WHY facilitates a discussion for the Global Cultural District Network Conversations series



The Global Cultural Districts Network (GCDN) is an international federation committed to improving the quality of urban life through the contribution of the arts, culture, and creative industries. At WHY, we view the practice of design and architecture as part of a wider commitment to facilitating relationships across sectors; whether we’re designing a museum, a private residence, or a campus masterplan, our goal is to strengthen larger contextual networks to foster resiliency and quality of life.

Moderated by WHY’s Strategic Development Director Michael Woodsmall, the latest GDCN Conversation examined how cultural districts and institutions have managed the challenges of the pandemic, and how to build greater resiliency to prepare for future change.



Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney, is best known for her radical resurrection of the MCA, developing strategies that challenged public and political perceptions of the museum, and instituting a new business model which significantly diversified the museum’s funding.

Theo Knipfing, Founder of the creative placemaking consultancy Plus Curiosity, is a creative innovator and disrupter, specializing in fostering relationships between real estate developers and cultural practitioners.

Shauna Weeks, Manager of Communications and Programming at the ‎Perth Theatre Trust, is the connecting force between a series of national and regional performance venues, each home to multiple international and local performance groups.



The experience of each of the panelists during the pandemic might serve as a case study for rapid-response and recalibration in the face of financial and social turbulence. But the real question is whether these learnings will impact practice as we emerge from the pandemic. Do we really want to go back to “business as usual”? Or can the experience of the pandemic provide the groundwork for generating new and sustainable models, allowing cultural networks to navigate – and even profit from – unforeseen change?



Rising to the challenge, the panel sparked a series of thought-provoking discussions:

  • The conventional divide between culture and commerce is no longer viable – and it’s possible to find an equilibrium while preserving integrity of purpose. Cultural venues can help drive traffic to commercial developments, and cultural practitioners should likewise be valued as consultants to the private sector. In many cases, a museum director will have a better understanding of how to activate public space than a real estate developer.
  • Diversification is key – we can no longer rely on singular sources of funding, audience demographics, or sector specification. Future resiliency will depend on rethinking traditional divides and fostering knowledge-sharing and co-operation, ensuring that the arts continue to play an essential role in improving quality of life for all.
  • We need to get people back to physical spaces, but we also need to boost the applicability of digital offerings for those who can’t be present. Ultimately, collaboration across local, national, and international networks will be essential for improving accessibility to the arts.
  • Going Forward, the arts will be considered integral to wellness. The pandemic has dramatically clarified priorities for museums cultural institutions: to survive and grow, these institutions need to be perceived by governments and the general public as vital sources of healing and social connection.



Watch or listen in to the recording to delve deeper into the discussion  – we’re excited to continue this dialogue with GCDN and others, and we’re grateful to the panelists who brought such inspiring ideas and perspectives to the table.


Article by Matilda Bathurst
June 22nd, 2021
Museums,  Performing Arts,  Programming