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Art and culture; what do they mean in urban development?

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2017 International Urban Design Conference

The conference theme for the 10th anniversary is Disruption, Divergence and Designed Intervention – Making Change Happen and will showcase innovations and projects embracing and creating transformational change in urban environments. The aim is to include highlights ranging from the modest but high impact idea to the new Eco-city, from technological experimentation to multicultural cities and from the use of big data to physical city making.

Art and culture; what do they mean in urban development?

Mark McClelland
Co-founder and creative director – Cultural Capital
+61 418240023


The words art and culture have become conflated.

When a government or developer commissions a piece of art it enables them to tick a box marked Culture. 

Our practice based research set out to establish whether this is a sound model - what is it that enables governments and developers to fulfil their cultural obligations by commissioning art? 

We identified two forms of culture relevant to the development environment. We call the first Learned Culture.  This is artistically-led culture where the definition of the word culture draws from the Roman ideal of cultivating one’s intellectual and aesthetic faculties. It is embodied in the modern cosmopolitan city of fine architecture, galleries, visual and performing arts. 

When a government or developer commissions a piece of art it is Learned Culture that they have in mind:

The second type of culture, less considered, is Lived Culture; the features of everyday existence shared by people in a place. It works from the premise that culture is not something that we consume; it’s something which we all actively co-create.  

Lived Culture is made up of the things that make us human, develop our ability to connect with one another and forge deeper relationships with the places we live – which are intimately entwined with the cultures they support. 

We conclude that Lived Culture is more impactful than Learned Culture even though it is Learned Culture which attracts most attention. We call this the Development Delusion.  

We will explore how development process can change so that it contributes to Lived Culture by expanding its ambition and scope. 


MARK McCLELLAND Co-founder and creative director of Cultural Capital, Mark is an awarded sculptor and designer and a strategic thinker on urban development, place and culture. Before founding Cultural Capital, Mark founded and led the creative agency DesignTroupe, later part of the PWW group, working in Asia, the Americas and Europe. He has graduated from the College of Fine Arts; Sydney Institute of Design; the University of New England and the Sturt School and also holds qualifications in Environmental Management and Permaculture Design. A member of Place Leaders Australia and a founding Director of the Brisbane Public Art Foundation, Mark has been awarded the prestigious sculpture prize at Sydney’s iconic Sculpture by the Sea. CULTURAL CAPITAL Cultural Capital implements art projects and provides cultural advice to governments and the development industry. The firm has recently delivered the cultural masterplan for Australia's largest transport infrastructure project, Sydney Metro City and Southwest and will soon complete work on the public art masterplan for M5 Westconnex. Cultural Capital provides a suite of services: Art strategy Public art curating Cultural and heritage interpretation Community engagement Cultural planning Producing and programming Artwork delivery In addition to these services Cultural Capital operates as a think-tank, exploring the cultural impacts of urban development. We investigate the best of global cultural infrastructure and bring our research findings to our government and development clients. Our principals write, blog and speak about the cultural impacts of city-making and urban development.