College of Design, Creative and Digital Industries
Blurring the boundaries: creating synergies between business events and cultural festivals
Events can be used as platforms for entrepreneurship and drivers for the development of business networks, shaping their actors’ present and future activities (Foley et al, 2014; Lampel, 2011 in Schlüßler et al., 2015). By providing opportunities for face-to-face interaction and social activities, they facilitate collective knowledge acquisition and ideas generation across industries and sectors (Henn and Bathelt, 2015; Schlüßler et al., 2015). In this context they are sophisticated knowledge ecosystems where competitive advantages can be achieved through problem solving and idea generation (Bathelt and Cohendet, 2014; Schuldt and Bathelt, 2011). Although this perspective is traditionally linked to business events, in recent years cultural events have also been used to develop business relationships, grow industrial clusters and nurture networks with organisations outside host cities (Smith, 2012). Friere Gibb and Lorentzen’s (2011) analysis of the Frederikshavn Lighting Festival in Denmark, for instance, shows how a light festival can evolve into a platform for economic development by integrating educational and professional events into the cultural activities. In this sense, the cultural appeal of the event is levered to create a business legacy. This research uses the field-configuring characteristics of events (Henn & Bathelt, 2015), to relate knowledge sharing and network development to the way in which events shape the evolution of a professional field. With a focus on an urban light festival, it explores how the event acts as a catalyst for knowledge sharing/creation practices of key actors before, during and after the event that create strategic value (Crowther and Orefice, 2014). Light festivals have become much more popular in recent years (Jiwa et a, 2009), with many cities seeking to copy the success of Paris’s Nuit Blanche that was initiated in 2002 (Evans, 2012). Whilst they are staged mainly to provide nocturnal entertainment for residents and visitors, their creative dimension and the involvement of lighting experts and companies means they can also be used for strategic economic and city development. Our study focuses on Light Night Leeds, an annual event that was first staged in 2005. Policy analysis and interviews with professionals involved in this event are used to assess what has been done to leverage its potential as a networking opportunity for the city and its businesses, as well as a platform for the development of creative and lighting industries regionally, nationally and internationally. By exploring the ways in which cultural events such as Light Night Leeds are integrated with industrial and entrepreneurial policy, the paper highlights the growing synergies between business events and cultural festivals in eventful cities.