Deborah Bull, Director, Cultural Partnerships at King’s College London, was among the world’s political and business leaders and intellectuals taking part in this year’s recent annual World Economic Forum at Davos. Deborah was named as one of the top four participants on social media at the Forum. Follow her at @BullDeborah @CultureatKings #davosculture
It was a privilege to be invited to this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos as one of a small group of cultural leaders. The media at home tend to focus on the economic and political debates at Davos, but the Forum offers the opportunity for a broader and more inclusive conversation, with art and artists as an important part of the mix. As the Forum’s Head of Arts & Culture explains, ‘The arts are included in Davos now more than ever because they are needed’.
The unique value of Davos is that it brings together so many different perspectives: we know that it is at the interface of these different perspectives that new approaches to our global challenges are likely to emerge. It was heartening to see the role of creativity referenced time and time again as vital to the process of innovation. Given my role at King’s, it was particularly pleasing to hear Professor Michael Spence of NYU Stern – a Nobel Laureate in Economics – highlighting the need to combine creativity with evidence to tackle climate change.
Creativity was the theme of my first presentation, along with Professors Carol Becker (Columbia University) and Ken Goldberg (University of California, Berkeley). My focus was on creativity as a quality that is innate in us all – a unique human resource and one that will be available as long as we have breath. I also spoke about the role of arts engagement in developing creativity, the growing evidence base we have published via CultureCase.org and the partnerships we are creating at King’s between artists and academics, to provoke new perspectives on research.
There is a range of spaces in the Congress Centre, including a BetaZone with a large scale, high definition screen, where I moderated a session in which Martin Roth (Director, V&A) and James Cuno (J. Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust) shared their thoughts about the digital revolution in museums. I also took part in a panel discussion on the Impact of the Arts, in which I was able to share some of the work we are doing through Culture at King’s to increase understanding of the potential of arts and culture to contribute beyond their intrinsic value. In particular, I talked about the growing body of evidence about the role of the arts in developing creativity, improving mental and physical health, increasing cross cultural understanding and engaging the public with contemporary challenges. It was good to see the session attended by participants beyond the ‘obviously converted’. The audience included a range of individuals, including Edmund Phelps, Nobel Laureate in Economics.
As the conference went on, it became more and more clear to me that it will take a combination of creative thinking, technological advance and changes to public behaviour if we are to address the global challenges that were this year’s Davos theme. I’m delighted that in bringing cultural as well as political leaders to Davos, the World Economic Forum recognises that art has a role to play in this. Art and artists help to shape our culture, the way we see the world, the way we communicate and the decisions we take. This was the theme of my third presentation, alongside Haifaa Al Mansour (Saudi Arabian filmmaker), Platon (photographer), Patrick Chappatte (cartoonist) and Will.i.am (musician, social activist and philanthropist). The event provided a genuine ‘Davos moment’, when I found myself sitting within inches of an intense conversation between Kofi Anaan and will.i.am. But it also provided powerful examples of how the work of artists can influence the way we think and the way we behave, and the role of leadership in driving change. As the world’s decision-makers gathered in Davos, it was inspiring to see art as part of the mix.