Like many other similar-sized cities around Europe, Helsingborg suffers from segregation. A socio-economic rift cuts the city in two and separates the more affluent segment of the population from the more deprived one. In recent years an extensive programme of regeneration has been initiated to improve the harbour area, which is located in the more challenged part of the city. But rather than bringing the two Helsingborgs together, it appears only to have highlighted and widened the divide between them. In the midst of this, Helsingborg’s City Theatre wished to enhance its relevance and impact and made a strategic decision to focus on outreach. CLEAR VILLAGE was asked to be the process and methodology partner, entering into a multi-year collaboration with the Theatre to gain a foothold throughout the whole of Helsingborg and use culture as a way to build bridges across the urban divide.
Prior to each Dynamic Dialogues Lab, a CLEAR VILLAGE design analyst spent a week on site to understand the dynamics of the city and connect with inhabitants. Under the project header ‘What’s your Helsingborg?’, local people were engaged in an array of interviews and walks to share their narrative of the city. Thanks to the support of local community leaders, many members of the more deprived part of Helsingborg took part in the project and also volunteered for the Dynamic Dialogues Labs.
Dynamic Dialogues Lab series
Two Dynamic Dialogues Labs have been held to date and further Labs will be organised in the course of 2012 and 2013. Each Lab was preceded by a substantial communications drive involving direct outreach to potential participants as well as promotion through social media, press material and a dedicated web presence. At the Labs, key stakeholders and members of the local community were brought together for an intensive two-day collaborative experience. Supported by expert facilitators and cherry-picked professionals with relevant expertise, the Lab participants were guided through a rhythm of exercises that included action-learning, rapid prototyping and other participatory techniques to work towards the outcome aims. The first Lab scoped out a variety of ways in which different groups within the city could be connected through culture, whilst the second one built on one of the proposed ideas and developed an innovative alternative governance model to take the relationship between the cultural sector and the local community to a new level. The third Dynamic Dialogues Lab (26 November 2012) took place in close collaboration with Helsingborg’s city authorities and focused on developing a collective cultural vision for the city for the next 10-20 years.
A RECODE report was written after each Lab in Swedish and English. The RECODES collated the findings and learnings from the Labs, provided recommendations for new initiatives, offered a roadmap to the next Lab in the series, and also served as a communications document that could be shared with participants, stakeholders and the wider community in Helsingborg as well as with a variety of interested parties on a regional and national level.
Having listened to its users in a wider sense, the Theatre decided on a radical curatorial redefinition. Within months of the Labs, a range of recommendations were implemented including opening the Theatre’s stages to local performers, partnering with the Integration Council to produce conversation pieces for immigrant groups, and launching a project to bring together schoolchildren with different socio-economic backgrounds to write and perform their own musical. In addition, a pioneering cultural cabinet (‘kulturting’) was trialled and incubated at the second Lab. Incorporating a broad spectrum of local stakeholders and community members, the cabinet will advise organisations and other parties in the cultural realm on their activities to ensure that cultural capacities are matched with the needs and desires of targeted audiences. Finally, the Dynamic Dialogues series has enabled the Theatre to enhance its brand significantly. Rather than being perceived as just one of the many players on the cultural scene, the Theatre is now seen as a driver of cultural change and has managed to bring a host of new partners into the Dynamic Dialogues process including the Open University, Helsingborg’s Development Committee, the Council for Cultural Services, the Urban Planning Department, the Regeneration Agency (H+), and the prestigious University of Lund. The process will also be rolled out to other cultural organisations in Sweden in 2012 to create and support a nation-wide network of best practice.