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.

 

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.

 

What would you do with £100,000?

Yes, there is a catch.  Not a windfall of £100,000 for yourself. I mean the £100,000 prize money awarded to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow: the 2013 ArtFund Museum of the Year.

The Gallery is owned by the London Borough of Waltham Forest. The Leader of the Council, Chris Robbins, says, in the local Council free newspaper:

” 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”

Fine words and indeed credit does go to the Council for reversing their original decision on the future of the Gallery and embarking on its marvellous renovation.

I have a major concern with Councillor Robbins’ statement. It’s that term “we’re”.  Who are the “we”?  Experience across Europe has shown that decisions about the detail of cultural projects are not best handled by politicians. This Gallery owes its current status to the energy of those who campaigned to keep it open.  Surely residents of Walthamstow, and “Morrisians” further afield, should be invited to contribute to and be part of the discussions?

Readers of Private Eye over the last few years have seen examples of less than transparent decisions and accountability by the Council.  We must not let any suspicion of this apply to the £100,000 prize fund.

I suggest that Councillor Robbins arranges a public meeting in the Assembly Hall (with its Morris inscription over the entrance) and calls for open contributions on the use of the money.  I am sure he would attract a large audience and a range of practical and imaginative suggestions.  We know we can fill the Assembly Hall, as local citizens did to help save the EMD Granada cinema.  I am sure ArtFund judges such as historian, and MP, Tristram Hunt would give us their views.  The Friends of the William Morris Gallery have a key role.  A public celebration of the prize and a forward looking debate.

A second stage would be to co-opt as non-voting observers several members of the local community to the appropriate Council committee which will be discussing the practical plans.

A third step would be a regular public updating on the William Morris Gallery website of progress, of options, of why certain proposals have been rejected, of how the money is going.  Openess being the watchword.

Yes I’m biased and declare an interest: a local resident, a member of the ArtFund (good value for money!) and I have many books by and about Morris on my bookshelves.

William Morris was an indefatigable public speaker, taking his views across the country and speaking directly to citizens.  A good model for the Council to adopt now.

Power to the people: from closure threat to Museum of the Year.

A campaign which started local and went global, has finally paid off.  Six years ago Waltham Forest Council planned to close the William Morris Gallery, in Walthamstow.

Now the gallery has won the Museum of the Year 2013, an award worth £100,000, and organised by the ArtFund.  Congratulations are flooding in. They are well deserved.  The renovations have transformed a fusty, dark and quite frankly unappealing building into an informative, bright and attractive survey of Morris and his myriad interests.  The obligatory cafe is a nice touch as well. Many photos on google.

Amongst the plaudits there is, however, a little re-writing of history.  One of the judges, the artist Bob and Roberta Smith is quoted in the ArtFund magazine:

” in the current climate it’s amazing to see a local authority realise the power of art in regenerating a borough”.

Other reports have made a similar point. Fair enough; Waltham Forest Council did provide £1,500,000 towards the work (around 30%) and will run the Gallery.  Good news for all who believe in the important role the arts can play in local well-being.

But it was not always this rosy. Six years ago the Council wished to close the Gallery, merge its priceless contents with a museum in South London and be shot of the whole affair. They wanted to save £65,000.  Unbelievably they had tried to do the same in 1987.

What changed their mind?  A very active campaign which gained world-wide support.  A petition signed by 11,630, demonstrations (it was cold!): citizens actions. An active Friends group was formed in 1987 lobbied.  The Council changed its mind.

Now the new Gallery has attracted over 100,000 visitors in less than a year from its re-opening. The Museum of the Year prize will bring in far more.   So it is congratulations to the local councillors.. for listening to their local citizens.

As well as the standing collection the Gallery has already hosted exhibitions by Grayson Perry, David Bailey, modern crafts and in 2014 becomes the first gallery in the UK to host Jeremy Dellers’ current exhibition at the British Pavilion in Venice. That features William Morris rising to hurl Abramovich’s monster yacht into the lagoon.

With the arts in financial trouble in most of Europe it is a little bit of good news on the power of campaigning.   William Morris, socialist, would have been pleased.

 

 

Derry: UK City of Culture 2013 launches programme

Derry-Londonderry, the UK’s City of Culture in 2013,  has announced its programme.

Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of Culture Company 2013, said: “We hope that Derry~Londonderry’s City of Culture year brings a sense of joy, a sense of ambition, a sense of pride in our community, a sense of being part of a global community, and in the end a sense of achievement – that we all did this together and it meant something. A huge success for a small city.”

Derry won the title after a competition with 15 other British cities; selection was by an independent panel.

McCarthy continues

It is a privilege to have received the baton from the amazing festival that was London 2012 and to be carrying on the legacy from Liverpool 08. We in turn will pass the spotlight to Glasgow  2014 and the Commonwealth Games and the next UK City of Culture in 2017.

Derry~Londonderry in Northern Ireland will play host to a world-class programme which includes the Turner Prize presented outside England for the first time; a new commission by the London Symphony Orchestra; award-winning choreographer Hofesh Shechter; the return of Field Day; a new play by American playwright Sam Shepard; local Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney; and the first visit to Northern Ireland of the Royal Ballet for over 20 years.

The core themes of the City of Culture project are Joyous Celebration and Purposeful Inquiry with four distinct components:

1, Unlocking Creativity
2, Creative Connections
3, Digital Dialogue
4, Creating a New Story

As well as the cultural events  the Derry2013 programme has  extensive projects with schools and community groups.

 

 

European Capitals of Culture 2020+

The new criteria and procedures for the ECOC from 2020 have now been published. See my later blog entry   http://wp.me/p20NFR-8S

There is also a new guidance note for cities considering or preparing to bid   http://ec.europa.eu/culture/tools/actions/documents/ecoc-candidates-guide_en.pdf

Original blog entry continues……..

The European Commission proposes to continue the European Capitals of Culture programme beyond 2020.  The current programme ends in 2019, with cities, as yet unselected, in Italy and Bulgaria.

The EC’s proposals take the programme to 2033:  the most long term assertion of the EU’s existence in recent months given its failure to address the crisis of the eurocrisis.

As now there will be two capitals a year, from different countries set out in a long term rota.  I would hazard a guess that some of the larger countries will adopt the UK’s national city of culture  on a four year cycle (Derry in 2013)  as they wait for their turn at the European level.

A new change is the return of applicants from candidate and potential candidate countries. (I already know bids are being prepared in cities in Serbia and Turkey for 2020).  However these only come into the programme every third year on the current proposals.

The Commission has issued two detailed papers on their proposals. One includes a very intensive review of recent trends by ECOCs and the proposed strategic direction for future ECOCs.

No doubt there will be strong lobbying by governments, cities and the cultural sector!  The Commissions proposals need to be approved by the Council (presumably via the meetings of culture ministers with input from others no doubt) and the European Parliament (via the Culture Committee and others).  Watch out for your turn to comment at both national and European level.

In the meantime here is the proposed list of countries:

2020: Croatia and Ireland (and candidate)

2021:  Romania and Greece

2022:  Lithuania and Luxembourg

2023: Hungary and UK (and candidate)

2024: Estonia and Austria

2025: Slovenia and Germany

2026:  Slovakia and Finland (and candidate)

2027:  Latvia and Portugal

2028: Czech Republic and France

2029: Poland and Sweden (and candidate)

2030; Cyprus and Belgium

2031:  Malta and Spain

2032: Bulgaria and Denmark (and candidate)

2033: Netherlands and Italy

Framing the Creative Cities agenda

Cities around the world aspire to be creative.  Creativity is the key to success, to prosperity, to growth. It is difficult to find a city PR message which does not proclaim it as, or aspiring to be, a creative city, or hub, or focal point.  Creativity has become the great global battleground for cities. Conversely no city dares promote itself as “uncreative” (except the area of north east London where I live).

So if creativity is the key to urban nirvana how do we measure it? What factors come into play? If city mayors and leaders know these infallible factors then their route map to success can be plotted (until perhaps the next election).

“Global city index construction is a new emerging industry”: the words of Professor John Hartley and his colleagues at Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University in Australia. Hartley, commissioned by the Beijing Research Centre for Science of Science, has duly entered the arena with a new Index.

The Index “(C2I)2 = CCI-CCI Creative City Index” to use its catchy title incorporates 8 themes, 72 components and over 250 individual data points.

In presenting the Index Hartley has done cities and planners a major service. He reviews 22 other Indexes. Yes that’s right, 22 City Indexes; from the USA, Europe, Japan, Australia and international bodies.  The big names are there: Richard Florida, and Charles Landry  as well as host of others.   I challenge anyone to list the 22 (without a quick glance at the report!).

The assembled indexes cluster around 16 themes.  Some are driven by economists, some by sociologists: an important distinction. The short summaries and analyses are perfect for a quick but comprehensive overview of the nuances of importance and interpretation.

Some soundbites:

“a creative city is not the same as a global city”

“caution about “real-estate” city development” (e.g. Canberra and new cities in China and Korea)

*importance of festivals: where freer and more open engagements between arts producers and audience

“small cinemas more likely to show independent films rather than large scale cinemas”

*divorce rate a good indicator of women’s freedom and subversion of strong conservative cultural norms.

I was particularly attracted to several items:

•            The emphasis on the youth sector as the driver for change , experimentation and innovation

•            How cultural factors can distort global comparisons:  the non-collection of data in one country; the failure to disclose information; how not to focus on western cultural norms of systems,

•            The importance of a free cultural environment not just a top down built, provided, supported structure.

•            And given a Chinese client: the importance of looking at equivalent Chinese cultural factors: not special ones but equivalents.

To conclude I recommend that anyone interested in city  development, in cultural and creative cities, reads the report.  .   To quote:

…a global city must first be a creative city, and a creative city is invariably powered by energy and entrepreneurial experimentation of the young, of the outsider, of those seeking to new ideas and to challenge existing ideas.  A creative city will invariably be complex and challenging, “lovable” more than “likeable”, edgy rather than middle of the road, often with a clash of cultures, demographics and ideas in its mix”.

Indexes help frame a debate. It will be interesting to learn of the reactions of the Chinese, or of any other city with a strong controlling culture (whether political, religious or social)  to this conclusion.  Can mayors, politicians and planners promote inward migration, an edgy challenging city?    Based on this index, and indeed most of the other under review, they may need to loosen up!