“Art Basel has created cultural events and cultural programming for many years,” said Foret in an interview with Artsy. “We have a network of experts, an amazing team, and we have our exhibitors. What we are offering is to capitalize on all of this and to be an accelerator to propel cities’ cultural and economic development in a significant way.” Foret says they plan to work with cities for a period of two to five years, starting with a several-month audit of the city’s current cultural programming. “The approach is to go there, to sit down with each key stakeholder of the local art scene and also the city government and cultural officials to define with them a program that is aligned with their overall development in the mid and long term,” Foret added.
Art Basel has yet to announce the initial set of Art Basel Cities, however, Foret said that they are in advanced discussions with several potential partners. Additionally, in the three hours after the initiative was made public, two more cities requested to be considered for the program. Not all cities will be eligible. “There’s a certain number of boxes that need to be ticked,” said Foret. “The city has to be accessible; there needs to be a major airport; there has to be a cultural ecosystem,” comprised of museums and galleries, ideally with which Art Basel already has a relationship.
Most importantly, however, “the city must be committed to pushing out a cultural agenda in a significant way and have the ambition to become international.” This owes to the initiative’s intended monetization model, which will see them pull not from existing culture budgets (which are often too small to begin with), but instead from economic development budgets that might otherwise be used to fund major sporting events and stadiums or other growth initiatives. Art Basel does not intend to be an activist but rather a catalyst. “I’m not looking forward to going to cities spending a billion on sports and trying to convince them to do something different,” said Foret, “but I am looking forward to working with cities that have already made the decision and a conscious commitment that art is a good direction.”
The organization cites the significant economic impact that their fairs contribute to the cities in which they take place as the major value proposition to potential partner cities. Art Basel in Miami Beach, for example, generates an estimated half billion dollars of economic activity during its week-long stay in South Florida. With Art Basel Cities, they believe they can generate even greater impact through year-round lifts to the cultural fabric of their partner metropoles.
“People do not want to live in a boring place,” said Art Basel global director, Marc Spiegler. “That includes software developers, people in finance, and people of other interests that are not a part of the creative class; a city which is culturally vibrant is more attractive to every single type of talent that you need.” He added, “in a global economy, there is a constant global war for talent. A forward-thinking city will realize that investing in culture and the cultural life of its city is also an investment in the broader economic life of the city.”