Zone in York Central will no doubt be helping to attract leading talent, enterprise, investment and bolster a thriving local media arts sector.  

As is the case in any society or city, the cultural, creative capital is often the backbone to communities that helps to shape a shared-creative heritage, community integration and rightly inspires us all  - well done York!

We also welcomed that York’s bid had been assembled by a collaborative partnership from across all sectors in the fields of culture, arts, innovation, tourism, government, media and education which reflects real local support.

As a result, the UKNC reported to UNESCO that York is well placed to make a valuable contribution to the existing Creative Cities of the UK, and worldwide.

From what we have seen so far from the UK’s City of Media Arts – for example, being invited by Shakespeare’s Globeto host Interface 2015, the annual networking event for the UK’s top cultural brands, York is clearly one to celebrate.

So now that York is a member of the Global Network, what value can it bring to York?

This week, the UK National Commission for UNESCO released its latest research on the Wider Value of UNESCO to the UK.

Our research findings from a study of the UK’s UNESCO designations highlight that their involvement with UNESCO helped to attract an estimated £100 million in additional income from 2014 – 2015 from sources including from tourism revenue and European Union funding.

Our research finds that UNESCO’s formal recognition that a city is considered to be ‘world class’ is thought to inspire investor confidence. It also finds that having access to the global network of Creative Cities opens up new funding streams.

While UNESCO designation can act as a catalyst for short-term industry investment and international funding bids, - when Creative Cities are placed at the heart of local development plans – they can also help achieve long term economic development and regeneration.

Being a Creative City of course has wider implications beyond the financial too for York too.

Creative Cities help to create a positive, shared identity

Like World Heritage, being a permanent UNESCO Creative City can set a city apart from its neighbours. This is critical for creating a unique sense of place – the building blocks for residents and businesses valuing their shared creative heritage as well as improving business and investor confidence.

As a representative from Glasgow UNESCO City of Music explained to us, “Many cities don’t know they’re great until someone else tells them they’re great” – at its most basic level, Creative City designation does precisely this.

Creative Cities can also promote community integration

UNESCO requires the teams behind prospective Creative Cities to demonstrate active engagement with and participation of the community, including the young and vulnerable, in the preparation of the bid.

This helps to ensure communities have shared ownership and take collective responsibility for promoting and protecting shared assets for the benefit of future generations.

Creative City partnerships also work to regenerate shared public spaces, hold community events that promote community cohesion, health and well-being and an appreciation of local creative heritage.

Creative Cities can also broker local partnerships

When a city like York joins the Creative City network, a thriving creative industry is already in place. What the Creative City designation does is give the local creative industry a focal point, a figure head and a clear direction of travel – enabling collective ownership of a shared vision

City-wide partners can then use this shared vision and Creative City branding to underpin, guide and drive their respective work.

We find that these dynamic local partnerships help to streamline work across the city, reducing duplication and strengthening local development plans.

Looking beyond York to the global network, Creative City membership:

Forges international partnerships, building an international profile

The strong focus that UNESCO places on partnership working appeals to funders. European Union funding streams in particular look for evidence of genuine partnership in proposals.  The diverse characters of the cities mean that they are complimentary and able to adopt a collective approach, without feeling they are in competition.

This support works both ways. While York has the opportunity to position itself as a global leader within the Network, it can also bring new ideas and opportunities to York.

For example, by observing how initiatives have been funded and implemented by counterparts around the world, York’s Creative City team can bring tried and tested projects and methods back home, mitigating the need to invest in costly project pilots.

But, as the York team knows, all of this doesn’t happen overnight.

From our research, we conclude that the Wider Value of UNESCO is unlocked by local teams successfully:

• Leveraging the UNESCO brand

• Communicating the significance of the UNESCO accolade to build local partnership and champions, and above all,

• Actively engaging with counterparts in the global network

As we will see tonight, York has worked especially hard this year by exploring:

  • what being a member of the global Creative Cities network can mean for York both in the long and short term;
  • how to build on the momentum and maintain the dynamic and diverse local Creative City partnership and
  • how to communicate the designation at a local level, making the accolade mean something within York and something that businesses, educators, residents and media arts professionals alike can take collective ownership of.

From this, we can see that the York Creative City team are putting into practice what UNESCO is about – namely; collaboration, dialogue, partnership working as a vehicle for achieving sustainable development and peaceful, thriving, interconnected communities.

We at the UK National Commission for UNESCO look forward to celebrating this and no doubt future such achievements with you.

Thank you