CULTURE TRIP: HOW MUSEUMS CHANGE A CITY
Let’s start with the ‘Bilbao effect’. Over 20 years ago, Bilbao was a conventional city in northern Spain: unemployment was high, and the city knew it needed to change. The mentality of the population was changing, and people were becoming more interested in shaking off Bilbao’s industrial hub status and looking to bring in more creative jobs. In stepped the legendary architect Frank Gehry, who created the Guggenheim Bilbao – an iconic and imposing structure made from titanium and stone that’s full of modern art and visible all over the city. Its success was unprecedented, drawing global acclaim and a high footfall (over 20 million visitors passed through its doors before its twentieth birthday).
With new money flooding into the city, its economy was on the rise – and, unsurprisingly, Bilbao started to flourish. The wave of new tourists needed to be catered for, so places like the trendy Hotel Miró (looking right over the Guggenheim Museum) started popping up, and money was channelled into other galleries in the city, like the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. It also paved the way for multi-functional Azukana Zentro, which houses everything from a theatre, to a cinema, to a rooftop pool. Regeneration of the city like this changes a place’s social fabric, creates jobs, and generates interest.
Well-established museums popping up in new cities is a blueprint that works – and it works well. Case in point: the Tate Modern sparked the regeneration of Bankside, drawing hotels and restaurants at a rate of knots.
This tried-and-tested formula is also being put on trial at the brand-new futuristic Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened to the public at the end of 2017. The move is actually part of a much wider plan, with the whole of Saadiyat Island being transformed into a hive of creativity. Amongst the works are the Foster + Partners–designed Zayed National Museum, Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and Zaha Hadid’s Performing Arts Centre.
As with any projects of this nature, with great growth and cultural regeneration comes challenges. In this case? To make sure the cities don’t lose their character and still provide for their existing communities, it’s a delicate balance to strike – and an exciting one to watch.