Arts, Culture and Quality of Life in Global Cities Conference

December 9, 2013 • 3:30PM – 5:30PM

The Ford Foundation

The Committee on Global Thought, in partnership with the Ford Foundation and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, presented a one-day program bringing together scholars, policy makers, private sector and nonprofit leaders, and practitioners-artists, architects, planners, community activists. Discussion centered on the urgent issues involved in fostering a deeper understanding of the role arts and culture can play in the development of New York City and other global cities.

  • Vishakha N. Desai, Special Adviser for Global Affairs at Columbia University and Senior Research Scholar, School of International and Public Affairs
  • Kate D. Levin, Commissioner for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs
  • Saskia Sassen, Co-Chair, Committee On Global Thought at Columbia University
  • Roberta Uno, Senior Program Officer, Ford Foundation

There is a growing consensus among civic leaders that the presence of arts and cultural institutions and networks is vital to the health of any global city, old or new. But it is less apparent how to build and sustain robust cultural infrastructure.

  • How do we develop quantitative and qualitative measurements to assess the impact of arts and culture on the quality of life of cities?
  • How do we balance the issues of social justice and creativity in cities where the super-rich and the ultra-poor of the world reside, and often collide?
  • What are the roles of public and private sectors in creating a healthy cultural ecology in a global city?
  • What are the barriers to the successful implementation of cultural policy in global cities?


The report of the conference, which can be accessed below, aimed to identify key drivers of a successful cultural policy, barriers in the implementation of such a policy, and themes for further research that would help create better assessment tools for measuring the impact of arts and culture on rapidly changing global cities.

Learn more about Arts, Culture, and Quality of Life in Global Cities.


Welcoming Remarks

  • Roberta Uno, Saskia Sassen and Kate D. Levin

Session I: Defining healthy cultural environment in global cities

Why does it matter to have a healthy arts and cultural environment in global cities undergoing constant change? How do we define success in developing cultural strategy beyond economics, and for whom? What are the barriers in developing a successful system?

  • Moderator: Vasif Kortun
  • Presenters: Saskia Sassen, Dinh Q. Le

Session II: Assessing the impact

How do we measure the impact of arts and culture on the quality of life of all citizens? What are the most important criteria in evaluating a successful program?

  • Moderator: Geoffrey Crossick
  • Presenters: Mark Stern, Christophe Girard

Session III: Public/Private Partnership in developing a healthy cultural ecology

What is an appropriate role for the private sector in developing cultural ecology for a City? How should the for-profit sector engage and work with the city governments as well as artistic communities? What are the risks in such a partnership?

  • Moderator: Susan Freedman
  • Presenters: Maria Nicanor, Sergio Sa Leitao

Session IV: Arts and culture for an Equitable City: Access for all

Often arts and culture are perceived as elitist and not connected with less privileged communities such as new immigrants or those who live on the edges of affluence. However, culture can be central to the formation of identity for the same group of people. What are the ways that creativity and cultural production become a key part of creating an equitable city? How might this differ in different cultural contexts?

  • Moderator: Carol Becker
  • Presenters: Stephen Hobbs, Teddy Cruz

Session V: Developing criteria for a successful arts and culture strategy for all, identifying barriers and next steps

  • Moderator: Vishakha N. Desai

Concluding Thoughts
Kate D. Levin, Roberta Uno and Vishakha Desai

Session VI: Public Session: Arts, Culture and quality of Life: Creating Equitable Cities for the Future

How do we measure the impact of a robust cultural strategy in NYC? What is the role of artists, curators and private sector in developing a healthy cultural sector?

  • Welcome Remarks: Darren Walker and Saskia Sassen
  • Introduction: Kate D. Levin
  • Panelists: Kathy Halbreich, Tom Finkelpearl, Joe Hall, Maurine Knighton
  • Moderator: Vishakha N. Desai
  • Responses from international participants: Teddy Cruz, Rajeev Thakker

Arts, Culture and Quality of Life in Global Cities -  Biographies

  • Nora Akawi, Director, Amman Lab, Studio X, Jordan
  • Bill Bragin, Director of Public Programming, Lincoln Center
  • Carol Becker, Dean, School of the Arts,  Columbia University
  • Geoffrey Crossick, Director, Research Council’s Cultural Value Project, School of Arts and Humanities, University of London
  • Teddy Cruz, Professor in Public Culture and Urbanism, University of California, San Diego
  • Vishakha N. Desai, Special Advisor for Global Affairs, Office of the President, Columbia University
  • Marcus Faustini, Filmmaker, Writer and Cultural Activist
  • Tom Finkelpearl, Executive Director, Queens Museum
  • Fonna Forman, Associate Professor of Political Science
  • Susan K. Freedman, President, Public Art Fund
  • Christophe Girard, Mayor of the 4th district of Paris
  • Kathy Halbreich, Associate Director, Museum of Modern Art
  • Joe Hall, Founder and President, Ghetto Film School
  • Stephen Hobbs, Curator and Cultural Organizer
  • Paul Ramirez Jonas, Artist
  • Vasif Kortun, Director, Research and Programs, SALT
  • Dinh Q. Lê, Artist and Co-founder & Chairman of the Board of San Art, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Kate D. Levin, Commissioner, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs
  • Helen Marriage, Co-Director, Artichoke
  • Reinhold Martin, Associate Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and Director, Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture
  • Joy Mboya, Executive Director, The Godown Arts Center, Kenya
  • Maria Nicanor, Associate Curator, Architecture and Urbanism, Curator, BMW Guggenheim Lab Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  • Mark J. Stern, Kenneth L.M. Pray Professor of Social Welfare and History, and Co- Director, Urban Studies Program, University of Pennsylvania
  • Sergio Sá Leitão, Secretary of Cultural Policies, Ministry of Culture, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Saskia Sassen, Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology, and Co-Chair, Committee On Global Thought
  • Rajeev Thakker, Director, Studio X,  Mumbai, India
  • Roberta Uno, Senior Program Officer, Ford Foundation
  • Damian Woetzel, Director, Arts Program, Aspen Institute