The Good Country Equation: Simon Anholt

Do you live in a good country?  Do you know of a good country or how good your own is compared to others?   Strange questions perhaps when views of countries and their governments are influenced by how they are responding, or not, to the pandemic. Or  the crushing of democracy in Belarus, Hong Kong and Trump’s ham-fisted attempts in USA?

Let’s put aside current concerns and see if we can explore, dispassionately and evidence-based, whether a country is “good”.  The first question is of course “good for whom?”.   Most governments of course seek to be good to their citizens, well many do.

But is your country good for the world? Does it contribute?  That is the focus of Simon Anholt’s new book “The Good Country Equation”.  Anholt is best known for the coining of the term “nation brand” which has launched hundreds of consultancies and even more articles and books (and misunderstandings).  In the first half of his new book we follow Simon through a 20 year worldwide journey as he advised national leaders on how they could improve their countries standing. His technique?  The Anholt Process: a series of conversazioni

An informal collegiate discussion about a nation’s future role in the international community.

In an entertaining roller coaster ride Simon gives examples from Croatia and Slovenia (I remember that one) to Afghanistan to Russia and many more countries. If you want to reconsider approaches to cultural relations/public diplomacy etc then the first half of the book is for you.

But there is more.  Simon notices from his work that people like good countries.  At the same time the world is facing global problems.

As I have learned in country after country, global problems need global solutions, and we need to work together as a species if we are going to solve and survive these challenges.

Simon argues that the nation state system on its own can’t meet those challenges.  Two quotes suffice

It’s a seventeenth century system trying desperately to confront twenty-first-century globalized chaos.

Nationalism isn’t merely damaging to individuals and society: its fatal to life on earth.

What to do?  Simon seeks a nudge approach to encourage countries to see their relationship with the world, not just their relationship with their own voters/vested interests. So the founder of the Nations Brand Index and the City Brands Index turns to the Index approach. Watch his TED talk.

In the Good Country Index Simon aims to use an evidence based picture of how good a country is in its relationship to others and to the planet: in short – what do they contribute? The Index has 35 criteria grouped in 7 categories, all seeking “Contributions to…”

  • Culture
  • Science and Technology
  • International Peace and Security
  • World Order
  • Planet and Climate
  • Prosperity and Climate
  • Health and Wellbeing

As with all such Indices there is a great temptation to quibble over the selection of criteria but that’s not really the point now.  The sources for the scoring are UN and international authorities and not based on perceptions or qualitative measures.

Spoiler alert!   Who comes top?  It doesn’t matter. This is one of those international tables where getting better every year counts as more important than “We won” or the jingoistic “We’re tops”.

The Index has had a few years operation by now and is starting to trigger more than academic interest. Governments are asking for advice to improved their rankings.  Simon has developed new themes “Good Leaders”, “Global Vote” and more. More tools to encourage change.  And that is the whole point of the new book.  To solve the world’s problems we need to change, to work cooperatively, one size does not fit all and we need multiple avenues.

Every page of the book prompts reflection, not always agreement, but always thought provoking. The sub title says it all: 

How We Can Repair the World in One Generation

Start now, listen to Simon and act . Buy the book first, available from all good bookstores and even Amazon. Audible version also available)

The Wisden Writing Competition

In 2013, to celebrate its 150th edition Wisden Cricketers´ Almanack opened its pages to the general public.  Well, to be precise, one page of its 1,500+ pages, and it came with a catch.  The Wisden Writing Competition offers the lucky winner the glory of seeing their short essay (originally 480 to 520 words and recently reduced to 500 words) published in cricket’s “bible”. If that was not enough the winner is also invited to the annual launch dinner at the Home of Cricket, Lords.  That’s it, no prize money, no tickets to a Test Match at Lords or indeed anywhere else.  The concurrent MCC-Wisden photographic competition attracts a £2,000 prize and 650 entrants.

There is a consolation prize for all who submit essays: their name in Wisden.  Now this does have value.  For those not playing in the upper reaches of the game around the world (or at one of the privileged public schools) the chances of getting your name in Wisden are few. The best opportunity is if you were a cricketing “personality” or a long serving club player/umpire. You might be named in the obituary section.

The 2020 edition saw the eighth running of the competition; time to review progress.  It attracts between around 80 to 120 entries each year. We can’t be precise; entrants can submit two essays and the very brief review each year does not meet Wisden’s normal standards of accuracy.  For example, the 2020 competition attracted 79 entrants who contributed “over 80” essays.  Over the years the entries have come from “all corners of the world” with Bermuda, USA, UAE, Ireland, India, Italy “and that cricketing stronghold of Valencia” being mentioned (is there someone else in Valencia besides me entering?). Winners are not allowed to re-enter; several have subsequently been invited to write articles in Wisden, an additional reward.

Over 470 people have entered over 760 entries.  Three quarters of them (over 370) have only entered once: enough to get their name in the book.  Some enter for a few years and then give up; others drop in and out. Currently there are eleven who have entered the last five competitions. Four stalwart writers have been ever-present since 2013 and a further eight have passed the 75% mark with 6 or 7 entries out of the possible 8.  I hesitate to call this group the “1st XI with a 12th man”. Despite their over 80 appearances they (we) have failed to win. They (I) clearly write in hope and cling to the adage “if it first you don’t succeed, try again, fail better”.

What do you need to win?  Is there a pattern? Is there a magic hidden code to achieve victory? Here are four pointers.

A man.  All 8 winners have been men.  Indeed the number of women entrants looks to be very low with at best a handful each year.  In the 2020 edition the Editor, Daily Mail cricket writer Laurence Booth, continued his policy of opening the book to women cricketers. Attracting more women entrants seems an area to work on in the future. Perhaps endorsements and encouragements from Emma John or Isa Guha or Marina Hyde?

First timers.  7 of the 8 have won with their first entry (and the other with his second). This is perhaps the most surprising finding. Clearly the winner of the first competition in 2013 was a first timer: everyone was. The second winner could also be expected to be a first timer as people would have seen the first winning essay in the 2013 edition and thought “I can have a go”. Then 5 of the most recent 6 have also won on their debut. Not very encouraging for the repeat entrants! “If at first you don’t succeed, give up”. is not useful advice!

Live in southern England.  6 winners live south or west of Birmingham from Ely to Herefordshire to Devon to the London/Home Counties area; just one has come from outside the UK, in the USA. The location of one winner was not disclosed. Entries may come from around the world and from many counties but there is a clear geographic bias; unintentional I am sure.

A blogger.  This art-form is falling into disuse with the rise of quick fire Twitter but 5 of the winners were bloggers at the time of winning. Most have given up or considerably reduced their blogging since winning.  Another, a vicar, presumably honed his short form creative writing skills in his sermons.  Five, at least, are now active on Twitter.

Those four points cover the who, where and how of the winners.  What about the “what”: the content?   Can we discern any clues, any indicators, any trends? What are the judges looking for, besides good writing skills?

The rules require the content to be “cricket related but not a match report” and not published beforehand: that gives a very wide field to choose from!

The Editor, when launching the competition in Wisden 2012, said “this one page soapbox is yours to do with as you wish” . So how have the winners responded to this challenge? And how open have the judges been to accepting a challenge in the august pages of Wisden?

The first three winning entries were diverse: reflections on South African cricket through the careers of former teammates Kevin Petersen and Hamish Amla; a humorous selection of cricketing references in the works of William Shakespeare and an equally humorous account of a cricketers’ career, albeit a totally fictional creation.

Since then the most recent five winners although ostensibly covering different topics have three common attributes.

Firstly, they provide a romantic and nostalgic reflection on a time when cricket made an impression in the writer’s past.  That time ranges from the 1970s, through to the most recent decade.  The impression may be personal (father/son; a contact with a cricketer, a teams rare victory, or a following a team from afar). There is a fondness for that moment, one that stays in the memory and generates a warm smile; the Cardus and Arlott of long ago.

Secondly, four of the five are written in the first person (and the fifth recounts a shared team experience), a marked contrast to the first three winners. The dynamic has changed. The first three winners were about cricket; the more recent ones about the way cricket impacts upon the writer; they convey a more personal and contemplative internalised understanding of the emotions offered by the game.

and thirdly, they all refer to cricketing events in England (although one looked at an aspect of English cricket from the vantage point of Washington DC).

Wisden looks to the past; it is a book of record, of events of the previous year which will be remembered for decades to come. The winning entries of the Writing Competition reflect that approach.

Entries for the 2021 edition are now open: I (and you) have until to the end of November 2020 to enter. Enough time to reflect, to choose a topic; write draft after draft and keep watching that Word Count. Will the trends and patterns of the first eight years continue? Will we see any tinkering or a radical change? Wisden 2021 will have over 1,000 pages to fill with possibly very little cricket being played. The Quarantine Cup report and scorecards won’t take up much room. I look at my 157 editions for inspiration; that soapbox is there for the taking.

An inauspicious start to the African Capital of Culture

Strange goings on in Morocco. Until a few days ago Marrakesh was getting ready to host the first African Capital of Culture. Its PR was in full swing. But just eight days before its official launch it was announced that Marrakesh has “withdrawn” and Rabat will hold the title.

Marrakesh was invited to hold the first, pilot, African Capital of Culture title by the “owners”, the Africa region of the Union of Cities and Local Government, at its Africities conference in 2018. (No link to the UCLGA site as it seems unsafe).

And since then it has been developing a programme. Its honorary president Mahi Binebine, a well known painter and cultural figure, attended a formal presentation in Paris on 16 January. He was with the president of the organising committee and general secretary of UCLGA, Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi.

To quote a media interview with the pair:

“In Africa, people no longer dream at home, they dream towards the North and we have to stop.” This plea by Moroccan artist Mahi Binebine is at the heart of a new pan-African event, “African Capitals of Culture”, to strengthen the dialogue between artists and economic opportunities in the cultural sector on the continent.

On the program of Marrakesh Capital of Culture: an “African garden” presenting sculptures near the very crowded Jamaa El Fna square, the travelling exhibition including paintings “Lend me your dream”, at the initiative of investors Moroccans and presenting around thirty major artists from the continent, a literary fair, concerts, fashion shows “with African colours, yellow, garish red!”, describes Mr. Binebine.

Coming to Paris for the launch, the president of the Organising Committee of African Capitals of Culture and general secretary of the UCLG, the Cameroonian Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, recognises that “too often, culture has been left behind” by the authorities on the continent and that “most” professionals in the sector do not live by it.

“There are efforts to be made so that Africa’s contribution to universal culture is commensurate with its cultural depth,” he believes. According to him, cities have “a big role to play” in making the “junction between the cultural substratum carried by the traditional authorities and the modernity called by the cultural industries”.

So far so good. The official launch was set for 31 January with a street parade.

And then suddenly an announcement, from UCLGA, saying that Rabat would hold the title.

Mr Binebine on 22 January (six days after the Paris presentation) put a post on Facebook:

“I have the sad regret to announce to you that it was decided (for incomprehensible reasons) and after several months of intense preparation, that the ocher city would desist in favor of Rabat”, 

The Moroccan press had reported “royal anger” after a visit of the King ” predicting that the “delays and failures” of the projects would cause an “administrative earthquake”.

More background here.. although very little light being shone on the reason for the change.

A press release from UCLGA said

“After examining the assets of the city in terms of the specifications for the celebration of African capitals of culture, the committee welcomed the candidacy of Rabat, and decided to designate Rabat as the African capital of culture in 2020/2021 ”,

It was signed by the Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa), Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi.

A team has been put in place, including members of the management of the African Capitals of Culture, to work on the general programming of the various events and activities. This team will present the results of its work and consultations to the public next March at a conference planned in Rabat.

Rabat was nominated as a “Capital of Culture” by the government in 2014.. one of many cities around the world which adopt the title as a tourist marketing slogan.

Not an auspicious start to the African Capital of Culture idea.

Capitals and Cities of Culture in 2020

This year 26 cities in 24 countries around the world will celebrate a City or Capital of Culture title awarded to them (rather than self proclaimed as a marketing ploy, there are many more of them!).

Potentially the most interesting is the first African Capital of Culture. Marrakesh in Morocco is the first title holder, the title organisers are the Africa branch of the United Cities and Local Government (UCLG). Will the city with its undoubted heritage put on a programme combining that heritage with contemporary arts? How will it deal with censorship? At the conference in November 2018 of Africities a session was run with representatives of the European Commission and European Capitals of Culture (ECOC). It is far too early to suggest the African title can be as comprehensive as the ECOC in its first edition but it is a start.

An update. At the last minute the government of Morocco has stepped in and makes Rabat the title holder. Marrakesh is simply dumped. Not a very good sign for the new title if it is at the mercy of governments. I hope the UCLG make a protest.

The ECOCs of the year are Rijeka in Croatia and Galway in Ireland. The latter had a struggle getting their act together but in the last year under a new CEO they have put together a sound programme. Rijeka in contrast have been very active and successful in their preparations. Croatia assumes the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first six months of 2020 and has set out a wide range of cultural objectives. Croatia is the only EU member state where the culture minister is an international expert in cultural policy!

Lithuania was the first European country to develop its own national title, this year Trakai has the honour. Its impressive castle in a lake will undoubtedly feature as a venue. There are ten other “towns of culture” in the country, one in each county: an innovative way for smaller towns to highlight their cultural offers.

Parma takes the Italian title. There was no Italian Capital last year as Matera held the ECOC title but now the national title is back in full flow.

Braga in Portugal is the regional Eixo Atlântico Capital of Culture. A full programme from February to November is planned, no doubt as a practice run for their bid for the ECOC title in 2027.

Lida is the Belarus national title holder. This title stands out in Europe as being very folk art and heritage based under the restrictive government control. The Catalan regional title is with El Vendrell, home of the Pablo Casals Foundation and museum.

Russia hosts two very different titles. The Krasnoyarsk region has yet to announce its title holder. Mishkino is the Finno-Ugric Capital, a region of just 7,000 people. The only City of Culture programme run by civil society: the Youth Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples (MAFUN) and URALIC Centre for Indigenous Peoples.

The Commonwealth of Independent States has designated Shymkent in Kazakhstan as their 2020 title holder.

The London Borough of Culture moves on from Waltham Forest to Brent in 2020. Sefton in Liverpool also holds a Borough of Culture title. This title is held on a planned rotation of the 6 boroughs in the region and omits the competitive element. There is no UK City of Culture title in 2020, Coventry is in full planning mode for 2021.

Slovakia in 2020 also has its second title holder, Nové Zámky.

South America hosts two titles. Buenos Aires is the Ibero-American capital (for the second time after 1992 and following its 2017 year as Ibero-American Capital of Gastronomy) and Punta Arenas in Chile is the American title.

The Arab and Islamic titles are a mixed bag. Sometimes there is a good programme, more often the title appears to pass the city by. The Islamic titles in 2020 are Bamako in Mali, Cairo in Egypt and Bukhara in Uzbekistan. Cairo appears to be planning a significant programme. Bethlehem hosts the Arab title, the university is fully engaged and will run projects including a “Bethlehem University Prize for Arabic Fiction”.

Khiva is the second city in Uzbekistan to host a title in 2020, holding the Turkic World title. Normally Turkic World programmes start in April.

The Culture City of East Asia has, as usual, three cities. Yangzhou (China), Kitakyushu (Japan) and Sucheon (South Korea). Year by year the title holders seem to be becoming more adventurous in their programmes. The competition to hold the title in China and South Korea is attracting more applicants every year. Kitakyushu will be “competing” with the Cultural Olympiad of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Several titles follow the summit meetings of their organisers. Their programmes generally are limited to high profile openings, a few concerts and exhibitions: a medium sized arts festival with little ambition to any other objectives or legacy. Yogyakarta continues with its ASEAN title which is spread over two years between the meetings of ASEAN member states. Praia and Velha (Ribeira Grande de Santiago) in Cape Verde are also in the second year of their Capital of Culture of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries. There is no news yet of the SAARC title holder; it is scheduled to be in India as the member states take it in turn to host the title. Thimphu in Bhutan hosted the 2018/19 title.

An updated and revised edition of my global survey and directory of Capitals and Cities of Culture is in preparation. The 2017 edition is available here.

Galway 2020 is prepared to launch

Galway have announced their European Capital of Culture programme for 2020. They share the title with Rijeka.  I have a soft spot for both:  back in 2016 I chaired the selection panels which recommended the two cities.  Rijeka have launched their programme in an innovative Time Out edition.

Galway beat off three other Irish cities for the title. Dublin in the first round and then Limerick and an imaginatively named Three Sisters ( a combined bid from Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny).  The ten members of the panel, from ten different EU member states, were not unanimous in their choice but Galway convinced a majority. Their report is online. 

The bid was based on a  100 page “bidbook” (based on a set of questions common to all bidders) and a presentation to the panel.    Galway surprised us by handing out VR headsets (first time I think any of us had used one) and showing us a VR film.  Why?  Because a key part of their bid, the innovative bit, was their aim to be the first digital and virtual European Capital of Culture.

The bidbook is not simply a sales pitch; it becomes the de facto contract for the title holder. Why?  Several reasons.  Firstly it would be extremely unfair to the unsuccessful cities if a title holder cleared off and did something different  “But you won on the promise of X and are delivering Y”? makes the Vote Leave promises look sane. The book also provides the monitoring panel (another group of international experts some also from the selection panel) a touchstone to see how the city is progressively implementing the project.   It is expected that there will be some variation from the projects in the bid-book: partners disappear or drop out, budgets are redrawn, new projects and partners come into play.  But generally most of the bid-book should take place.

So how does the programme match up to the bid-book promises?  The journey from 2016 to now has been, shall we say, bumpy. This is not unusual in an ECOC (sorry for the acronym).  Almost predictably Galway’s management has fallen over two of the standard hurdles which have tripped many previous ECOCs.

Firstly personal, at Board, CEO and Artistic Director level.  We can go back to Liverpool in 2008 for the mother of all personnel and political problems from its selection in 2003 until Phil Redmond taking control very close to the 2008 year.  Since then Maribor 2012, Donostia San Sebastian 2016, Plzen 2016, Leeuwarden 2018, Aarhus 2017, Valletta 2018 and more have lost a CEO and/or both an Artistic Director during the build up period.   Political interference, misunderstanding of the nature of an ECOC, poor selection, the reasons are numerous, never quite the same.

Secondly money.  Again most ECOCs fail to meet the financial forecasts (hopes?) set out in the bidbook.  Selection panels are alert to this.  In Galway’s case the panel reported its concern that the private funding aspiration, at over 15% of the total, was rarely achieved.  Press reports indicate a pending shortfall in Galway. Public sector funding often also falls short as national, regional and city funding does not quite match up to their initial hopes.

So nothing new, Galway simply did not learn from previous ECOCs.    That is water under the bridge but it means more effective PR before the opening to overcome the negative impressions (until the final evaluation which I hope will follow the excellent evaluation of Limerick, Irish Capital of Culture in 2014, carried out by the then Ministry of Arts, and the independent  ECOC evaluations of ECORYS). I find evaluations by local universities unconvincing and too orientated to pleasing the management and local funders. Too often they are statistical reports with little critical analysis.

The programme?   Give a sound management team €30m plus, a few years lead in and a good programme surely follows.  There are enough artists to fill a years programme; at the lowest end simply putting the standard festivals into the programme fills a lot of pages.   An ECOC should be more.  In many ways an ECOC, linked to a city’s cultural strategy over the following few years, should be saying to the local arts scene that it needs to step-change for the future, the current business as usual needs shaking up.  The local arts scene often think an ECOC is an opportunity for more money for them to do what they are doing now.   Wrong.  An ECOC is strategically instrumental.  It is not a marketing exercise for the city, although the tourist business will pick it up.  It is an opportunity to change the city.  And over time, not over one year.  Take perhaps the most holistic city development taking in an ECOC: Lille in 2004.  Still changing, still developing after more than 20 years.  And not just with periodic spectacles.

The Galway programme follows ,on the surface, the proposals in the bidbook.  Same project titles, but it seems they have been slimmed down.  Many of the more innovative elements are missing or downplayed.   A shortfall in funding?  Too adventurous? Various managers not up to it (a common ECOC problem between selection and delivery which is why most ECOCs now run extensive cultural management training programmes).  Is the programme international enough?  To me that is a fundamental issue.  It is why an ECOC is radically different from a national capital of culture (like Limerick 2014, Derry 2013, Hull 2017).  They have narrower criteria and objectives.  It is difficult to see the internationalism in the programme.  There is a page of international names but are these who have helped on the way or are actually providing content during the year?  The recent norm is that well over half of the events in an ECOC are international (and the further away the better).

One key sentence in ECOC formal reports is: an ECOC is not just about promoting your own city but increasing the awareness of the diversity of European cultures in your own city. Note the plural.  One key point made by Galway in the selection was that 24% of the residents are New Irish.  I can’t see a corresponding engagement of them in the programme or even in the list of staff of the ECOC.   I can’t see, but this could be in a secondary programme, much debate about the cultural implications of Brexit.  This is perhaps one of the key European issues which needs discussion in an ECOC in Ireland.

A major legacy of many ECOCs has been that the local arts managers have used the event to pioneer new international partnerships and break new ground.  I can’t see this from the programme.   I hope the normal festivals are different in scale and content to their previous incarnations. “International Festivals” should surely be totally international!  One standard question of the selection panel used to be ” How will your festivals be different in the ECOC year?”.

The ECOC year is about to start.  Time to watch, time to enjoy.  Time soon for the city administration to sit down, with many others, to plan.. and finance.. the legacies. The bidbook listed many to be used as starting points.  Will Galway follow the way of some ECOCs and fold in December 2020 and disappear or will  the cultural life in Galway in 2021 be demonstrably different from that in 2019?  And I don’t mean tourists but artists, youth groups,  arts in school, participatory and community arts, the creative industries, attendance at arts events (and not counting passive attendance at spectacles). And will people have a wider understanding of the other lesser used languages in Europe alongside a growth in Gaelic?   Twenty years, and longer, from now journalists will still be describing Galway as a European Capital of Culture, not just in the tourism pages.  It is a brand which requires constant  attention.  Time will tell.

 

Capitals of Culture in 2019: the idea keeps on growing, two new titles this year

Welcome to my annual preview of Capitals, and Cities, of Culture around the world. It’s becoming as regular as Lonely Planets’ Places to Visit!

The concept of a designated City or Capital of Culture has come a long way from its initial offering in Athens in 1985. I exclude those cities which use the phrase as a marketing promotion. A designation means someone else has made the call, through open competition or more frequently in closed-door ministerial meetings.

There is a wide variation. Some are merely token: a few events organised by the government or official bodies, a form of diplomatic showcasing; in others nothing appears to happen, an honorary title. Many have a larger than usual arts programme with little focus. At the other extreme some titles seek to transform a city (eg European and UK). Some are contemporary arts minded, others resolutely fix on heritage and folk arts; most aim to increase tourism.  The United Kingdom title stands out not just with its 4 yearly cycle but as the most focused on broader economic rather than cultural benefits.

As usual there is a shortage of reviews and evaluations of programmes outside of the European and UK titles. This is not surprising; many of the titles are in countries with severe press restrictions and secretive officialdom. Information simply does not come out. But there are some where an enterprising researcher could mine for an article or even a thesis: Lithuania, Italy, Ibero-American and even the private American titles all offer possible research interests.  Makes a change from the seemingly endless articles rehashing the same academic “experts” with little critical understanding on the European title.

More titles come on board each year. 2019 sees two newcomers.  Waltham Forest becomes the first holder of the London Borough of Culture title. I’ve a soft spot for this one as I lived in the borough for over 25 years.  Banská Štiavnica is the first national title holder in Slovakia.

The two European Capitals of Culture are  Matera and Plovdiv. Another soft spot as these two were the first I announced as chair of the selection panel. I’ve followed their ups and downs since then and look forward to their comprehensive programmes.

In the Americas the flagship is Panama, the Ibero-American title holder. It merges this title with its celebration of its 500 years anniversary. Its build up programme has been impressive including listening to experiences from international cultural experts. The privately run American title goes (as usual with no competition or openness) to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. The title had a poor 2018 as a casualty of the Venezuelan collapse but San Miguel, a UNESCO World Heritage city , together with its region, could put the title back on track after an interesting Mérida in 2016.

There are fewer titles in Europe this year. The United Kingdom now waits as Coventry prepares for 2021 (and a debate starts about a smaller “Towns of Culture” title). The next stage of the Hull 2017 evaluation should come out; it will start to evaluate the programme and its possible legacy and follows the extensive preliminary review report issued  by Hull University in March 2018.  The Italian title sits out the year (not to compete with Matera) until Parma in 2020. In Portugal and Spain the Eixo Atlántico title has its fallow year before a 2020 title holder.  Spain does host the Catalan title of Cervera.

Lithuania has 11 title holders. yes, I’ll repeat that, 11 title holders. Rokiškis is the national title holder. There are 10 holders of the “Small Capitals of Culture” title, one from each county. Lessons there for the UK Towns proposal?

Belarus has two titles, both in the south-west of the country. Pinsk holds the national title and Brest that of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Both titles are low-key, more conservative and folk orientated. The government still persecutes members and supporters of the exiled Free Theatre of Belarus which is increasing its programme around the world as well as in Belarus.

Russia also hosts two titles.The regional title in Krasnoyarsk goes to Achinsk and the Finno-Ugric holder is ShorunzhaThe latter title makes a welcome return (now for three more years). Run by youth organisations it is a purely cultural title. The Turkic World title goes to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Let’s hope it continues the pattern of considerable regional cultural partnerships and performances.

The Arab title year runs from April to March.  Oujda in Morocco will finish their programme of over 600 events and hand over to Port-Sudan in Sudan. The Islamic title has four holders this year, one in each of its three regions and one in the host city of its annual Culture Ministers meeting. The latter title goes to Tunis. Hopes are not high after the underwhelming impact of Sfax as the Capital of Arab Culture two years ago. Expectations are only for a few more events at the official cultural institutions level.  ISESCO who run the Islamic title have decreed 2019 as the Year of Islamic Cultural Heritage. It follows on from the European Year of Cultural Heritage last year; I wonder if there are any joint projects in the pipeline? They are also calling on the three Islamic capitals to twin with the fourth title holder, Al-Quds, also known as Jerusalem. The other two title holders are Bandar Seri Begawan (who did little as an ASEAN holder two years ago) and Bissau.

Yogyakarta holds the ASEAN title, having canvassed for it two years ago. A centre of Javan culture it remains to be seen how a programme develops. So far the ASEAN titles have been disappointing.

The three remaining titles are the East Asia Cities of Culture. This trilateral programme is gaining in strength with competitions in two countries (not Japan) and programmes moving beyond a showcase of traditional arts. Xi’an, the archaeological home of the warriors, is the Chinese representative; Incheon in Korea and Toshima in Japan are the three cities for 2019.

Several titles have not yet released their 2019 title holders.  SAARC in South Asia (probably a heritage site in India as they follow an alphabetical rota of member states); Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, CPLP, (probably somewhere in Cape Verde as the host of the biennial meeting of culture ministers) and Victoria in Australia.  I’m not sure the latter is an annual event, any news welcome as they don’t answer emails.

Will France  join the national titles list, with its first edition in 2021?   The previous culture minister indicated “oui” in the summer of 2018 but little has been heard from his successor.

So the year starts with 22 declared title holders, plus the 10 Small Capitals in Lithuania and possibly 2 or 3 more. The Capitals of Culture concept develops every year; let’s hope more of the titles start to evolve and leave a lasting change in the city.

 

 

 

 

Capitals of Culture in 2018

The cycle of cities with Capital, or City, of Culture titles continues into 2018.

Twenty three cities held titles in 2017.  Some had spectacular successes and some were almost invisible.  Hull (UK City of Culture), Aarhus (European Union), and Lisbon (Ibero-American) led the way not only with dynamic programmes but with an eye on the future.  All three have plans for maintaining the momentum and do not see the title year as a simple mega arts festival or city vanity project.  A special call out to Vuokkiniemi, the fourth and final Finno-Ugric title holder.

An interesting event took place in Shanghai where cultural managers from past European Union title holders met with their counterparts from East Asian title holders to compare notes.  It is promising to hear that several of the East Asian title holders were seeing the linkages between their arts orientated festivals and city development.

So now to the 2018 offering. Twenty-one cities so far named.  It is noticeable this year that fewer have their webpages, or Facebook/Twitter, up and running. Most programmes start in late January through to late April.  I’ll update links as they come online.

A new title starts in Victoria, Australia. The first holder is Bendigo and surrounding municipalities.  It looks like a mix of top down and smaller scale local events. One to watch and to see if there will be a 2019 title holder.

The three East Asian Cultural Cities title holders are Busan (Korea), Kanazawa (Japan) and Harbin (China).  Busan’s programme opens on 12 April.  Harbin’s annual ice and snow sculpture festival makes a spectacular start.

Two titles in Asia seem to be invisible or even non-existent.  Bandar Seri Bagwan in Brunei had the ASEAN title but seems to have done little in 2017.  Perhaps only a courtesy title?   The SAARC title in 2017 went to Mahasthangarh at Bogra in Bangladesh in 2017 but little if anything seems to have happened. It looks like the title recognises important heritage sites in the region rather than an active programme of events. No news of any holder in 2018.

The Islamic title has three cities spread over its three regions:  Bahrain, Libreville (Gabon) and Nakhichevan (Azerbaijan).   Last year, two holders Sennar and Kampala appeared to do nothing and Amman had a small programme.  Mashhad in Iran was active with a very well promoted programme on Twitter and Facebook of formal conferences and events. Little in the way of the arts, even with those with strong Islamic traditions.  The year-end saw  public demonstrations against the regime.

The Arab title for 2018 was scheduled to go to Basra in Iraq. However at the last moment the city withdrew citing its unpreparedness. In December 2017 ALECSO, the title organisers, selected Oujda in Morocco as a replacement. It will be interesting to see how the city builds a programme at such short notice. Luxor, the 2017 holder, had a vibrant programme of traditional arts and folklore from the region mixed with interesting professional conferences on Arab cities, culture and arts and formal government speeches opposing the globalisation of culture. There was little indication of the nature of the audiences.

The Belarus and Krasnoyarsk titles also focus on traditional and folk arts with little contemporary or modern arts. Both reflect the censorship and nationalism of their approach to culture. Their focus appears entirely local.  Novopolotsk holds the Belarus title in 2018.  Shushensky is the Krasnoyarsk title holder, the first time a city in the rural south of the Russian region has been selected by the expert jury of the competition. Over 55,000 people attended over 250 events in Sharypova, the 2017 title holder.

The Turkic World title in 2018 goes to Kastomonu in northern Turkey. Turkestan’s programme in 2017 consisted of over 40 events, one of the smaller programmes for a capital of culture. The Commonwealth of Independent States title will be held by Goris in Armenia. It will be interesting to see if the programme is more imaginative than those in the more culturally restrictive countries in the CIS.

Lisbon ran a progressive programme in 2017 as the Ibero-American title holder in 2017; with a strong thematic approach. The city also developed a major new cultural strategy.  Will La Paz in 2018 achieve the same high level of achievement?  It sets out with a strong ambitions. It’s the third time they have held the title so have the experience.  La Paz has joined Agenda21’s “Culture in Sustainable Cities” programme and becomes a Pilot City. Panama, the 2019 title holder, is already developing its programme with international advisers.  These cities are making the Ibero-American title the lead Capital of Culture programme in the Americas.

The privately run American title has been controversial in the past. Mérida in Mexico held the title for a second time in 2017.  A strongly entertaining programme but the key points are an open call fund for small cultural projects in 2018 and the city has joined the UGLC Pilot Cities programme. Both look healthy steps towards a legacy. The selection of the 2018 title holder appears to have been difficult.  Early in 2016 the Venezuelan city of Barcelona was reported to be applying.  However it seems the political and economic chaos of the country slowed down its application and it wasn’t until December 2017 that the state around Barcelona, El Estado de Anzoátegui, was announced as the 2018 title holder. Instead of a public sector manager the programme is led by an NGO which promotes the use of the Spanish language.

The Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries anointed Salvador in Brazil as its first title holder for 2018 but there is little evidence yet of a programme. The city was named as one of the places to visit by Bloomberg Business Week and is hosting an exhibition of photographs of the Allende government in Chile which was part of Lisbon’s Ibero-American programme.

Europe has a cluster of title holders.  In Lithuania Klaipėda in 2017 had an extensive programme, a challenge in 2018 for Marijampolė, a much smaller city. The Italian City of Culture had its second edition in 2017 and Pistoia ran a strong programme with a heritage and tourist focus. In 2018 attention switches to Palermo in Sicily who beat 20 other applicants. The increasing attraction of the title was demonstrated when 31 cities applied for the 2020 title; winner to be announced in January.

Two regional titles show that titles do not need to be a national level.  Eixo Atlántico’s title is every two years and in 2018 the Portuguese city of Santa Maria da Feria takes the crown.  In Spain’s autonomous region of Catalonia the city of Manresa holds the regional Catalan title and opens its programme on 20 January. The city voted overwhelmingly for parties seeking independence from Spain in the December 2017 regional election. It will be interesting if they can keep the divisive regional politics out of culture or will they use the arts for a political statement?

That just leaves the two European Union Capitals of Culture.  Malta’s government has been in the news with  serious concerns over its approach to the rule of law so it will be interesting to see how Valletta 2018 develops, a very small city in the EU’s smallest member state.  Leeuwarden (now marketed as Friesland) promises much after a solid development period.  Both Valletta and Leeuwarden suffered by losing key senior people only months before the title year. Not a sound management approach.  Will they recover? I was on the selection panel for both and will be looking to see how their programmes compare with the promises they made at selection.  I have a worrying feeling that the gap between the sales pitch in bid-books and the actual delivery is widening.

No UK title this year as it runs in a 4 yearly cycle, Coventry will hold the title in 2021.  Surely it is time to make this a two-yearly event given Hull’s success.

In February the mayor of London will announce the first London Boroughs of Culture for 2019 and 2020. There are 22 applicants (out of 32 boroughs).  As well as the Italy2020 announcement (see above) Slovakia will announce its first title holder in May for 2019.

Tourism is one of the main reasons for a city to seek a title, although the evidence of sustained tourism growth is not that strong.  The Guardian puts Leeuwarden, Valletta and Palermo in its “Hotlist” of Places to Visit in 2018.  Lonely Planet highlights Tallinn and Matera, the EU title holders in 2011 and 2019, and La Paz (in its frugal section).  La Paz (“the coolest city in south America”) also features in the New York Times listing of affordable destinations.

My major survey of all Capitals of Culture programmes since 1985, will soon be updated to include a commentary on the 2017 title holders, news of the 2018 title holders and the new title in Slovakia.

 

 

Capitals of Culture: a worldwide activity

Capitals of Culture An introductory survey Steve Green October 2017

An updated version of the paper will be released in September 2018 to take into account the CoCs in 2019 and the new programme in Slovakia.

A note on the 2018 CoCs is also on blog.

In the paper, link at the top of the post, I survey all the Capitals of Culture programmes: who set them up, objectives, selection and programmes.  There is a comprehensive directory of programmes including tables of every title holder for all programmes.

The European Capital of Culture programme is well known.  But do you know that since the first edition, in Athens in 1985, there have been over 30 similar titles around the world?  In 2017 23 cities hold a title.  Over 300 cities have held a title, some more than one title, some two titles at the same time and some more than once. Three programmes have yet to start, and 10 have been closed.

The European title has generated a substantial library of reports, evaluations, theses, commentaries and controversy.  Little has been written about the other programmes. Under the auspices of international organisations, national ministries of culture, regional administrations and NGOs the Capitals illustrate different processes, share some common factors and differ in intention and activity.

My aim is to broaden awareness of the programmes, to trigger more analysis of them. More programmes are in the pipeline, there is no indication the trend for more titles will slow down.

The survey is an introduction.  I welcome more information on titles (except  ECOC) and will keep the paper up to date.

 

 

The race is on for the first London Borough of Culture.

London will have its own “Capital of Culture” in 2019 and 2020.  Mayor Sadiq Khan has launched the “London Borough of Culture” competition. Inspired by the European Capital of Culture and the UK City of Culture the title is open to the 32 boroughs in London.  The boroughs are medium-sized cities with most having over 200,000 residents and several over 300,000. Many are larger than recent European Capitals of Culture or national Culture Capitals in the UK and Italy. I was a panellist at the launch (as a former chair of the European Capitals of Culture selection panel).

This is the second time a Capital of Culture programme has focussed on a single city. The short-lived Métropole Culturelle en Communauté Wallonie-Bruxelles ran a similar competition in Brussels for 2014. Molenbeek was successful after 9 of the 19 boroughs put in bids. Let’s hope the London title lasts longer. Two editions, particularly with only one bidding window, are not really long enough for a competition to build momentum and gain experience.

The aims are ambitious, as they should be.  A “Capitals” programme is not an opportunity for a slightly bigger “business as usual” or a new grant funding source. A key lesson from successful Capitals of Culture is that they plan for the medium and longer term and not just the title year. “It is a process not an event” is the soundbite. It is easy, if hard work, to spend a lot of money on a bumper season of festivals, events and even garden parties to attract lots of visitors. It brings high numbers to the evaluation headlines. But the year after?  Raised expectations are dashed as everything falls back to pre-title activity levels. Who now remembers the Cultural Olympiad of 2012?

There is a very short time to prepare bids. The online applications have to be in by December. The time scale means councils have to engage with their residents very quickly, and not with the usual “tick-box but change nothing” attitude of planning consultations. A bid needs to be rooted in the views of local residents rather than a top-down effort prepared by council staff, consultants and the local cultural sector.

I hope bidding boroughs make their bids public as a trust building step. It will show they are serious in working with and not just for their residents. One strong approach in bids will be to include structured open calls for small neighbourhood projects. With the limited funding available perhaps the greater sustainable impact will be through smaller targeted activity of participatory and community arts rather than one off “blockbusters”.

It will be interesting to see how the national cultural institutions in London take part (if at all) under the leadership of a borough. All need to work with local London residents as well as for tourists and the international cultural scene. Can they work with an outer London borough as well as their local borough?

One of the selection criteria is to engage with people who otherwise may miss out on culture. Surveys show from 92% to 70% of Londoners fall into this category. That sets a worthy challenge to the cultural sector and bid directors.

There is a special resonance for 2019 and 2020.  London voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. Sadiq Khan has been very strong in his support for EU27 nationals in London. Bids and programmes for the London Borough of Culture provide a massive opportunity both to reassure EU27 residents of their future in London (notwithstanding the May government’s derisory current offer) and demonstrate the long-term benefit they bring to London. The EUNIC cluster in London is an obvious port of call for international partnerships.

The London Borough of Culture competition is a great opportunity for all boroughs to rethink their approach to culture across all their portfolios. Austerity cuts and planning decisions (for example closing down music venues) have hit culture in many boroughs. The London arts scene can raise vast sums for its world-class institutions (the Tate and V&A spring to mind and possibly the new concert hall). Just a fraction of those sums needs to be used to ensure a vibrant grassroots culture for all Londoners.

The challenge has been set, let’s see how the boroughs respond with a cultural transformation for their residents.

 

 

 

2017: the year of 23 “Capitals of Culture”

For the capitals of culture in 2018 go to this page.

There are 23 “Capitals of Culture” around the world in 2017. A few are formally called “City of Culture” but the idea is the same!  The full list is later in this post.

Many cities (amplified by travel journalists, place making and marketing PRs) call themselves a “Cultural Capital”.  There is something special about having the title awarded from outside the city. It implies recognition not self-promotion.

The concept has come a long way since the first “European City of Culture” in 1985.  Built on the initiative of probably the two most well-known Ministers of Culture (Melina Mercouri of Greece and Jack Lang of France) the European Union programme has evolved considerably since that opening event in Athens. Fifty-four cities have held the title (now the European Capital of Culture).  Pafos and Aarhus share the title in 2017 and nine further cities have been selected to hold the title in the years to 2021.

In the mid 1980s there was very little appreciation, in practice or in academic circles, of the impact culture can have in a city. From seeing culture, (especially what used to be called “high culture” mainly for a small minority), in formal galleries, theatres and festivals the understanding now has widened and deepened. An annual title is no longer just a major pageant of artistic celebration but brings benefits through its social and economic impact.  Now there is an abundance of academic and management literature, reports, thesis and indeed consultants each with their own interpretation of the (mostly) positive effects of culture in a city’s wellbeing and prosperity.

From that initial event in 1985 the idea of designating a city as a “Capital of Culture” has been progressively adopted around the world. In some cases the title is organised in a  single country and in others the designation comes from a multi-lateral organization.

There are considerable variations. The main one is probably whether there is an open competition, many benefits can accrue to unsuccessful candidates as well as to the title holder. Are the cities appointed by ministries or through a competition with an independent selection panel? Is there a short period of notice from selection or enough time over several years to develop a programme?  Is the selection based on a city’s heritage and current culture or on a specific programme for the title year? The specific objectives of each programme are different.  The budgets, and programmes, of the capitals vary considerably. Some have an intensive annual programme, others focus on a month.  A few are linked to formal Ministerial meetings and many keep a long arms length from politics.  With the exception of the European Union programme there is severe lack of transparency in most programmes.   I will explore these differences in a longer paper.

The 23 in 2017 are

Aarhus and Pafos        European Capitals of Culture

Hull                              UK City of Culture

Pistoia                         Italian Capital of Culture

 Klaipėda                    Lithuanian Capital of Culture

Lisbon                         Ibero-American Capital of Culture

Vuokkiniemi                Finno-Ugric Capital of Culture

Luxor                          Capital of Arab Culture

Bogra                   Cultural Capital of South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation

Amman, Sennar, Mashhad, Kampala      Islamic Capitals of Culture

Kyoto, Changsha City, Daegu,                 Culture Cities of East Asia

Mérida                                                      American Capital of Culture

Turkestan                                                 Culture and Arts Capital of the Turkic World

Some more additions:

Reus is the Catalan Capital of Culture; Bobruisk is the Belarus Capital of Culture and Sharypova is the Capital of Culture in Krasnoyarsk,  Bandar Seri Begawan is the ASEAN Capital of Culture and Ganja is the Commonwealth of Independent States Capital of Culture

There could have been more.  The Irish “City of Culture” programme is on hold as Ireland will host a “European Capital of Culture” (Galway) in 2020.  Canada had a “Cultural Capitals of Canada” programme for 10 years but it ended in 2012.  A non government organisation in Korea awarded the title of National Cultural Capital in 2016 to Siheung  but no news yet on a 2017 title holder. In recent years the idea of a “World Capital of Culture” has been floated and there was an attempt at a “West African Capital of Culture” programme. There was an initial announcement in 2015 that Russia was exploring the idea. A Russian city was one of the candidates for the 2017 Finno-Ugric title.  Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, has launched, for 2019 and 2020, the “London Borough of Culture”.    

In addition to these major “Capitals of Culture” programmes there are many more titles for cities. Conakry is the UNESCO “World Book Capital” in 2017.  The European Union has a wide range of titles including “Youth Capital” (Varna in 2017), “Green Capital” (Essen in 2017) and “Capital of Innovation” (Amsterdam in 2016).  Other organisations in Europe award Capital titles, based on a competition, including “Sport” (Marseille in 2017) and “European Regional Gastronomy Award” (East Lombardy, Riga-Gauja and Aarhus).  Indeed several cities have become serial title holders (or at least candidates) seeking titles every few years.  That’s for another paper!.

From small beginnings the organic and unplanned growth of the “Capital of Culture” concept has become a global activity. Every continent has its opportunity (although limited in Africa despite its flourishing cultural activity).  Competitions are attracting more candidates.

So in 2017 if you are looking for somewhere to go, try a “Capital of Culture” or two. If you live near one, support it! Why not encourage your city to bid for a future title

 

NOTE:  edited on 30 December to include note about the Korean National Cultural Capital.

NOTE:  edited in October to include more capitals.