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 improve 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.

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 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.

 

 

YES!! DCMS start the competition for European Capital of Culture in 2023

DCMS has launched the call for applications for the ECOC in 2023 in the UK.   

Details here  

Good luck to the candidates (Dundee, Leeds and Milton Keynes at the moment)

 

The UK hosts a European Capital of Culture (ECOC) in 2023. Under the rules DCMS needs to start the competition before December 2016. This gives the competing cities time to finalize their bids for shortlisting in autumn 2017.  The final selection will be in 2018.  It is now mid September, time is running out.

As the current chair of the selection panel for ECOCs I know that cities need time, over four years, to develop their programme. They also need clarity in preparing their bids.

Several UK cities are preparing bids: Dundee, Leeds, Milton Keynes (and possibly Bristol). They are investing time, money and more importantly, building up momentum in their cities and networks with their citizens, businesses and cultural sectors.

No recent ECOC has been able to prepare a successful bid in less than two years.  In my five years on the panel I’ve seen over 100 bid-books and city presentations and it is easy to spot those which are underprepared; they do not get shortlisted let alone selected.

So what’s the problem? DCMS is not indicating when it will start the formal competition on behalf of the European Commission.  It will have all the paperwork and the rules (they are the same for each country).  Why not?  Simple, I guess,  DCMS look like a rabbit stuck in the Brexit car headlights.

There is no reason for DCMS not to start the competition. The UK, as the Prime Minister frequently says, is a full member of the European Union until it leaves. During that time it will perform as a full member with all the rights and responsibilities that membership entails.  It is both legally and morally the correct stance.

The selection of the ECOC in the UK for 2023 will take place in 2017 and 2018: when the UK will be still be a member of the EU. The ECOC “Decision”, the legal document which governs the ECOC programme, was approved by the UK along with 27 other culture ministries and the European Parliament and it requires the competition to start.

What are the risks to DCMS to starting the competition?

Financial? Not really, the EU only contributes €1.5m to an ECOC and that is conditional.  An ECOC’s programme budget is likely to be over £50-£60m over 6 years found from city, regional, lottery and business sources. This is twice the amount that Hull have successfully raised for their UK City of Culture programme in 2017. The UK government could easily replace the €1.5m in 2023.

The main impact of a delay will be to the candidates. They need to ensure funding lines and commitments and discuss project plans with cultural partners across Europe (and indeed globally).

Reputation?   An ECOC is required to demonstrate a “European Dimension”.  This is cultural not political. ECOCs show and share the diversity of cultures in Europe to their own citizens and to visitors.  Most recent ECOCs have over 70% of their events with international partners and these are not limited to EU countries.  Even the ardent brexiters said that “Europe” is a cultural area of which the UK is a part and it is distinct from the political entity of the European Union.

Split process?   Perhaps. Unlike the UK City of Culture programme an ECOC is subject to a quality control process by a monitoring panel (in effect the selection panel).  This process may be interrupted but can easily be adapted.

Brexit may mean Brexit but no-one knows what that will entail. The referendum indicated a departure but not a destination.  Under the current Decision it is possible for non EU members to host an ECOC: but only closely defined categories:  candidates and potential candidates and, soon, EEA members.  There are calls for the UK to continue to be part of the Erasmus scheme, of the EU research programmes and of the cultural programmes. If the UK stays in the EU cultural programme it could be eligible to host the ECOC in 2023. A very small element in the whole Art50 process.  Staying in the culture and education programmes does not affect the hallowed sovereignty of the brexiters as these areas are not under EU competency. The UK has always had control

And if not, if it is an exceedingly hard Brexit? Well then DCMS could simply introduce a new “UK Capital of International Culture” in 2023 and rebrand the ECOC title to fit between the UK Cities of Culture planned for 2021 and 2025. The successful ECOC city selected in 2018 continues with its implementation, same programme, same objectives with only a minor change to its logo.

So two scenarios: the post Art50 EU-UK deal enables the European Capital of Culture process to continue as normal (clearly the overwhelmingly preferred option) or the UK simply rebrands the title.  Neither prevents DCMS from starting the competition.

A win-win. But DCMS need to give a firm green light now.

Steve Green

Chair, European Capitals of Culture Selection Panel

 

 

Mantua and Pistoia are Italian Capitals of Culture 2016 and 2017 from shortlist of ten cities

An update!   Mantua is the Italian Capital of Culture in 2016 and Pistoia for 2017.

 

Ten Italian cities have made it to the short list for the title of Italian Capital of Culture in 2016 and 2017. They were selected from 24 candidates by an independent jury.  The short list is:

Aquileia, Como, Ercolano, Mantova, Parma, Pisa, Pistoia, Spoleto, Taranto and Terni.

The programme “Italian Capital of Culture” is a spin-off from the competition to select the European Capital of Culture.

Italy co-hosts, with Bulgaria, the European Capital of Culture title in 2019.  The competition in 2013/14 was intense with 21 candidates; six cities made the short-list.  Eventually the international panel of experts selected Matera who were formally designated by the European Union in May. Plovdiv is the co-title holder.

The Italian Ministry of Culture recognised the efforts of the other five shortlisted candidates by appointing them “Italian Capitals of Culture” in 2015.  Ravenna, Lecce, Cagliari, Siena and Perugia are all running programmes this year.

Italy is following the precedent set by the UK, after Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture in 2008.  The UK now runs a four-yearly competition for the UK” City of Culture” title.  Derry/Londonderry was the first holder in 2013 and Hull will hold the title in 2017.

The final selection of the Italian Capitals of Culture 2016 and 2017 will be made later in the year.

 

Cultural, Social, Citizens’ Europe? Its time to join up. Dombrovskis is here

It is not often that you feel a politician has listened to you. When it does happen a wry smile appears, cynicism slightly reduced and a hope that there is more to come.

In December 2013 I wrote an essay for the Cultural Coalition for a Citizens’ Europe, (a rather unwieldy title)  and spoke at their March conference in Berlin. Other speakers at the conference included Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Schulz and Guy Verhofstadt, then all “spitzenkandidats” for the post of European Commission President.   As we know Juncker got the job and Schulz remains as President of the European Parliament.

I wrote

……that the new President of the
European Commission will create a senior “vice-president for citizens”
responsible across the board for everything the EU does which engages with
citizens with transversal authority to delve into every proposed policy from
every directorate, a role well beyond mere “citizenship”. 

Well that may have become true. (OK, I don’t think any politician actually read my piece, dream on!).  I’ll not comment on the selection and appointment of the commissioners, that’s for another day. They start work on 1 November.  Juncker has tweaked the structure, giving the vice-presidents a wider role.  One of the vice-presidents is Valdis Dombrovskis who is responsible for the Euro and, wait for it,  “Social Dialogue”.  Juncker set out one of the aims of the post in his commissioning letter to Dombrovskis:  “promoting social dialogue and engaging with social partners at EU level on all aspects of interest for the delivery of our priorities”.

Not quite as strong or all-encompassing as I hoped but a start.  The Commissioners for Education,Youth and Culture, for Gender Equality, and for Social Affairs are in the grouping of Commissioners “steered” by Dombrovskis.  Many of the aims and aspirations of the cultural sector for a new Europe are similar to those from the social sector (once you set aside the straightforward lobbying for more money). Is the start of a joined-up approach?

Is there a real difference between calls for a “Social Europe”,  a “Citizens’ Europe” or a “Cultural Europe”?  All recognise that the EU of today is out of touch with citizens, that many are “falling behind”, that a greater sense of community is needed  to balance the overwhelming attention to economics and to austerity.

Bringing the campaigns together may make them understandable to more people and not fall into the cul-de-sac of the “New Narratives for Europe” initiative of the Barroso era.  With a worrying rise of not just euro-scepticism  but of euro-opposition across the EU the ideas and approaches like the “New Narratives” fail to engage with those more tempted by the populist parties.  Its declarations sound like a self-congratulatory rhetorical device to convince the converted.

Paul Mason identifies the underlying problem of the EU, and of politics, in this piece in the Guardian.   It is UK focused  but its main thesis applies across the EU.  Read it, apply it to your country.  Change in the EU, to make it more in line with today’s citizen’s needs means not starting from your own cosmopolitan perspective.  Start looking from the perspective of what Obama calls “main street” and those who Mason identifies: people in towns and cities most affected by globalisation, by the move to the digital world, living in places where the main employers have disappeared: where the long term city business model (often based on semi or unskilled male work) has gone and not been replaced. Such places probably also have a lower level of formal education attainment and the participation rate in culture is also probably lower than average.

And then see how your “cultural, citizens’, social Europe” aspirations meet this challenge. We need to see a wider coalition for change bringing together the currently disparate and overlapping movements.  A stronger EU needs to address this decade’s priorities, not those of 50 or even 10 years ago.

Mr Dombrovskis, this is where your social dialogue starts.

 

 

Who will be the UK’s European Capital of Culture in 2023?

Updated June 2016 with news on bidding cities and the selection in Croatia for ECOC2020.

Updated August 2015 to highlight the report from the panel on the pre-selection (shortlisting) for the ECOC in 2020 in Croatia.

 

A UK city will be the European Capital of Culture in 2023. It will share the title, and work with, a city in Hungary. 2023 may seem a long way off but cities thinking of bidding should be starting their preparations now. The bids will need to be completed in mid-2017 for shortlisting. The final selection, based on revised bids, will be in 2018.

So far Leeds and Milton Keynes appear to have set up bidding teams; will more join the competition?  Dundee will decide to bid in September.  Cardiff may put a bid together.   These are leaving it very, very, late to put a bid together.  Many recent ECOCs have spent 3-5 years before the submission of the bid.  Why the long time?  Because it is no longer a top down application which can be prepared by a city administration and a few cultural operators.  The criteria require extensive consultation and  participation in the development of the bid.  Not just marketing or convincing people but actively seeking views and acting on them.  This poses a challenge to city administrations and as importantly to the cultural sector in a city.  In essence a bid says “we are not satisfied with our cultural offer and we seek to transform our city through culture (and other sectors).  Putting a programme together also involves considerable visits to other ECOCs and in finding partners for projects across Europe (and beyond). 

An ECOC is not a big celebration of the present but a transformational programme for the future.

They, and other cities considering bids may find the report on the pre-selection of the ECOC in 2020 in Croatia useful.  It is the first report based on the new criteria for ECOCs from 2020.   Four cities, out of 8, were shortlisted.

The Panel selected Rijeka at the final selection. The report is here.   The panel will select the Irish city as the co-ECOC in 2020 in July. there are three candidates (Galway, Limerick and the Three Sisters (Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny)

There is a new guide for cities considering or preparing to bid . This is essential reading!!    http://ec.europa.eu/culture/tools/actions/documents/ecoc-candidates-guide_en.pdf

As the current chair of the Selection Panel of the European Capitals of Culture (ECOC) I see bids from candidate cities in many countries and all start their bid preparations well in advance. Many spend five or six years preparing their bid, well in advance of the official announcement.

A key point to notice is, of course, this is the EUROPEAN Capital of Culture.. not the UK City of Culture title successfully held by Derry-Londonderry in 2013 and awarded to Hull for 2017. That competition was part of the legacy of Liverpool becoming the last UK city to be awarded the ECOC title, in 2008.

The criteria at European level are different to the UK version; they are also different from the ones used to select Liverpool (let alone Glasgow’s ground breaking programme in 1990).  The selection process also differs to the UK City of Culture.

The Culture Ministers of the 28 EU member states have recently agreed the new programme and the European Parliament have also completed their formalities. The formal “Decision” will be published shortly. There is a preview later in this post.

So what does a candidate city have to focus on?  Well each city will be different; it will have its own objectives and purpose. There is no single magic template which guarantees a successful bid or programme. The title is not awarded simply because a city is in the UK (and still in the EU of course).  A city’s size is not relevant.  Nor is its cultural heritage a major factor.

An ECOC is based on a future programme and not a celebration of the past. Successful cities integrate the standard selection criteria with their own local objectives. The “legacy” is important: what are the longer term outcomes?  In recent years the budgets for the ECOC programme have varied from €20m in the smaller and newer EU member states to between €50 and €80m in western European countries. The money is spread over the five or six years of the overall programme.  This is on top of the usual cultural budget of a city and excludes any infrastructure or new buildings. Several recent ECOCs have successfully bid for EU regional funds for culturally related projects (mostly linked to cultural tourism).  Most ECOCs build up to a management team of 40-50, plus hundreds of volunteers.

There are six criteria. These are set out in detail, together with the background to the programme, in the new formal “Decision” which covers the competition from 2020 to 2033. Cities thinking of bidding should read the document closely (that old adage from school “remember to read the question first!”). The final version is here:

Final Decision 2020-2033

The first criteria is that a city must have an existing cultural strategy even before it can bid. The ECOC is not a one year “super-festival” but needs to be part of the overall cultural development of a city which in turn is part of a city’s strategy. This is one of the reasons potential bidding cities may need to start soon, developing their city’s cultural strategy takes time.

Four criteria will be familiar to cultural managers:  outreach (including the involvement of citizens in the development of the bid), management, the capacity to deliver and a high artistic and creative content. “Culture” in the context of an ECOC has a wide interpretation: all artforms from djs to opera, new media, community and participatory arts, arts in schools, hospitals,  languages, creative industries etc.   The focus is on the programme which normally progressively builds up to the events of the year.  The programme needs to be additional to the existing cultural offer in the city (as is the programme budget).

A common and crucial feature is that it is a highly international programme. Some ECOCs have an international aspect to virtually every project or event or base their programme around European themes.

The remaining criteria is the one which marks the ECOC out from national cities of culture: the “European Dimension“.  The programme must highlight the cultural diversity of Europe (to the cities own citizens and not using the title solely as a tourist/city branding exercise), highlight European themes and the common aspects of European cultures, heritage and history. This is a challenging criteria and one which is of major importance.  Recent ECOCs have developed a wide range of imaginative projects to meet this European Dimension requirement.

What should cities thinking of bidding do now?  My advice is to go and visit the two current  ECOCs, (and those already selected for 2015 to 2018) to learn. There is a wealth of good practice, and lessons to learn and share.  Riga and Umea hold this year’s title and are in full swing.  In 2015 the title goes to Mons and Plzen; in 2016 to Donostia San Sebastian and Wroclaw; in 2017 to Aarhus and Pafos. In 2018 Valletta and Leeuwarden share the title.  Several of these ECOCs have their bid-books (in English) online. All are working hard to develop their programmes.

Later this year the Selection Panel will recommend the cities in Italy and Bulgaria for the 2019 title.  There were 21 candidates in Italy and 8 in Bulgaria.  There are now 6 on the shortlist in Italy and 4 in Bulgaria.  Read the Panel’s reports on the pre-selection shortlisting.

There are clear short-term and long-term benefits for a city holding the ECOC title. These are outlined in the recent report commissioned by the European Parliament from Beatriz Garcia of Liverpool University.  Recent holders of the title (eg Marseilles-Provence,) are in no doubt about the success of their programmes. Many cities which were not successful in the competition find they have made significant gains: the bidding process in itself was more than worthwhile.

Who will bid for the title when it comes to the UK? I’ve no idea but now (June 2016) is the time to be deeply into preparing the bid.  Good luck to all the candidates!

 

 

 

At last: where the £100,000 is going at the William Morris Gallery

The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow won the Museum of the Year award in 2013.   The prize was twofold: a significant amount of free PR and marketing which has led to a massive rise in visitors and £100,000.  The prize came after a total refurbishment.

So what happened to the money?  I blogged in June last year and quoted the Leader of the Waltham Forest Council (the owners):

” We’re now deciding what we’ll spend the money on, and I guarantee that it will make a real,tangible difference to the Gallery itself and to the experience of visitors, whether they live in the borough, come as part of school visit or have travelled from another country to explore Morris’ extraordinary vision”

So what happened?   Nothing:  no news on the website, no news in the Council’s free PR paper. Silence.  For six months.  Time enough for a decision perhaps?

So in January I asked both the gallery and the Councillor, Ahsan Khan, who chairs the “Health and Well-being” committee which apparently includes culture.  He replied:

We are planning the spend of the Art Fund prize carefully, to ensure it makes a real difference to the Gallery.  We’ve analysed visitor feedback and are using some of the funds to enhance the visitor experience. This includes replacing some of the glazing
on paintings with museum-grade non-reflective glass. We are aware that the
current glazing prevents effective viewing of the paintings in the Gallery, especially the larger Brangwyn paintings. The worst affected painting, Brangwyn’s Dogana, has already had its glazing replaced and we are seeking quotes for other works. Other suggestions that we are investigating  include – replacing the benches with chairs in the tea room so that families and older people find access easier, more equipment to control the temperature in summer months and a buggy park. 

However we plan to use the majority of the Museum of the Year prize money as match-funding to apply for other grants. This means we can potentially double (or more) the value of the award. The focus for our fundraising activities is the Gallery’s exhibition and
activity programme. This includes our schools, families and young peoples’
programmes, as well as new opportunities for older residents to engage with the
arts (due to launch in 2014).

This programme is crucial to making sure we keep the offer fresh and continue to
encourage local residents to keep coming back for more. We currently
receive Heritage Lottery funding to support this programme, until November 2014.
The Gallery’s core costs (staffing, building upkeep etc) are all funded by the
London Borough of Waltham Forest but if we can attract additional external
funding  we can continue to develop and exceed such a high quality
offer”

So there we have it.   The Gallery has now been nominated for the European Museum of the Year award. (a Council of Europe project, not the EU this time!) It is in illustrious company.  Good luck!

And please go along to the current exhibition of Jeremy Deller last shown at the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale last summer.