Songs for sustainable development: How London’s Music City designation supports the SDGs

In fall 2021, London, Ontario was added to a list of over 50 cities around the world named as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) City of Music. With this designation, London joined close to 300 cities in 90 countries that make up the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN).

The mission of the network is to build partnerships between cities that “have recognized creativity as a strategic factor of sustainable development.” All network members commit to supporting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The UCCN cities each bring strengths in a distinct creative field: crafts and folk art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts and music. UCCN members harness the power of culture and creativity to contribute to urban development, stimulating economic, social, cultural and environmental progress.

At Pillar Nonprofit Network, as a network organization that facilitates cross-sector collaboration for systems change, and a co-lead on the SDG Cities program, we see immense potential in the Creative City designation to ignite action towards the SDGs and encourage partnerships for community recovery. With their ability to encourage experimentation and innovation, there are few limits on how Creative Cities can use artistic expression to better their community and work towards multiple SDGs. 

An article from the International Institute for Sustainable Development highlights there have been examples of cities of film and of music that “provide spaces for promoting human rights, equality and solidarity, contributing to SDGs 6 (clean water and sanitation), 10 (reduced inequalities) and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).” 

Like many mid-sized cities, especially post-COVID, London continues to face great economic and social challenges. These interconnected dimensions go hand in hand and are critical to the recovery of our city. While it will take time to grow into the full potential of what the Music City designation means for London, it holds great promise for our own sustainable development and contribution to global development goals.

The act of being chosen as a Music City already demonstrates the economic and cultural significance of music in London. The official London City of Music website shares that in 2019 there were approximately 1,000 skilled workers in the live music sector, 4,740 annual live music events and $25.9 million in revenue from only 5 major music events alone. In addition, London has long produced top industry talent through programs at Western University, Fanshawe College, and the Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology.

Early commitments outlined by the London Music Office and London city council can help us begin to understand how the Music City designation will benefit Londoners and guide SDG progress. Let’s take a look at how some of their focus areas align to the SDGs. This isn’t an exhaustive list and multiple objectives can fall under more than one goal; a key component of the SDGs is their interconnectedness and interdependence. 

SDG 4 – Quality education

Music incubation is a local focus area of London’s Music City plan expanding further on the strength of our existing training programs. The London Music Office, and other partners, have already begun to host additional education programs and workshops to grow local talent. Similarly, we’re starting to see collaborative opportunities for song writing, showcases and music city forums. The City of London also plans to establish a resilience fund to increase career resiliency through education, mentorship and counselling.

SDG Tag number 8: decent work and economic growth

SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth

Investments in artists, venues, concerts and associated businesses and infrastructure to grow our music scene will support decent work and economic growth. London will be able to attract skilled music industry professionals with increased opportunities. Developing a thriving cultural scene also attracts people in other industries to work, live, visit and invest here furthering economic growth. City council has also shared a number of commitments to boosting the music scene including a centre stage patio grant to increase venues for live music, and creating a core entertainment zone with broadened regulatory permissions. 

Decent work directly influences the wellness of our community and touches multiple SDGs including good health and wellbeing and reduced inequities. At Pillar, we lead by example on decent work through many factors including competitive compensation, benefits, pay transparency, hybrid work and acting as advocates for decent work. We hope that an influx of new jobs will lead to more opportunities for decent work and that economic growth will reduce the great need for services that fall to local community-serving organizations.

SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities

Art has often been called a great equalizer allowing us to have shared experiences and build empathy with people from all backgrounds. London commits to adding value to our city through “using music to bring people together, break down barriers, engage youth and marginalized communities.” The London Music Office also names inclusive community as a focus area including inclusive participation and representation in our music scene. The office will also work to ensure BIPOC businesses experience greater inclusivity in the local music community.

SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals

Partnerships are critical to the success of UNESCO Creative Cities both inside the city and across the network. Creative cities commit to sharing knowledge with other cities in the network to amplify learning and extend the reach of their culture and creativity globally. Locally, London Music City hopes to start collaborative projects and establish joint partnerships, attract and develop international talent, and strengthen the relationship between music and film production. They also intend to develop international partnerships with a particular focus on avenues such as facilitating artist and industry exchange and hosting and attending music conferences. 

Change on a global scale starts in cities. To ensure the social and economic revitalization of local communities and worldwide sustainable development, municipal governments need to lead the charge on developing and implementing SDG strategies. When we look back across significant moments in history, we see the power of music to help catalyze change and create social movements. London’s Music City designation has the potential to be a key component of London’s broader SDG strategy helping to orchestrate a future where social, economic, and environmental sustainability is possible.

There are two events this week where you can enjoy high quality musical attractions and learn more about UNESCO Creative Cities, London Music City, and the SDGs, join Pillar’s SDG Cities Co-Lead, Luis Patricio and London Chamber of Commerce at London City of Music Expo, March 30, 2023 and the City of Music Conference on March 31, 2023.

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