This paper reflects on urban cultural development in a post-Soviet context. Most literature on arts and the city focuses either on Western cities, often recovering from post-industrial decline, or emerging global cities. However, post-socialist cities have remained under-investigated. The paper argues that the existing accounts of urban cultural development often underestimate the impact of national policy frameworks and historical trajectories. In post-Soviet countries, these national dynamics—often responding to broader diplomatic and cultural shifts—need to be considered. The paper uses the case study of Kazakhstan and its two major cities Almaty and Astana (recently renamed Nur-Sultan) to explore the role of path dependence and national policy in urban cultural development. It concludes by arguing for integrating a complexity perspective into the study of arts and the city, looking at macro policy and infrastructural changes, meso local urban responses, and micro dynamics of collaboration and work amongst creative and cultural practitioners in cities.