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Cultural capital: the story of Bilbao shows us the reality of regenerating a city

Twenty years ago the Guggenheim put Bilbao on the map. But can art really transform a city?

By Andrew Dickson   December 2017

At 10am on a crisp autumn morning, Bilbao was bustling. Tourists were drifting down to the riverside, filling the cafés across from the Guggenheim Museum. Around them, men in shorts fussed with spotlights and loudspeakers, preparing a sound-and-light show to commemorate the museum’s 20th anniversary. As gardeners began to replant Jeff Koons’s flower-covered Puppy sculpture—it was looking a touch threadbare—the nickel-bright whorls of Frank Gehry’s building shimmered in the sun. All across town there were hoardings and adverts carrying the legend el arte lo cambio, “art changes everything.”

Since the museum…

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