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Srinagar joins UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network—an elite group of 295 world cities

In a major achievement for India in an international competition, Srinagar—the summer capital of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir—has on Monday joined the UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network

In a major achievement for India in an international competition, Srinagar—the summer capital of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir—has on Monday joined the UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.

“49 cities have joined the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) following their designation by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, in recognition of their commitment to placing culture and creativity at the heart of their development and to sharing knowledge and good practices”, an official statement from the UNESCO headquarters in Paris said on Monday.

The Network now numbers 295 cities reaching 90 countries that invest in culture and creativity – crafts and folk art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts, and music – to advance sustainable urban development.

“A new urban model needs to be developed in every city, with its architects, town planners, landscapers and citizens”,  Azoulay said. “We are urging everyone to work with States to reinforce the international cooperation between cities which UNESCO wishes to promote.”

“The collaborative spirit of the UCCN’s members is reflected in the publication UNESCO Creative Cities’ Response to COVID-19 in 2020. This year, too, the Network is collecting and disseminating information about the culture and creativity-based responses to COVID-19 that have been taken by members of the Network, which UNESCO will publish as part of its continued support to cities’ recovery from the pandemic”, said the statement.

Among the two nominations from India—Srinagar (Crafts and Folk Art) and Bhopal (Music)—Srinagar has been designated as a member of the UCCN in the category of Crafts and Folk Art. It is the only city on an axis between Iran and Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand that has been decorated with the rare honour. China has got recognition for two cities of Huai’an and Weifang.

In 2020, UNESCO did not conduct the accreditation process due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of November, 2019, there were 5 Indian cities in the UCCN—Jaipur in Crafts and Folk Arts (2015), Varanasi in Music (2015), Chennai in Music (2017), Mumbai in Film (2019) and Hyderabad in the category of Gastronomy (2019).

The UNESCO recognition of Srinagar is believed to have international diplomatic ramifications as Pakistan has been opposing the world bodies’ establishments in Jammu and Kashmir. In recent times, Islamabad has botched up the air passenger and cargo flights between Srinagar and Dubai in 2009. It has also revoked permission of its air space for a Srinagar-Sharjah flight which had been inaugurated by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah on 23 October in Srinagar.

Previously Islamabad had also managed to block Rs 1,000 crore World Bank funding to phase-2 of the Integrated Watershed Development Project (IWDP-Hills) in Jammu and Kashmir. 

Within hours of the UNESCO statement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Delighted that beautiful Srinagar joins the @UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) with a special mention for its craft and folk art. It is a fitting recognition for the vibrant cultural ethos of Srinagar. Congratulations to the people of Jammu and Kashmir”.

The inclusion of Srinagar in the creative city network for the arts and crafts has paved a way for the city to represent its world-famous handicrafts on the global stage through UNESCO. Recognition is granted in the 7 categories of Crafts & Folk Arts, Media Arts, Music, Film, Literature, Design and Gastronomy.

The dossier for nomination for Srinagar as Creative City was first filed by Srinagar Municipal Corporation in the year 2019. However, only two cities, Hyderabad for Gastronomy and Mumbai for Film, were chosen. Prior to year 2019 only three Indian cities had UCCN accreditation—Jaipur (Crafts and Folk Arts) in 2015, Varanasi (Music) in 2015 and Chennai (Music) in 2017.

Junaid Azim Mattu, the mayor of Srinagar, told India Narrative that the UCCN recognition would go a long way to promote, conserve and market the world-famous art and handicrafts across the globe. “Hundreds of thousands of our artists, artisans, weavers, manufacturers, domestic traders and exporters would be hugely benefited. For the first time, we are joining an elite club of 295 cities in 90 countries. The sister countries will collaborate with us in important initiatives of the conservation, modernisation, promotion and marketing of our exquisite art and handicraft products. We have been selected in a tough competition among hundreds of the world countries”, Mattu said.

Commissioner Srinagar Municipal Corporation, Athar Aamirul Shafi Khan, said that the prestigious UCCN membership was a rare honour for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. “An honour for Srinagar is an honour for the whole UT of J&K”, Khan said. He said that the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) had worked hard and drawn a meticulous dossier on behalf of SMC for Srinagar’s recognition as a creative city in the category of Crafts and Folk Art. Union Ministry of Education and Union Ministry of Culture recommended Srinagar for the UCCN membership with multiple endorsements from mayor Mattu and the Indian National Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO (INCCU).

Khan said that Srinagar’s exquisite arts and handicrafts like shawl embroidery, crochet and crewel embroidery, papier mache, namda manufacturing, geometrical khatamband woodwork ceiling, wall panelling, copperware etc. would get a big boost on account of the city’s UCCN recognition. Many of these arts and crafts would gain greater visibility and thus qualify for other recognitions like the Geographical Index.

Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar, Aijaz Assad, said that rejuvenation of the art and handicraft sector in Kashmir under Government of India’s Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan would get an additional impetus with Srinagar’s UCCN recognition.

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