Capitals of Culture: a worldwide activity

Capitals of Culture An introductory survey Steve Green October 2017

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 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.

 

BREAKING NEWS:  Arts Council Slovakia will soon announce a new national Capital of Culture programme.

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”

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!

 

Labour won’t win in 2020 by re-running 2015

Labour lost the general election in 2015.  A leadership election is underway.  Candidates are writing their manifestos. Is it too early?  Will the candidates be too tempted to re-run 2015 rather than look ahead to 2020.  The political landscape will change. Here are a few thoughts.

Five more years of a Tory government, unhindered by any Liberal Democrat brake, and in hock to the more right-wing members of the Tory party, will mean a harsher landscape.  Not just fox-hunting but abortion restrictions (and I suspect a few Tories will be looking longingly at Orban’s attempt to restore capital punishment in Hungary).  More banks, more in poverty, greater “security” surveillance.  We will be spending billions on the four Tridents. We will have an even more authoritarian society, officially sanctioned.

The Tory leader in 2020 is likely to be from George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Theresa May.  Will they skip a generation after Cameron goes, probably in 2018?  Doubt it. Well-known senior figures appealing to the Tory heartlands.

Public finances will still be in a mess. Osborne’s forecasts on both debt and deficit have been proved wrong; there is no reason to expect any change. There will still be “no money”.  More years of stringent cuts.  It’s difficult to see how significantly more full wage jobs can be created so the tax take won’t increase to mitigate cuts.

The public sector ethos will be further weakened. Not just through out-sourcing, privatisation and ” public sector social entrepreneurialism”.  Top managers in the public sector will be required to operate as private sector equivalents. The internal culture of the delivery arms of the public sector will drastically change. TTIP and ISDS will prevent the re-nationalisation of public sector contracts.

The Scottish Parliament, from 2016, will be firmly in the nationalist camp. It is hard to foresee Jim Murphy (let alone the old school of Scottish Labour) turning the electoral prospects around in a short time.  As Spain has seen with Cataluña a nationalist mind-set always wants more.

Osborne’s “northern powerhouses”, led by Manchester, will be in full swing. Devolution in England will be underway mostly led by Labour councils and they will want, and deserve, more. Power may be devolved but in reality in many cases it simply means power to implement more cuts to local government. Bye bye not just libraries but many areas of local services. No way that the Tories will restore any form of sensible London government.

And looming over all of these changes will be the defining political topic of the next five years: the in/out EU referendum.  Polls may indicate a “stay in” majority but as we have seen polls are not at their most brilliant.  The lesson from the Scottish Independence referendum is that even a seemingly clear 55/45 division does not end the debate.   A “stay in” vote may not end the question; UKIP and the right-wing Tories will continue for a second chance in the 2020s. Will we see Theresa May leading a UKIP/Tory grouping in 2020 pledging to reverse the “stay in” vote?  Or an Osborne  (perhaps even the bend in the wind Johnson) leading a “happy to be in” a reformed EU?

A “leave” vote in 2017 leads to two years of negotiation of the terms of the exit (the Treaty sets a time limit).  Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will be up in arms if they have been outvoted by the English.  Constitutional turmoil.  How does that stack up in 2020?

In my view Labour leadership candidates will find it easy to outline their social and local policy positions; obviously with different priorities. This is their comfort zone.  But the overwhelmingly strategic political decision they have to take is on how active in the next two years they will be for a pro-EU vote.  No more fence-sitting.

Yes, this means tackling the concerns over migration in areas not used to it and not pandering in UKIP-lite style. It means jettisoning the “Controls on immigration” mug. It means leadership from the front not from the backroom focus group. We all want to reform the EU. If it was being invented now we would not build the current version. But it is the one we have. The 2020 election depends on the EU referendum. Time to step up and be counted: the UK’s future lies unequivocally as a member of the EU. That’s what a potential prime minister in 2020 needs to project.