In 2019, the European Commission’s Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor report ranked Glasgow no1 in the UK, and the European leader in Openness, Tolerance & Trust. This was the culmination of a process dating to Mayfest in 1983, which had seen the city become European City of Culture in 1990 and UNESCO City of Music in 2008. At the heart of that was the city’s commitment to reinvent itself, seen as a beacon by many leading decision makers and led by Glasgow Life since 2007.

Culture is not a thing apart from life. It is in every thing we do or say or become, and countries, cities, businesses and families all have their cultures. But the word is usually used as a shorthand for an intense, summarised experience of past or present life, distilled into heritage, music, theatre or sport. As the quest for new experiences has increased faster than the quest for new goods in recent years, the demand for culture has increased. In 2017, the Bazalgette Review forecast that by 2025, industries related to culture would be worth almost £130bn to the UK economy. Despite that, there is an increasing view at UK level that culture is a cost, a luxury, a benefit. The figures do not bear this out.

The cultural and creative industries (CCIs) can be agents of cultural change. Virtual/augmented or mixed reality (VR/XR) changes the way we see ‘reality’, while partnership in the built environment (such as Kelvin Hall, a partnership between Glasgow Life, the University of Glasgow, the National Library of Scotland and other partners; in normal times visited by 650,000 people a year with thousands of students enjoying its joint facilities) changes the way we experience it.

Culture is transformative: that is true for health and wellbeing, reputation and income, and human life and education. The City of Glasgow’s film office has brought £320M into the city, while the University of Glasgow’s top five status in the UK for drama, film, history and technology of art and top 10 status for literature, history and music attracts students from all over the world. An international and welcoming university – and not the only one – in an international and welcoming city draws in people and creates a major economic impact. Both the city and the University benefit from the contiguity of education and inclusive culture in the Riverside Innovation District, and the development of the University’s new Advanced Research Centre (ARC), opening in 2022, will further spur the possibilities for collaboration with the cultural industries.

Visitors and students bring new money to the city, and new processes do too. In 2020, I completed a report for the Scottish Government on the value of Robert Burns to the economy; the recommendations from which are now being taken up by organisations and regional development plans. Among other things, the report recommended a closer alignment between local produce – food and drink with a story – and other forms of culture.

University of Glasgow research has recently supported the National Trust for Scotland in this area, and there is far more potential. As we emerge from the disturbing and tragic story of the pandemic, the desire for new experiences to shape our lives and memories and intensify our sense of place, belonging and meaning is only going to increase. Together we can find new ways of presenting these experiences and increasing their appeal to those who come to the city and support our economy. And that ‘together’ may involve sharing space as well as new ideas.

As more business moves to the concepts market from the things market, one of the key current arguments about accounting practice is that it does not make appropriate allowance for expenditure on intangibles. Culture is often intangible and experiential: but ultimately it is what supports status, marketability and appeal over a much broader range of economic activity.

Glasgow was ranked no4 for people and lifestyle and no3 for business friendliness in the Financial Times’ Global Cities of the Future index for 2019. We should embrace the fact that the culture of business and the business of culture are on the same journey to benefit this city.

Murray Pittock is Pro Vice-Principal at the University of Glasgow.