Selecting the European Capital of Culture: with added transparency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitals and Cities of Culture in 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitals and Cities of Culture in 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitals of Culture in 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.

 

 

2017: the year of 23 “Capitals of Culture”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 23 in 2017 are

Aarhus and Pafos        European Capitals of Culture

Hull                              UK City of Culture

Pistoia                         Italian Capital of Culture

 Klaipėda                    Lithuanian Capital of Culture

Lisbon                         Ibero-American Capital of Culture

Vuokkiniemi                Finno-Ugric Capital of Culture

Luxor                          Capital of Arab Culture

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

Amman, Sennar, Mashhad, Kampala      Islamic Capitals of Culture

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

Mérida                                                      American Capital of Culture

Turkestan                                                 Culture and Arts Capital of the Turkic World

Some more additions:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

NOTE:  edited in October to include more capitals.