In this study, we look at the cultural politics surrounding the narratives of cultural festivals in Gwangju, South Korea and Glasgow, Scotland. These two cities illustrate both a general obsession to become world-class, and intervening efforts toward achieving world ranking. Through archives and in-depth interviews with key actors from the Gwangju Biennale and Glasgow’s West End Festival, this study observes how different narratives regarding urban cultural festivals interact. It also takes a closer look at how instrumental narratives behind these events constrain community involvement. Our findings suggest that both cities adopted an instrumental approach to their cultural festivals. In both cases, the instrumental focus of festival organizers curtails community participation, by focusing on professionalism in both the public and private sectors. Community groups challenged the approach at different levels. We argue that cultural festivals are places where different narratives, such as goal-oriented instrumentalism and self-realisation, interact, compete, and negotiate with each other. We also demonstrate that an instrumental approach in the awareness of urban competition drives the direction and meaning of both the cultural festival itself and the community involvement in it.
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We follow Healey’s (1996) definition of community, based on being spatially-based therefore sharing a concern what happens there, and being stake-based. In this study, community and community groups refer to progressive civic and art organizations that participated in the cultural festivals. In Gwangju, they were mainly art organisations, and in Glasgow, civic organisations were part of the festival. In both cases, the community groups pursued self-realisation criticising bureaucrats’ instrumentalism, and it caused a conflict with major actors, the local bureaucrats and local businesses.