What is Art Tourism? A form of sustainable travel

Artwork - What is Art tourism

Art tourism is a form of trav­el that revolves around engag­ing with artis­tic and cul­tur­al activ­i­ties, in touris­tic or his­tor­i­cal set­tings. Some­times referred to as cre­ative tourism, It involves vis­it­ing des­ti­na­tions that also fea­ture art dis­play. It offers a unique trav­el expe­ri­ence and con­tributes to the con­ser­va­tion and reap­pro­pri­a­tion of cul­tur­al spaces that might have oth­er­wise been lost.

Breathing Fresh Air into History

For vis­i­tors, Art Tourism trans­lates in explor­ing his­tor­i­cal sites, muse­ums, gal­leries, towns or exhibits with a fresh per­spec­tive. It can also look like par­tic­i­pat­ing in cre­ative work­shops or see­ing artists per­form on loca­tion. But why does it mat­ter?

Street artists per­form­ing at the Fringe Fes­ti­val, in the his­toric cen­ter of Edin­burgh, cap­i­tal of Scot­land.
© David Mon­tei­th-Hodge / The Edin­burgh Fes­ti­val Fringe Soci­ety

Artis­tic ini­tia­tives and inter­ven­tions cre­ate new inter­est in his­tor­i­cal des­ti­na­tions that might have oth­er­wise been over­looked, for­got­ten or under­fund­ed.

The prac­tice pro­motes the con­ser­va­tion of his­tor­i­cal des­ti­na­tions and cul­tur­al spaces that might have fall­en into dis­re­pair or neglect. By attract­ing tourists with art, these places receive much-need­ed atten­tion and invest­ment for their preser­va­tion. It allows com­mu­ni­ties to fund the restora­tion of his­tor­i­cal build­ings and even revi­talise neigh­bour­hoods. They pre­vent the loss of invalu­able cul­tur­al her­itage.

Many small towns and vil­lages in Europe, for exam­ple, have wit­nessed sig­nif­i­cant eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment through artis­tic tourism. By lever­ag­ing their cul­tur­al assets and her­itage, these des­ti­na­tions attract tourists, cre­ate jobs and fos­ter a vibrant local econ­o­my.

Asso­ci­a­tions, donors and inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions play a cru­cial role in sup­port­ing these sort of endeav­ors, often work­ing on a non-prof­it basis to ensure the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the projects and their pos­i­tive impact on the local com­mu­ni­ty.

(La la la la) Art tourism is all around the world

Due to its suc­cess in rekin­dling local economies, artis­tic tourism has recent­ly mul­ti­plied through­out Europe and the rest of the globe. Ini­tia­tives relat­ed to the prac­tice can man­i­fest in the most dis­parate regions, each with its unique artis­tic her­itage wait­ing to be explored.

One pos­i­tive exam­ple is PROYEC­TO ARMAZÓN, a project led by Mar­gari­ta Asuar in Spain. This ini­tia­tive revi­tal­izes old cas­tles by trans­form­ing them into exhi­bi­tion spaces fea­tur­ing art relat­ed to the 17 OECD sus­tain­abil­i­ty goals.

The Teacher, by Lola Álvarez Espe­jo,
for SDG 4: “Qual­i­ty Edu­ca­tion”
Action and Life by Jesús Med­i­na,
for SDG 3: “Health and well-being”

The select­ed works include paint­ings, pho­tographs, sculp­tures and more. Such projects not only attract vis­i­tors but also cre­ate a plat­form for pro­mot­ing social and envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness, all while pre­serv­ing his­tor­i­cal struc­tures.

Cas­tle of Mon­teagu­do de las Vic­arías, his­tor­i­cal site who ben­e­fit­ed from an Armazón exhib­it, in Soria, Spain.

A word of caution

Not all art tourism ini­tia­tives share the same non-prof­it and com­mu­ni­ty-focused goals. While some attrac­tions may present them­selves as such, they may pri­mar­i­ly serve com­mer­cial and sales objec­tives. Instead of help­ing local pop­u­la­tions, pre­serv­ing the envi­ron­ment or even sup­port­ing local economies, they might even hin­der them. This address­es ven­tures such as the Abu Dhabi Lou­vre.

The Abu Dhabi Lou­vre (Pho­to­graph by Mohamed Somji, as pub­lished by the Condé Nast Trav­el­er)

Dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing between projects that gen­uine­ly sup­port local com­mu­ni­ties and those dri­ven pure­ly by com­mer­cial inter­ests is cru­cial in under­stand­ing the true nature of art tourism. It is essen­tial to crit­i­cal­ly eval­u­ate such ini­tia­tives to ensure they align with the prin­ci­ples of non-prof­it, com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment and cul­tur­al preser­va­tion, allow­ing art tourism to tru­ly make a pos­i­tive impact on the places it seeks to show­case and sup­port.

Sustainability. Last but not least.

By pro­mot­ing the con­ser­va­tion and reap­pro­pri­a­tion of cul­tur­al spaces, this cre­ative form of tourism fos­ters sus­tain­able eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment in rur­al areas. It leads to enrich­ment for both trav­ellers and local com­mu­ni­ties.

Art tourism offers a unique, sus­tain­able and reward­ing trav­el expe­ri­ence that com­bines cul­tur­al explo­ration, cre­ativ­i­ty and the preser­va­tion of his­tor­i­cal her­itage.

Written by Malu Benjamin
July 12, 2023

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