Creating a “Cultural Capital”: Transforming Accra into a Hub for Arts, Entertainment, Culture

Cities are increasingly embracing their local culture as an opportunity to create a distinctive sense of “place,” to improve their image locally and globally, to attract visitors and to stimulate urban economic development. With funding from the United Cities and Local Governments organisation, the city of Accra received substantial funding to promote a cultural mapping project to create a comprehensive, digitized map of the city cultural and historic sites.  The funding, applied for by the local NGO Accra Culture and Arts Network (AccraCAN) on behalf of the city of Accra, will go towards refurbishment of key historic sites like Ussher Fort as well as the mapping project, as tools to achieve the long-term goal of preserving the city’s cultural identity and transforming Accra into a “cultural capital.”

The aim of the project is to preserve the city’s memory and build economic opportunities around the city’s cultural elements: These cultural sites often lack responsive stewards and go uncared for, and the dilapidation and disappearance of these sites impoverishes cities, by taking away tangible and intangible access to these cultural resources.  

“The aim of AccraCAN is to infuse into the neighbourhoods of Ghana’s capital: arts and cultural activities that improve exposure to, understanding of and respect for diverse national and international cultural heritages; and to support arts activities that engage the community. To that regard, it was announced at the culture ceremony at the Ussher Fort last Thursday, March 10 that part of the grant would go into refurbishing the Usher Fort and restoring it into a museum that would preserve the history and culture of the people of the Accra.

The 55,000 Euro grant is also expected to be used to fulfil a number of mandates including developing programmes and tools to help turn Accra into a Cultural Capital, a key goal of AccraCAN, which has already begun a cultural mapping project that seeks to identify, collect, record, analyze and synthesise information about the cultural resources, networks, links and patterns of usage of communities and spaces in the capital. It will also be used to build capacity in training for cultural managers in civil society as well as for the municipality.”

The potential significance of this project is immense. If successful, the city of Accra will become one of the first Sub-Saharan African cities to effectively establish itself as a cultural capital (although it won’t be the first to have made such an attempt — the city of Johannesburg, in South Africa has made large strides to build an arts/culture scene and transform the city into a cultural capital). In addition, the initiative will create a city identity based in its local, authentic character that espouses social and economic potential. 

United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) represents and defends the interests of local governments on the world stage, regardless of the size of the communities they serve. Headquartered in Barcelona, the organisation’s stated mission is “to be the united voice and world advocate of democratic local self-government, promoting its values, objectives and interests, through cooperation between local governments, and within the wider international community.”