European Capitals of Culture: the Selection Panel explored. Part 1

What do Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia have in common? Which country has supplied the most members of the Selection Panel for European Capitals of Culture? Who has been to most meetings?

Just some of the points I make in this first paper on the Selection Panel for European Capitals of Culture. The Panel has existed in one form or another since 2001; twenty years on perhaps its time to look back, and then forward, on the workings of the panel.

Selecting the European Capital of Culture: with added transparency

The European Capital of Culture has come a long way since its start in 1985. The current formula runs from 2020 (Galway and Rijeka) through to 2033. The most recent selection was for the title holders in 2025, in Slovenia (Nova Gorica) and Germany (Chemnitz). The latter competition caused a mild controversy seemingly triggered by Nuremburg’s unsuccessful candidacy.

It is over 4 years since I left the selection panel after 5 years membership. A veteran of over 150 bid-books, presentations, monitoring and evaluation reports with 3 years as its chair. Now I am merely an interested observer.

The chairman of the committee of Länder culture ministers in Germany has said he wants to improve the “transparency” of the programme. “The chairman of the Kultur-MK, Berlin’s Senator for Culture Dr. Klaus Lederer, will work at the European Commission to strengthen a transparent selection process in order to make the successful EU project “European Capital of Culture” future-proof.”

An excellent idea as feedback is always welcome. I think the ECOC programme does need future proofing for its remaining editions until 2033 but to be honest I don’t think the selection part of the programme is the weakest. Sore losers are sore losers.

I assume that, in the interests of transparency, Dr Lederer will make his views public and look forward to an interesting international discussion. In the meantime and to start the ball rolling here are some suggestions he might take into account:

The ECOC idea has led to over 30 similar programmes worldwide. Some have flourished for a few years and been closed, others are developing strongly, all are different. They have learnt from the ECOC programme; time for the ECOC to learn from them. One outstanding idea is to put the names and CVs of the selection panel on the European Commission’s website (as the new French Capital of Culture programme does). Transparency starts with this step: who are the judges? There is no risk of pressure being placed on them; most will have their own digital presence already. They should also ensure they stay completely away from candidate cities!

A spending limit. There are rumours that Nuremburg spent over €4 million on their campaign. Other candidates elsewhere have also spent vast sums in their bid preparation. If I was a local taxpayer I would be appalled. It is far too much to spend on a campaign. It raises false hopes; it leads to a spending race among candidates; it brings overt party politics into play (bad enough now when a bid is too closely associated with a mayor or a political party). Set a limit, say €1 million. Require audited accounts to be given to the selection panel before the meetings and recorded in the bid books.

One of the positive steps in the current Decision is the requirement for cities to have a cultural policy. But this has become a “tick box” exercise. The real test comes from unsuccessful candidates: how much of their cultural policy have they carried out, without the title? Perhaps the ECOC should follow the example of some other European competitions and ask “what changes has the city made in the 2-3 years before the selection meeting in line with their cultural policy?”. No more of city councils approving a policy a few months or even weeks before the selection meeting where the document becomes the end-product not the action. Candidates start their planning years in advance so there are no problems over timing.

The bid-books were shortened a few years ago but are still far too long at 80 to100 pages. Increasingly they are full of padding, of stating the obvious, or meandering down academic theory paths. They are losing focus and sharpness. Cut them in half, a maximum of 50 pages for final selection. Drop some sections. Require a simplification of objectives, say 5 maximum.

Publish the bid-books, in downloadable fashion, at the time they are presented to the managing ministry. There is no risk of giving pointers, “secrets” away to the other candidates. The competition in Germany was good in this respect. with all bid-books published on submission (even before the panel saw them!). Candidates owe it to their citizens to be as public as possible, especially as they are spending so much of their money.

Virtually every candidate uses consultants. There are probably around 20-25 consultants who assist candidates; most have experience of running an ECOC. They are well-known inside the ECOC “family”; some are full time, others part time/occasional. One German group is very successful. I’ve no problem with this (and would urge any candidate to use experienced consultants to advise (but not of course, to write their bid-book). For transparency they must be named in the bid-books (many are already).

The Italian Capital of Culture in its competition for the 2022 title has made a wonderful breakthrough: the selection meetings were broadcast live on YouTube (and still available). As Zoom meetings become the norm (and probably even after the pandemic cools down) broadcasting selection meetings live is a great transparent step forward.

One of the criteria for selection is the “European Dimension”. Evaluations have frequently pointed out this is poorly understood and delivered. Some ECOCs at least make a substantial part of their programme international. This criterion is now even more important. More and more countries are running their own Capitals of Culture programmes. France is the latest to join the list. So what can differentiate an ECOC from a national CoC? the European Dimension. But the tendency is for an increased localisation of a programme, addressing only local issues. It makes for simple PR and appeals to local politicians but this is not the rationale for the programme. It is not simply what a city offers as a tourist destination or the occasional arts event but a deeper relationship with the cultures across Europe, including those of a migrant heritage in their own cities.

Some areas I would expect to see at the forefront of future ECOCs are the impact of digitalisation and tackling the climate emergency. It is no good to simply say ” a sustainable cultural sector”. City cultural policies as well as ECOCs really need to be active change agents. These are key European Union objectives and the cultural, education and urban sectors need to lead the way; “business as usual” or a “return to 2019” are no longer options.

Size matters. Some recently selected ECOCs are from very small cities, less than 20,000 population. Can these make an impact at European level more than a national or local region? With more than 60 cities having held the title, with many major cities not considering the title brings enough “value added” and the political requirement to open the competition to all member states it is not surprising small cities are now winning the title. Cities which can only find €1m a year from their own budgets and rely on regional and national funding hardly inspire confidence. Do they have adequate local management without the need to import expertise? Procida, an island of just 11,000, has just won the Italian Capital of Culture award for 2022. The newest national title, France, has recognised the size issue; its new Capital of Culture 2022 award is for cities up to 200,000. With 29 candidates it has a successful start. Perhaps an ECOC limit of 50,000 with smaller areas seeking a national title.

These points may help with selection. The next problem is less with this part of the programme but with the delivery of the ECOC. Too many recent title holders have run into major problems at Board and senior management level (CEO and to a lesser extent at Artistic Director), and in some cases at the national culture ministry. But that’s for another day.

Over to you for comments, especially from Dr Lederer. On twitter as #ECOCtransparency

Capitals and Cities of Culture in 2021

Welcome to my annual survey of the Capitals and Cities of Culture. 2020 was, for an obvious reason, one of considerable anxiety for the organisers of Capitals of Culture. The global coronavirus pandemic meant many programmes were cancelled, deferred, reorganised or delayed. In the grand scheme of things, with 88,000,000 cases and approaching 2,000,000 deaths, Capital of Culture programmes are well down the list of priorities. Culture and the arts have a role to play in societies, when it is safe and when they can be delivered safely. At the moment, January 2021, it is still not certain how the 2021 titles will pan out. Lockdowns, movement restrictions, a near total collapse of tourist travel will all seriously limit even the best plans. The safety of performers, technicians and spectators will come first. As Norman Foster wrote, crises bring forward changes which would have happened; in the new normality let’s hope cultural programmes also change. For many we can expect to see a greater and more imaginative use of digital. Will they pay more attention to the climate emergency for example?

Rijeka and Galway, the European Capitals of Culture both opened in wet conditions and almost at once had to stop. The EU’s institutions have (laboriously and slowly) allowed both to run limited programmes until March 2021. The planned 2021 cities have been deferred: Timisoara and Elefsina move to 2023 (sharing with Veszprem); Novi Sad to 2022 sharing with Kaunas and Esch).

In Italy Parma will also run into 2021, now renamed Parma 2020+21. The Italian government fast tracked Bergamo and Brescia to be joint title holders in 2023, the two cities with the worse COVID19 outbreaks in early 2020. The 2022 competition is well under way with 28 candidates.

Coventry, the UK City of Culture, sensibly delayed its opening until May when its full programme starts and now runs until May 2022. Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director writes “This will be one extraordinary year of joyful celebration with a strong social conscience, as we create a new history for our city.”  Several cities are bidding for the 2025 title: Southampton, Bradford, Lancashire and Medway. Selection expected at the end of the year.

Trakai in Lithuania managed a reasonable programme in 2020 and hands over to Neringa. The Deputy Director of Trakai Municipality looked back:

“Although the year was really difficult and full of surprises due to the situation of the pandemic, we are happy to have successfully overcome all the difficulties. I believe that the Capital of Culture project in Trakai really left an indelible mark with its events, concerts, art installations and bold decisions.

Slovakia has nominated the small town of Stará Ľubovňa as its Capital of Culture for 2021. Several cities in Slovakia have recently submitted their bid books for the ECOC title in 2026.

In Portugal, Braga, the Eixo Atlântico title holder in 2020 has deferred its programme to 2021. It, along with other cities, is preparing its bid for the ECOC title in 2027.

Mishkan, the Finno-Ugric Capital in 2020 in a sign of the times held its closing conference on Zoom. Abja-Paluoja, (Mulgimaa region, Estonia) takes over the baton for 2021.

In the year of uplifting anti Lukashenko demonstrations it is weird to report on the Capital of Culture in Belarus. The title, where holders reinforce heritage and folk arts, goes to Borisov in 2021. Many cultural workers were arrested and tortured by the regime.

The Cultural Capital of Krasnoyarsk 2020 in Russia runs from April to March and the current holder is the Karatuz District.

The East Asia programme is developing strongly. The three countries , China, Korea and Japan have, for the first time nominated four cities for 2021. Two, Kitakyushu (Japan) and Suncheon (Korea) are carried over from 2020; neither started their programmes last year. China has nominated two cities Shaoxing and Dunhuang. Gyeongju in Korea was initially selected for 2021 but will be held over to 2022.

The Ibero-American title goes to Mexico City, following on from Buenos Aires. As is common with this title 2021 marks several anniversaries in Mexico’s history.

The Cultural Capital of the Turkic World for 2021 does not yet appear to have been announced; the title holders normally start their programmes in the Spring. Sakarya and Trabzon have both indicated their candidatures.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) nominated Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, as the title holder in 2021.

The Capital of Arab Culture title goes to Irbid in Jordan . The three Capitals of Islamic Culture are Doha, Islamabad and Banjul. These two programmes have varying success. Some title holders do little, others have a reasonable programme. There is little news about their 2021 intentions although there was a promising meeting in Doha in December to outline their programme.

The Angkor temples in Cambodia need little introduction. the nearby city of Siem Reap is the ASEAN City of Culture for 2021-22.

There has been little news about the SAARC Capital of Culture. The title was awarded to India for 2020 and nothing further was heard. The Maldives are next in line. In previous years the title has gone to a major archaeological/heritage site; the country is chosen in alphabetical order.

The Community of Portuguese Language Countries nominates as its Capital of Culture a city in the country hosting its two-yearly ministerial meetings. In 2021-23 this is Angola but no information yet about a programme.

The United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA) as organisers of the Capital of African Culture had hoped to launch their new title in 2020. Marrakesh was chosen but a week or so before its opening Rabat was given the designation. A mystery with conspiracy theories abounding. In May UCLGA postponed the Rabat programme. no news yet on its resumption.

The two independent titles organised from Barcelona continue, Catalan (in 2021 Tortosa) and Americas (in 2021 Zacatecas State in Mexico).

The London Borough of Culture has re-scheduled. Brent, 2020 title, ran a revised programme. Lewisham has moved from 2021 to 2022 with Croydon in 2023. Liverpool’s Regional Borough of Culture goes to Halton in 2021 with a Bryan Adams concert as a highlight.

And for the first time, the Ukrainian Capital of Culture. In 2021 Mariupol and Slavutych hold the title. Will be very interesting to see the direction the competition will take: the balance between folk arts/heritage to contemporary.

On an optimistic note there will soon be a new Capital of Culture: France has joined the increasing number of countries with a national title. As several cities prepare their bids for the European Capital of Culture in 2028 the new French title follows a format pioneered by Canada and is aimed at smaller municipalities (or groups) of between 20,000 to 200,000. The selection process is under way, the closing date was 31 December 2020. Final selection is in March and the first title runs in 2022.

The global pandemic has disrupted the world in 2020 and into 2021. The progressive roll out of the vaccines may ameliorate the worst but in the meantime mask, socially distance and wash hands and follow your local official advice.

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.

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.

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: 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.

 

Brexit and UK-EU27: How will culture fare?

The short answer is that nobody knows.  UK Prime Minister May is refusing to offer a running commentary on the British approach to negotiating the exit and EU27 is refusing to open negotiations in advance of the formal notification under the now infamous Article 50.

The nearest to anything like a policy view during the referendum campaign was Boris Johnson’s comment that the “UK is leaving the European Union but not leaving Europe”.  Oh that it would be that simple. The arts sector overwhelmingly voted to Remain. A view>  Simpler still to stay in but that’s another story.

This is the first in a series of postings where I look at the possible future UK-EU27 relationships in the culture arenas (and there is certainly more than one arena!).  To start with in this post I simply list the areas, and programmes, which need to be addressed in the Brexit negotiations. I don’t claim this is exhaustive so please drop me a comment and I’ll update the post.

Later posts will start to look at the implications.

I’m assuming the dark Brexit day will be sometime in 2019, before the elections to the European Parliament and before the next EU finance period from 2020. I’m also ignoring both any “transitional” arrangement and a straight switch to the EEA/Norway model as PM May wants a “bespoke” deal.  Many formal statements emphasise that the UK remains a member and so can still play its full part: see the Arts Council of England.  But then they would wouldn’t they!.

Let’s be clear about one thing. The Article 50 process means EU27 have the upper hand, by a long way. They will decide the terms of the exit.  Will culture be seen as a small area, with no EU competency, so can the UK/EU27 carry on as before?  Or will it be seen as the UK trying to cherry pick the “nice” parts of the EU?   Time will tell.

The specific areas fall into money, people and processes.

Money: funding sources from the EU which could dry up with a very hard Brexit.

People:  restrictions on the free movement of people both to the UK and from the UK to EU27

Processes:  how “access” to the single market could work, taxes, laws, standards, influence,

A fourth area covers external influences:  the UK economy, exchange rates and importantly the effects on the culture sectors in EU27 after Brexit.

Taken together they illustrate the complexity of Brexit (imagine the same issues multiplied across most of the UK economy).

In terms of impact we need to look from three different directions:

from the cultural and creative sectors: the producers

from the audiences and future audiences

from the effect on the 30 year momentum of the increasing influence, ambition and internationalism of the British cultural world

The worst case will be a serious and possibly slow shift to an inward looking insular society where because of money (lack of), difficulty, or even purpose the arts offer in the UK diminishes in ambition.  There is a risk the Brexit cultural debate will focus on the producers, the list below does.  The more important issue will be the effect on “the audiences” and the longer term momentum.

Creative Europe (or its successor).  Will the UK seek to remain and pay an annual fee ( as Norway or as Turkey until they withdrew earlier this year over a genocide reference and took their €2m+ annual fee with them).  The UK arts sector does well from Creative Europe.   Continued participation in Creative Europe after 2020 should also smooth the path to co-host a European Capital of Culture in 2023 as membership of Creative Europe is a pre-condition).  See Labour’s view >  and mine on ECOC2023>

Media programme, (part of Creative Europe) gives funds for cinemas in UK showing films from other EU countries (and these cinemas are by far the main locations for any foreign language films in the UK).  Supports pre-production costs (I, Daniel Blake received almost €100,000, The Kings Speech over €500,000), supports British films shown in the EU, has training programmes.  Funding also helps co-productions. A view>

Other Funding Opportunities> Erasmus+, Europe for Citizens, COSME, INTERREG, ERDF (helped fund Peaky Blinders) and more.  The British Council  is successful in winning  or managing EU projects, for example SHARE in South East Asia, European Voluntary Service, projects in China, Kosovo, Lebanon, Egypt. Will the British Council stay in the European Union Network of Cultural Institutes (EUNIC)? Will it take part in the new programmes of culture in the European Union’s external relations?  Is there any effect on the UK’s and the EU’s soft power?  A view>

Freedom of Movement.   The “Big One”.  Will UK arts organisations still be able to recruit staff from EU27?  Will the creative and cultural industry sector still be able to recruit?  Will existing EU27 staff and self employed keep their full rights after Brexit?  Will any new recruits after Brexit need visas? Will the UK government impose sectoral quotas or salary thresholds?   Will British citizens now in EU27 still be able work in EU27? Or only tied to their current country and/or current job?  And in future will British citizens still be able to go to EU27 to work: (Bowie’s Berlin days a thing of the past?).  Architects, animation studios, museums, heritage: you name it, the UK workforce is diverse (one of its strengths).  Not forgetting those academics in cultural subjects in universities. What will EU27ers in the UK feel as they show their pre-Brexit or post Brexit ID cards?  Will the rise in xenophobia die down?

Carnets and permissions?   Will British based touring companies need a country by country carnet as they do for China?  Touring orchestras, rock bands, early music groups, Adele, Rolling Stones, djs, theatre companies , exhibitions etc all affected.  Will touring artists from EU27 also need carnets to bring their equipment etc. into the UK; effect on festivals? A view>

Qualifications: will UK qualifications still be accepted?   A version of the qualifications issue is that EU committees, panels, “Open Methods of Coordination” (which discuss a wide range of policies)  will no longer have British members.  Will I be the last member and chair of the Selection Panel for European Capitals of Culture as membership is limited to nationals of EU member states?

Exports.  Over 40% of the creative industries exports go to EU27.  Free trade continues?  Or tariffs (and WTO does not have any useful categories to use and Free Trade Agreements normally have little to say on services).  Will British architects still be able to compete for commissions (Foster’s Reichstag?).  Will the UK still benefit from the Digital Single Market?  Will British TV and films still be classed as European in those countries with European quotas?   And of course the mirror image of exports are imports.  The cultural sector has supply chains as well as Nissan!  Import duties on items from EU27?

Intellectual Property Rights.  A minefield.  A loss of engagement with developments in the fast moving field?.  A view>

More law: Artists Resale Rights, Export Licencing Regime, restitution claims, the art market   A view> and another>

And then there are the broader issues, the consequences of a Brexit.

The £ and exchange rates.   A lower £ sterling affects many areas of the cultural sector. A view>

Weaker public finances.  Will these put a further strain on public sector budgets at national and local levels?

I don’t expect this list is exhaustive. Please add!