Noel Waite - UNESCO City of Literature

by Insiders Dunedin

Dunedin has been on somewhat of a winning streak. Late last year it was great to see the Dunedin community come together to win Gigatown for the city. In addition to this, the city also won its bid to become a registered UNESCO City of Literature. 

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) aims to encourage international peace and universal respect for human rights by promoting collaboration among nations. Although most countries are members of UNESCO, there are only a number of cities awarded the title; City of Literature. It is a title that can not be revoked, and Dunedin should be proud to join the 11 other cities recognised.  

It is great to see the city doing so well to secure such assets to the city. But, what does the UNESCO City of Literature mean and how will it benefit the city? To answer this, I caught up with a University of Otago Applied Science senior lecturer in Design, Noel Waite. 

Noel has been involved in the bid to win the UNESCO City of Literature for Dunedin since he first heard the idea presented. He attended a library conference where they talked about a UNESCO creative city network while in Scotland in 2010 for a year's fellowship. Liz Knowles, who was working at the library at the time, also attended the conference. 

The creative city network concept was new to both Liz and Noel having only heard about it at the conference. Edinburgh was the first city to be registered as a City of Literature back in 2004 and has been operating for the past ten years. Luckily, Noels boss at the time in Scotland was running a lot of the initiatives aimed at schools and young kids. Here he gained insight into what the network and objectives  could provide a city like Dunedin. 

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation outline in their Creative Cities Network Mission Statement that, "The Creative Cities Network seeks to develop international cooperation among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable development, in the framework of partnerships including the public and private sectors, professional organizations, communities, civil society, and cultural institutions in all regions of the world. The Creative Cities Network facilitates the sharing of experience, knowledge and resources among the member cities as a means to promote the development of local creative industries and to foster worldwide cooperation for sustainable urban development." 

The objective to: 
1 - Strengthen the creation, production, distribution, and enjoyment of cultural goods and services at the local level;
2 - Promote creativity and creative expressions especially among vulnerable groups, including women and youth;
3 - Enhance access to and participation in cultural life, as well as enjoyment of cultural goods;
4 - Integrate cultural and creative industries into local development plans;

Officially, there are 69 cities that make up the UNESCO Creative City Network. Of those cities, each one reflects one of the seven Creative City themes that include literature, craft & folk art, design, gastronomy, film, media arts and music. 

In 2011, Dunedin started preparing a bid to be recognised as a City of Literature under the criteria set by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations. However, UNESCO put things on hold as they were not sure whether they would take any extra bids. A move by UNESCO that could have easily been the end of Dunedin's attempt. 

Instead of giving up, it was seen as a window of opportunity. The group continued the preparation of Dunedin's bid knowing they had extra time  to prepare well in the event bids reopened. In 2013, UNESCO changed the criteria and reopened the application process. The new criteria focussed on the present state and future potential of literature, as opposed to the past and history of a city's literature. Despite good preparation, it was still a big ask to reframe the focus of the pitch toward the new criteria and provide a 20,000-word application by March 2014. The steering committee that included Bernie Hawke, Liz Knowles, Annie Villiers and Noel Waite had their Christmas break to prepare and put forward Dunedin's bid. 

Given the short period, two research students Mikey Moeahu and Ellie Parker were brought on board. The two students were responsible for doing a lot of the audit work as part of a summer scholarship. A project that entailed documenting what literature meant to the city. But also, to define what is literature in our city. 

Undergoing this process, the breadth and diversity of the project were evident. To get a perspective on the aggregated volume the University itself publishes around 6000 publications each year. The more the group looked, the bigger its scope grew. It went from traditional creative writing like poetry and fiction through to non-fiction. In particular, environmental fiction where people write about the landscape, geology and science communication. It also included more recent literature like comics from the comic collective run by Spencer Hall, as well as historic items including lyrics and the Dunedin sound. A prime example being Thomas Bracken, a New Zealand poet who wrote the words to our national anthem right here in Dunedin in 1870, but was not adopted until 100 years later. 

The process of documenting and defining what literature is in our city is a valuable asset in itself. But, to be recognised on an international scale as the city of choice for New Zealand is testament to the creative talent this city holds. Despite this, I even started to question how the city aims to meet the objectives outlined earlier? 

UNESCO outline that the objectives of the Creative Cities Network will be implemented through partnerships in the following areas:

1. Pilot projects: initiatives that demonstrate the importance of creativity as a key to development.
2. Promoting good practices: exchanges on projects and measures of proven efficiency and effectiveness. 
3. Studies: research, analysis and assessment of the creative cities experience. 
4. Meetings: consultations, gatherings and virtual conventions.
5. Cooperation programmes: North-South, South-South and North-South-South initiatives to support member cities in need of assistance.
6. Training and capacity building: Exchange of interns, trainees and educational modules.
7. Policy measures: initiatives linked to local and/or national development plans. 

Although this list does well in identifying ways to meet the objectives set. Noel summarises the way forward for Dunedin into three easy to understand areas. First, focus on new initiatives for the creative industries that will have an economic benefit. Second, support cultural enterprises that are not driven by profit. Fostering community well-being, understanding identity and providing all the good things art and culture provide people. Third, establish creative tourism. Also known as cultural tourism but UNESCO like to use the word 'creative'. They do not want people to have passive experiences where they might read an author's book then visit their house. They want people to visit a show, to encourage first-hand experiences that they might go away and write about it to share with others. 

It is still early days for Dunedin being granted the status of a UNESCO City of Literature, and I look forward to seeing how the city grasps this opportunity. It will require the Dunedin community to once again band together like we have in the past, to ensure a bright future for our great little city. Although there are some initiatives getting off the ground, the steering group welcome any ideas or help from those who want to be involved. 

If you want to keep up to date with what is happening or you have the next big idea that may assist. You can follow and get in contact with Dunedin City of Literature below:



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