Action Plan for Covilhã’s Application

The Action Plan for Covilhã’s Application to UNESCO Creative City in Design for the 2022-2025 quadrennium – entitled Covilhã, Cidade do Design, whose general lines were presented in a public session (23rd of April) chaired by the Mayor and with the participation of the Candidature’s structure and bodies, as well as various entities of the Partnership and a panoply of institutional guests, including from the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) – obtained wide media coverage, and motivated multiple inquiries and contributions that enhanced the opportunity, allowing this programming process to become even more participative, inclusive and open, as we have expected from the beginning.

Several steps and contacts have preceded this public session, of which we highlight the unanimous support to the Application expressed by the Assembly of the Intermunicipal Community of Beiras and Serra da Estrela (which brings together 17 municipalities in the region) as well as the Municipal Assembly of Covilhã, that reiterated the meaning and strategic interest of this desideratum. In the public session for the presentation of the Action Plan, we began by saying that this Application process anticipates a response to the crisis and the effects inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, precisely by focusing on the qualification and empowerment of the community and its agents, recognizing that more skilled people and organizations are less affected and more resilient. In a world in constant change, cultural confluence will be the indispensable conclusion to the functioning of social and economic systems, increasingly conditioned by the interdependence between the local and the universal, in which the resonance and amplitude of the crisis are also at play. Culture and the Arts live permanently under the sign of change, of fictions and dystopias, making the capacity for action, the renewal of methods and paradigms, and even for catharsis to depend on critical consciousness.

Design is omnipresent in contemporary life and economy, relating to all phases of the production chain and the use/dispose of material and immaterial goods. The advent of image civilization and the society of the spectacle – in which the production of value and the market are increasingly dependent on the humanization of technology, symbolic and cultural structures with a great impact on the way of life and the ecosystem – has instituted the idea that knowledge is the new raw material. This consciousness drives and guides public policies for education and cultural and creative industries (visual arts, cinema, design, architecture, performing arts, crafts, publishing, fashion, music, advertising, software, video games, television and radio), which are important sources of value and employment in the developed world. If globalization has brought the massive relocation of production structures and made the world more interdependent in this regard, it has also accentuated the need to provide communities with greater self-determination and autonomy, expressed in the conciliation between long and short circuits, from food to project scope, stablishing a balance capable of valuing and reorienting its potential, given the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations Organization.

One of the determining aspects for the constitution of this Action Plan results from mapping the activities associated with local habitant’s talent, as well as the material conditions that converge with policies of attraction and fixation of new inhabitants with the conviction that Culture, Arts, Creativity, Research and Innovation can create conditions for inclusion, including multiple migrant communities that, for various reasons, seek this region, renewing it demographically.

Promoting international cooperation between cities, UNESCO’s Network focuses on public policies on Culture which, for both endogenous and exogenous reasons, contribute to changing the critical awareness of communities in the face of crystallized narratives, adjusting the imagination to the diversity of the world and the promotion of values ​​converging with the paradigm of contemporary life. In addition to the production of goods and services, Design here assumes an invaluable instrumental value as a mediator, whether for its ability to establish relationships with other sectors of activity (such as the arts, historical and cultural heritage, museums and even tourism) or for contributing to instituting an effective project culture, based on programming and planning, the best way to transform the world, anticipating and reacting holistically to adversities and uncertainties.

Despite their diversity, UNESCO’s Creative Cities present a constant that includes, precisely, the recognition of the ecosystem value of Creativity and Culture. In other words, they understand that a city cannot be creative in a domain without privileging related domains, which nourish and feed each other; that it’s the creators, publics and multiple agents of the communities unfold their capacity to act, being sufficiently heterogeneous to require contamination and multi-sector hybridization, so often undisciplined.

It is in this particular context, while responding to the trend of territorial specialization signaled by the Centre’s Coordination and Regional Development Committee, in line with the XXI Government’s Cities Policy, that it is urgent to affirm Covilhã as a sustainable city based on Creativity, Knowledge and Innovation, for whose purpose we summon the matrix of Design, enhancing the virtuous impact on the entire cultural, social, economic and environmental ecosystem, both in the city and in its territory of influence, following the Candidature Guidelines, broken down into strategic and operational objectives, guiding and implicit in this Action Plan.

This text sets up a complementary diptych to that, decanting programmatic and methodological aspects that enable the community, bodies and Partnership to interpret the proposed summary table of activities, scheduled and/or in preparation, in continuity to previous editions or consisting in totally new events and ideas. Among the numerous aspects that this summary table has the virtue of highlighting (in addition to its extension) we specially highlight its diversity or, in other words, the wide panoply of agents, recipients, themes and types of activities, which precisely reinforce robustness and awareness of the necessary fight against monocultures.

Aware that Covilhã fulfills, from a formal point of view, the requirements of a Creative City (especially in Design), we see in this Action Plan as an instrument for valuing, safeguarding and qualifying this potential, to which the inclusion in UNESCO’s Network will certainly give visibility and, above all, will impose a superlative degree of demand, either in absolute terms or in a level compared to other cities, capable of altering existing practices and stimulating the entire region.

At the same time, we also understand the structuration of this Plan as an opportunity to fill some flagrant infrastructural deficiencies, inscribing Design in the political agenda and claiming the necessary equity in the distribution of public investments throughout the country, especially in a sector in which Covilhã has irrefutable arguments, as we have already exposed elsewhere. Such arguments are, in our opinion, corroborated by the reach of these actions, which denote an integration in the universe of Cultural and Creative Industries with local, regional and international reach, capable of having a multiplier effect in the industrial and productive sectors, that see creativity and research as instruments for creating value. We also highlight other synthetic assessments, indexed to the aforementioned arguments.

The inevitable centrality of the University of Beira Interior appears attenuated in its aspect of transference and interaction with the environment, in addition to being quite complemented with activities proposed by other important structures. Alongside the thematic activities, environmental and heritage issues are fully covered, which augurs a deepening of the articulation between structures such as UNESCO’s Estrela Geopark, Museums and Associations with other agents and entities, in line with the Union’s Territorial Agenda of the European Union and the Lisbon Strategy, which indexes environmental sustainability to quality of life.

This Action Plan will certainly contribute to both the articulation already achieved between partners, curators, artists, creators and audiences, and to the potential of community’s involvement towards a more cosmopolitan, open and tolerant city, convergent with the paradigms of contemporary life and with the 11 OECD Principles on Urban Policy, closely linked to Design’s fields of action and its capacity for intersectoral mediation.

From a methodological point of view, the preparation of the Action Plan is based on the previous mapping and exploratory inventory, joined by diagnosis, case studies and comparative analysis of other Creative Cities implemented plans, carried out by the Project Team and synthesized in a database whose descriptors, implemented according to the Guidelines, led to the definition of 6 detailed sector plans, whose characterization we included in this publication, namely:

  • PS01 Design, Industry and Crafts;
  • PS02 Textile Design and Fashion;
  • PS03 Design, City and Territory;
  • PS04 Design, Culture and other Arts;
  • PS05 Design and digital services;
  • PS06 Education for Design and Citizenship.

The collection of activities related to the Action Plan was triggered by the dialogue with the Partnership (for reasons of availability, still incomplete and ongoing), which already includes more than 50 entities representing local and national reality, providing data on their activity in the last few 5 years and proposing activities for the next 4 years, mainly within an international context and with guaranteed funding.

On the other hand, it was formed a Curatorial Council composed of 16 curators, also open and capable of ensuring a specialized programming nucleus with recognized individuals in the 6 sectors and international reach, involving local partners in programmed actions, some in articulation with organizations from UNESCO’s international network cities, in addition to Europe, Africa and Brazil, according to UN 2063 Agenda. Crossed with the activities promoted by partner entities, these activities are to be more directly promoted by the Creative City management structure, and will contribute to feeding the existing and future cultural, business, academic and social equipment and infrastructures.

The Action Plan presents a non-exhaustive list of activities planned for the quadrennium (more than 100) with different frequencies, some with biennial, annual, quarterly, monthly, and even weekly replications, with others consisting only of punctual actions. From this frequency alterity, it can be inferred that the Plan includes actions of different temporal scope, contemplating short-term actions with others of a long cycle, whose scope extends beyond the quadrennium itself.

Since it’s a large volume of information, we carried out a synthesis exercise, keeping only the main information related to each action to offer a synoptic view of the Plan, which seemed to us to be more adequate at this stage of public discussion. In addition to the collection and processing of documents, the preparation of this Plan has already required the Executive Board and the Project Team, so far, to hold more than a hundred meetings with partners, agents, creators and curators. The consultation process has already had visible results in the intensification of cooperation between local and international agents, with presented and in preparation candidacies certainly enhanced by the potential inclusion UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.

A phase of Program adjustment will follow, depending on the contributions collected and the priorities indicated. Afterwards, we will meet with the promoting entities and their respective responsible, checking the program and respective budget, aiming material feasibility, possible mergers and/or use of production synergies and establishing, case by case, the most appropriate hierarchy and monitoring methods, having taking into account the size, operating model and autonomy of the governance structure to be created by the Municipality in the event of an appointment, as we hope, as well as the respective allocation of human and financial resources.