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In 2023, the title of the European Capital of Culture was held by Timișoara, Romania, alongside Veszprém, Hungary, and Elefsina, Greece (Timișoara, 2023). Timișoara’s experience with a cross-disciplinary approach to cultural programming can serve as an inspirational reference point for advancing innovation and critical thinking for urban settlements across Europe (European Commission, 2022).

The city of Timișoara is an important hub for innovation, industry, and manufacturing within Romania. The city is the second most attractive for foreign direct investment after the capital, Bucharest. It is also the largest academic centre in western Romania, with significant cultural importance and a large architectural complex of old buildings and historical monuments.

Timișoara European Capital of Culture (TM2023) has brought ‘a wave of funding and public attention unparalleled in the city’s history’ (Mateescu, 2023). Among the most remarkable cultural programmes within this framework was ‘Bright Cityscapes’ (Bright Cityscapes, 2023). Its primary objective was to identify and address the city’s main urban challenges by establishing a design laboratory that facilitates dialogue among diverse professionals and community members.

The rich cultural capital was set to benefit the city in a wider socio-economic sense: addressing urban challenges, promoting cultural diversity, and striving for long-term impact through innovation and creative solutions. The programme’s foundation was deeply embedded in the socio-cultural fabric of Timișoara, capitalising on local expertise and building bridges between three of Timișoara’s worlds – industry, academia, and culture. These worlds intersect but do not always align synergistically.

‘As a city with a rich multicultural history, Timișoara’s diversity has always been the foundation of our prosperity. Diversity leads to innovation; innovation leads to prosperity. For centuries, the peaceful coexistence and collaboration of various ethnicities have made Timișoara a city of firsts in the region.

In 2023, by becoming European Capital of Culture, Timișoara showed that we can imagine a creative, prosperous, and solidary future, and not only for our city, but also for Europe. A future of Europe where our unity is built on our diversity and imagination, and in which multi-ethnic, courageous, and innovative stories like Timișoara’s can inspire and enrich Europe. The Bright Cityscapes programme showcases the power of imagination in addressing urban challenges across Europe at the intersection of the worlds of industry, academia, and culture, striving for innovation and long-term impact.’

– DOMINIC FRITZ, MAYOR OF TIMIȘOARA

Bridging universities, creatives, and businesses

This task was addressed by forging unexpected, out-of-the-box collaborations among the sectors. The major umbrella collaboration took place between the Politehnica University of Timișoara and the independent cultural centre FABER. However, the programme has also engaged tutors and students from the Design Academy Eindhoven and TU Delft in The Netherlands; a team of researchers in sociology, data science, history, and organisational ethnography; and numerous local companies from the manufacturing, automotive, and chemical sectors.

The programme offered a diverse array of tools that underscored the interconnectedness of design, economics, and daily life. It hosted three public exhibitions, each with a distinct agenda, yet all converging towards a common goal: understanding the urgent needs of the city and transforming it into not only a hub of industry but also a focal point for critical thought, economic development, and cultural expression in Europe.

Thus, the ‘Mirroring the Ecosystem’ exhibition showcased locally manufactured products while questioning their relationship with the broader regional and European economy. The ‘Turn Signals –Design Is Not a Dashboard’ exhibition demonstrated the potential of cross-disciplinary collaborations among IT, automation, and construction researchers, artists, designers, and local businesses, emphasising the need for innovation in a rapidly digitising and globally interconnected manufacturing landscape. With a broader educational objective and within the European academic context, the programme also introduced a pedagogical approach aimed at nurturing autonomy and freedom among students, highlighting the importance of collaborative interaction. The programme’s third exhibition, ‘Atlas of Distances’, aimed to demonstrate, through nine student artistic installations, the pedagogical framework that prioritised experimentation, the questioning of urban challenges, and the embracing of diversity.

Implications for the future

As a showcase for TM2023, Bright Cityscapes was not envisioned as a stand-alone programme but rather as the beginning of a conversation, a methodology for cultural programming with long-term impacts. It challenges conventional views of design thinking while emphasising its potential to uncover hidden signals and opportunities for urban change.

Bright Cityscapes’ multidisciplinary approach also involved collaboration with data analysts and sociologists to analyse the specifics of Timișoara’s economy. The resulting projects addressed the impact of global phenomena on local experiences, knowledge exchange, and the effects of digitalisation and automation.

The Bright Cityscapes programme in Timișoara saw a variety of stakeholders attempt to establish where the intersection of industry, academia, and culture in the city lies (Vasiliu, 2023). Through its cross-disciplinary methodology, the programme continues to foster innovation, knowledge exchange, and a holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities in Timișoara’s urban development and design landscape.

Norbert Petrovici, a sociologist and coordinator of the Bright Cityscapes research team, looked into how the programme’s collaborative and multidisciplinary approach can help chart a way forward for Timișoara: its economy, its urban and economic development, and its academic, cultural, and industrial landscape (Petrovici, Alexe, & Bejinariu, 2023). He outlined the potential for Bright Cityscapes to influence Timișoara’s policies in a number of areas:

  • Emerging technologies and design innovation: The programme seeks to explore the impact of automation, Industry 4.0, and artificial intelligence on Timișoara’s manufacturing sector.
  • Talent retention and collaboration: The programme ideally will lead to the exploration of collaborative opportunities among local industries, design firms, and government bodies to foster economic growth, job opportunities, and entrepreneurship.
  • Sustainable economic development: further collaborations within the programme allow for incorporating sustainable practices and green technologies in local industry.

Timișoara European Capital of Culture 2023 facilitated the development of cross-disciplinary approaches to an extent that is uncommon in cultural programming. It unleashed the potential of creatives and academia to forge connections with the manufacturing sector, the local community, and European professionals. Such fostering of collaboration, innovation, and collective growth has laid the groundwork for sustainable long-term impact. It is an insightful and fruitful format that will be further explored and replicated in other European cities.


References

  • Bright Cityscapes. (2023). https://brightcityscapes.eu/.
  • European Commission. (2022). Timișoara 2023: 3rd Monitoring Report. European Commission, https://culture.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/2022-12/Timisoara-2023_3rd-monitoring_report-FINAL_forpublication.pdf.
  • Mateescu, G. (2023). ‘Timișoara and the Artists Who Have Changed the City through Their Initiatives’. Revista ARTA, https://revistaarta.ro/en/timisoara-and-the-artistswho-have-changed-the-city-through-their-initiatives/.
  • Petrovici, N., Alexe, V., & Bejinariu, V. (2023). ‘Economy in Timișoara: Territorial Distribution of the Economy in the Timișoara Metropolitan Area’. Bright Cityscapes, https://brightcityscapes.eu/media/pages/articles/bright-cityscapes-a-researchabout-timisoara-s-industrial-ecosystem/bdcfbc89ae-1699277335/bright-cityscapes_economy-in-timisoara_report_nov2023.pdf.
  • Timișoara 2023. (2023). ‘Cultural Program’. https://timisoara2023.eu/en/cultural-programme/.
  • Vasiliu, O. (2023). ‘Timisoara2023: What’s Next for Timisoara after Its European Capital of Culture Programme’. Business Review, 20 November, https://business-review.eu/featured/timisoara2023-whats-next-for-timisoara-after-its-european-capitalof-culture-programme-254064.
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