The analysis presented in this paper deals with the topic of the integration of a cultural institution in old industrialised urban contexts, and concerns the use of cultural activities not only as factors of diversification of the local economy, but also as elements of innovation and cross-fertilisation for the former industrial functions. The cases of Biella industrial district and Saint-Etienne industrial area are described in light of the current debate on the culture-based urban and regional development. Attention is also paid to the experiences of Cittadellarte-Pistoletto Foundation and Cité du Design, two cultural institutions recently established in the above mentioned contexts and operating as important nodes of innovation and relations between the local and global networks.