The future of Mastodon?

Most twitter users had not heard of Mastodon until a week or so ago. What they did know was that Elon Musk had bought Twitter, turned it into a private dictatorship and was throwing out an eclectic range of changes and ideas of what he wanted to do with the site. For multiple reasons the Twitterati sought an alternative and Mastodon became the chosen one.

Mastodon is a decentralized federation of “instances” or servers. It has been around since 2016 and had a few hundred thousand users. Until last week! It has been overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of users fleeing from Twitter, or at least creating a back up social media presence in case the worst fears of a Musk-run Twitter arrived. By 7 November it had over one million active users and is growing fast.

This massive increase in users has not been universally welcomed by existing Mastodon users. Hugh Rundle outlined many of the concerns in this article. “I struggled to understand what I was feeling, or the word to describe it. I finally realised on Monday that the word I was looking for was “traumatic”. Overnight almost Mastodon transformed from a platform for relatively small scale interactions based on small scale IT set ups to a fledgling mass operations.

In many cases the instances/servers couldn´t cope and closed themselves to new entrants. Others need considerable technical upgrades. the core programming language is possibly not suited to a fast, large scale, environment.

So what happens? Some thoughts.

Traditional Mastodon users will continue as before. Small user numbers, focussed around their interest, not accepting many, if any, new members. They will continue with small IT capacity, seeking ad hoc funding via Patreon. A few, like mine, which has 11,000 members and has closed to new ones, will ask for a small subscription.

Many new users will develop their own small, closed, instances: family and friends, clubs, NGOs etc. This may mean users need more than one address.

New users will upset the historic members, by default, until either they adapt to the new environment or new servers develop more suited to their aspirations.

The 500 word toot limit will mean more “mini blogs” appearing with regular author building a readership and discussions.

The very idea of decentralisation should mean a faster roll out of new server areas.

Larger, and very large, new instances/servers will appear. Well funded with more than adequate IT systems to cope. Some may be specialised (eg by a sport, or politics or cooking, cities etc) and will emerge as the general mastodon leading servers. A few may even, in time, accept sponsorship from selected organisations but not link users information to those sponsors. These will become the norm for most users in 2023/2024; general media, NGOs, politicians, political organisations, etc.

Some will be as argumentative as twitter as the “wrong type of twitter user” migrates. Mastodon servers can block other servers as well as individuals. Instance owners will need to be vigilant. The difficulty in finding other users is irritating. The idea of joining servers by invitation of an existing member (memories of the original LinkedIn) will enable small groups to continue.

The Home, Local and Federated streams needs tweaking. Federated is far too busy and large. As there is no algorithm the chronological order overwhelms any attempt at use. The local was fine if the server it applies to is a small relatively coherent group. Home, i.e. those you follow can be augmented by lists. (I see the use of lists expanding considerably)

There will be an increase in tools (eg languages translation, better handling of videos). Mastodon does appear USA centred at the moment and will need to adapt to a more global user base.

One major weakness is the lack of a Mastodon link on the “Share This” systems and on media articles etc. Given there is no single Mastodon account to link to not sure how this can be resolved.

Perhaps more to follow….. comments to @stevegreen@mastodon.green

Ten years of the Wisden Writing Competition

Wisden Cricketers Almanack 2022 appeared a few days later than usual but back to its usual size after last year´s slimmer version. As usual it provides fascinating insights into the game with keen readers spotting the subtle changes but those are for another review!

The Wisden Writing Competition remains, now in its tenth year. A chance for “aspiring” writers to shine with a short essay. The entry level is back down to the normal level with just over 100 entries. Relatively few of the first timers of 2022 tried again. The number of entries from women seems to have fallen.

Congratulations to this year´s winner, Peter Hobday. He gives us a “Proustian Madeline” moment as he opens a long unused bag of his cricket equipment. The smells and touch of gloves, a bat, helmet clothes and other items trigger a Remembrance of Games Past and a wistful thought of a future game.

Mr Hobday´s success is in line with the ten year trends. A first time entrant making it eight out of ten wins for debut competitors.

You can read all the winning entries here.

It´s time for a new records section, the Wisden Writing Competition, the first ten years. Unlike Wisden, accept a possibility of errors in the listings!

Number of entrants: 648

Number of once only entrants 528 (81%)

Most entries: 10 (Paul Caswell, David Fraser, David Potter) 9 (Richard Reardon, Christopher Sharp) 8 (Steve Green, Mark Sanderson, Peter Stone)

Winners on debut entry: 8 (the other two were on their second and fifth entry)

Largest entry 2021 with 193

Smallest entry 2014 (82), 2020 (“more than 80”)

Winners from outside England 1 (USA)

Most popular winning themes Nostalgia of times past 3. memories of specific cricketer 2 , humour 2,

Number of winners mentioning T20 (IPL, Big Bash, Vitality etc) 0

Winning entries looking to future of cricket 0

The competition is open for the 2023 Wisden, closing date is the end of October. A piece full of warmth for the game, a touch of its effect on you, staying clear of controversy. Full details here (under the Photography Competition details which attracts many times more entries!).

Stop press. The runners up are now printed in the Wisden Quarterly magazine The Nightwatchman. 12 are printed is issue 38 and 8 of them are from first time entrants. Yet more evidence that newcomers seem to have a definite advantage. perhaps enter under new names each year?

Capitals of Culture around the world in 2022

Welcome to my annual preview of Capitals (and Cities) of Culture. The global pandemic disrupted society in 2021 and naturally CoCs were not exempt. Many ran smaller programmes, others deferred to 2022 and some unfortunately failed to take place. In early January we do not know what will happen this year but at least 26 COCs are making plans even with travel restrictions and capacity limits. This year I´ve added videos to the review: to improve our awareness of many of the cities! I’ve also put those CoCs who earned their title though a competition ahead of those who have been simply nominated by the awarding organisation.

Once again the CoCs demonstrate the incredible diversity of culture and the arts across the world. From cutting edge digital arts to centuries old traditions, from cities of 8 million down to small hamlets of a few hundred, with budgets over €50 million down to less than €1m, organisers innovate and develop their offers. Stay safe in 2022 and enjoy your local CoC (there will be more streaming I suspect).

Pride of place goes to France. It is their first national CoC. An interesting competition, limited to places between 20,000 and 200,000 and running every two years. Larger cities are preparing bids for the European title in 2028. The short list of 9 candidates came from a pool of 29 expressions of interest. The successful candidate was Villeurbanne with a programme firmly based around young people. Opens on 7 January.

Italy provides another first. Procida becomes the first island to hold a CoC title. Nearly 400 cities have held a title, several cities on islands but none as an island in its own right. (I discount Singapore as an island-state!). The island, which has been very active in the build up to the year, has a programme of 150 events, 350 artists from 45 countries. Take a drone tour of this fascinating island in the Gulf of Naples.

There was no European Capital of Culture 2021 (ECOC), the first blank year since 1985. The unfortunate Rijeka and Galway from 2020 managed to run a short programme in late 2020 to March 2021 but small consolation for the disruption of their 2020 title year. The 2021 title holders were postponed and will catch up in 2022 and 2023. The three 2022 ECOCs held a joint launch, Kaunas, Novi Sad and Esch-sur-Alzette.

Novi Sad becomes the fifth city outside the EU to hold the title (the list is at the end of the post). Its model, 4P: people, processes, places, programmes, is reflected in the online programme book and in a short video. A longer view gives you a glimpse of the city.

Esch is tackling the regeneration of the city, and incorporates the region across the border in France. The programme has over 2,000 events including 310 performances, 137 exhibitions, 141 concerts and 360 participatory workshops. Its good to see events in Spanish and Portuguese. This article gives a good explanation of the urban decay background and this a wonderful video of time gone by. Watch out for the correct Esch! The director-general for Culture at the European Commission (or her team) made an awkward error!

 Kaunas promises “One big stage for Europe”. The spectacular opening starts on 19 January and involves over 800 artists in more than 100 events. “I think this is like no other ECoC opening, where a city game structure is used to introduce audiences and citizens to the events and themes coming up during 2022,’ says Chris Baldwin, the director of the grand trilogy of Kaunas 2022. One aim of the ECOC is to rediscover the city´s past and “The Jews of Kaunas” book is the first instalment. A quick view of the city.

Coventry was the UK´s COC in 2021. It skilfully delayed its start and runs from May last year to May 2022. One of the more innovative CoCs of recent years. The Reel Store, a permanent immersive digital art gallery opens in March. A review of the first 6 months shows ” Making the arts more accessible is a key focus for the Trust with 43 per cent of tickets being booked by people on lower incomes in the city so far. In this period, 673 local people have taken part in workshops, helping to create events and alongside over 1,500 community dancers, musicians, poets and makers who have taken centre stage as part of events”

Alytus is the Lithuanian CoC. It actually opened on 3 December with a theme of connecting bridges to culture. The video of the opening is well worth skipping through! The bridge theme links 7 platforms during the year. A walk through of the city is here. As usual there are ten smaller CoCs in Lithuania spread around the counties.

Whilst most attention in Slovakia was over the selection of the ECOC in 2026 (Trenčín won), the national CoC was awarded to Revúca. The programme runs from June 2022 to May 2023. “people often do not realize that it is not the icing on the cake – to have theatres, events and even the title City of Culture. It’s more of a starting line. It is an opportunity for you to bring quality, more program and start the city and region for development and better things, “says Karin Kilíková, director of the programme board and project manager of the City of Culture.” View the city and region.

Ukraine had its first CoC in 2021. Two actually as there are two titles, one for larger cities and one for smaller; Mariupol and Slavutych respectively in 2021. The title is organised by the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, The 2022 title holders have been selected but the formalities not yet completed, so watch this space!

As an aside Serbia will join the national CoCs in 2023. Čačak will hold the inaugural title after seeing off 17 other candidates. A walking tour.

The Finno Ugric CoC is continuing. Two candidates for the 2022 title saw Baiterek in the Udmurtia region of Russia being awarded the title. The symbol of the title, a carved wooden bird, the “tsirk” is passed from one title holder to the next. A handy overview of the Udmurtia region is in this video.

In the Krasnoyarsk region of Russia, Lesosibirsk saw off 7 other candidates to hold the 2022 title. This is the longest running regional title and remains competitive. An overview of the cultural life in the city is here. Some videos of the closing ceremony from the 2021 holder give an indication of the vibrant cultural life.

Lewisham becomes London’s third Borough of Culture. A key theme is the call for action on the climate emergency. Let´s hope (and require) all CoCs to take the emergency seriously not only by raising awareness but of limiting their own emissions! A quick snapshot.

Now lets go outside Europe to East Asia. The only competitive title is the Capital City of East Asia, bringing China, South Korea and Japan together. Last year the Culture Ministers agreed that China would have two cities to sit alongside the other two. They also approved the ” ‘Kitakyushu Declaration’ with the aim of promoting new cultural and artistic exchange plans using cutting-edge technologies in the post-COVID-19 era” . In 2018 there was a meeting of ECOCs and the East Asian Cities. Last year a zoom meeting was also held: are we starting to see closer cooperation? In 2022 the four cities are

Wenzhou. This article gives a good survey of the proposal and their aims. Of interest is their ambition to work with ECOCs and Asian CoCs as well as the partner cities in East Asia. A quick trip

Jinan, a city of springs, in Shandong province China. Another quick view of the city of 8 million (perhaps the largest city in recent times to hold a title?)

Oita prefecture in Japan formed its executive committee in December. A walk through with a Studio Ghibli focus.

Gyeongju in South Korea, home to UNESCO World Heritage sites. Its slogan for the year is “Gyeongju that opens culture, peace that connects East Asia”. The city was originally selected for 2021 and now will run its programme in the first half of 2022. A drive and walk through.

Turning now to those CoCs where the organising body chooses the title holder without competition (as in the early years of the ECOC).

Bursa in Turkey is the Cultural Capital of the Turkic World. Türksoy, the organisers, are keen to link their title holders with the corresponding ECOCs (Rijeka and Khiva recently) and have already held a zoom call with Novi Sad. A walking tour.

Cairo as the capital of the Islamic World (Arab Region) is another deferral, from 2020. It now plans “the program to celebrate Cairo as the cultural capital of the Islamic world will be launched in mid-February 2022 and will last all year “. The title will be shared with the original 2022 nominee, Rabat (a walking tour). Yaoundé and Bandung are also listed as being the other regional holders of the Islamic title but I can´t find anything about them.

Rabat joins the select group of cities holding two titles concurrently. It is also the first African Capital of Culture, held over from 2020. Its programme starts on 24 January. In May the title organisers( ULCG Africa) will announce the next title holder in 2023/2024. Two cities, Kinshasa and Kigali, have already applied.

Irbid in Jordan holds the Capital of the Arab World title, another deferral from last year. Very active in preparation, the programme will start either just before or after Ramadan. A quick walk through.

Brasília takes its turn as the Ibero-American CoC. A fascinating video introduction to Oscar Niemeyer´s creation.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (the former USSR minus the 3 Baltic countries) have chosen Karakol in the Issyk-Kul region of Kyrgyzstan as their CoC. The title rotates between the member states. Your introduction to the adventure capital of the region!

There are three nominal CoCs: ones where the country is the host of the next regional political summit. Few seem to put on anything more than a short arts festival. The ASEAN capital is Siem Riep, the nearest city to the Angkor Wat World Heritage site. The Community of Portuguese Language Countries have nominated Angola but little news of any activity. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have made no announcements for two years.

There are the two CoCs organised by Xavier Tudela under his “The International Bureau of Cultural Capitals” umbrella: the American goes to Ibagué  in Colombia and the Catalan to Igualada in Spain.

I have not mentioned the CoC in Belarus. Thousands of artists and cultural workers have been arrested and imprisoned by the dictatorship regime. Support the Belarus Free Theatre as it moves out of Minsk. Updates here.

And a final comment. Be careful: there are many press reports that Arles is a “Capital of Culture”. It is indeed the “CoC for Provence”. It is a title awarded by the regional government and rotates around the region as a tourist marketing promotion. This is a common tool in the tourism world as marketing people catch on the appeal of the “CoC” cachet. Arles has certainly jumped ahead in PR over Villeurbanne!

(And those ECOCs outside the EU? Four cities are still outside the EU. Two more have subsequently joined and there are two who were in but are now out. Bergen and Reykjavik in 2000, Stavanger 2008, Istanbul 2010. Kraków and Prague in 2000 were not yet member states. And no jokes about Glasgow 1990 and Liverpool 2008 please)

Have the Latvian candidates for European Capital of Culture 2027 changed since Simon Anholt visited?

I was listening to the latest podcast between Nick Cull (University of Southern California and expert on public diplomacy) and Simon Anholt (who coined “nation brand” and is a fierce opponent of “nation branding”). In their weekly “People, Places Power” podcasts they discuss various subjects (UK and Brexit, the EU, etc) . This week they tackled cities and their international impact and reputation. And Latvia, or rather Latvian cities, came up. Simon referred to his time when he was an adviser to the Latvian Prime Minister who wanted to improve the country’s international reputation. Simon relates the experience in his recent book “The Good Country Equation” (recommended). In his visits around the country he found that the provincial cities were not too keen on increasing the international profile. His recommendation was to focus on increasing not the national profile but to concentrate on promoting Riga.

Latvia, Riga, the capital, European Capital of Culture in 2014. Now name nine (9) other cities in Latvia. Take a pause but don’t use Google, Bing or Duck Duck Go (or for book lovers, an atlas). It’s called using memory. Nothing? Found just one (and sure that is not in Estonia or Lithuania?). Well, one of those invisible nine will be a European Capital of Culture in 2027. Nine cities are currently preparing their bids. None has a city population over 100,000 and many are much smaller even with the co-option of the neighbouring region. They are due to submit their bid books in June 2021 (and hopefully make them public online following Slovakia’s approach). The Selection Panel will meet in July to shortlist. And a journalist, Philip Birzulis, is helpfully writing about each candidate to let us know something about the candidates.

Each week he focusses on a different candidate city. So far he has done eight and to end your suspense they are (in no particular order, of course)

Ogre,  Cēsis,  Kuldīga, Valmiera, Liepāja , Jēkabpils, Daugavpils,   Jūrmala  Jelgava

The short articles are fascinating. The histories and attractions of the cities clearly show the differences between the cities (and not just in size). What I found missing is a recognition, in almost all of the articles, that the competition is for a European Capital of Culture rather than a Latvian national City of Culture. Neighbouring Lithuania has a annual national title, a legacy of Vilnius 2009. There are clear differences in expectations between the ECOC and a national title. In short, the former is outward looking and the latter more inward looking. One of the few European issues (globalisation versus localism) mentioned by a city in an article was rather put down by the journalist.

The journalist is also a tour guide so it is not unexpected that he highlights the heritage, natural and built, of the cities. These will not help the candidates. There is little on topics of “blocked memory” (which Kaunas 2022 is tackling extremely well). The criteria and scope of the title have changed significantly since Riga held the title in 2014. The Selection Panel will be looking, through six fixed criteria, for a transformational change in the cities. A successful candidate recognises that its current cultural offer is not fit for purpose for the late 2020s and beyond. This becomes even more important as we move to the post pandemic environment and a greater practical implementation of changes (rather than more talk and conferences) to combat the climate emergency. The emphasis is on the cultural offer, not place-making or tourist promotion which are side effects. Audience development, outreach, cultural strategy come to the fore, along with managerial and financial competencies. Key is the “European Dimension”: not simply being in Europe but both showing your own culture but equally importantly letting your own residents see the diversity of cultures in Europe.

It will be very interesting to see the bid books and how they tackle this essential criteria of the “European Dimension”. Have they changed since Anholt’s visits? Are they now actively seeking to engage on European issues? What can they offer to the rest of Europe beyond natural and built attractions and an arts festival?

We look forward to reading the bid books in June!

Wisden 2021: a bumper writing competition

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack appears for the 158th time and in a slimmer edition. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic seriously disrupted global society in 2020 and cricket was not exempt (why should it be!). This edition contains fewer match reports but more articles and commentary. The writing competition remains: the opportunity for non-professional writers to have a short article in the “cricketers’ bible”.

Last year I wrote an analysis of the first eight competitions; how does the ninth outing compare? Well the most visible change is that the entry level has shot up. “In a year of fewer distractions Wisden received 193 entries”.

Before looking in more detail a word of congratulation to this year’s winner, Philip Hardman. His appeal to recognise John Snow in the pantheon of great fast bowlers of the “modern (loosely pre colour television) era” was triggered by the photograph of Snow on the cover of the 1971 Playfair Cricket Annual, the first cricket book he bought. For those who don’t recall Snow’s bowling here is a clip (in black and white) introduced by Richie Benaud. I wonder if the winner of the 59th Writing Competition in Wisden 2071 will look back as nostalgically on Zak Crawley, the cover portrait of this year’s Playfair.

193 entries, that’s nearly double the number for most years. As entrants can write two articles it looks like 29 people entered two articles and 164 people just one. Around three quarters of the entrants were making their debut in the competition. Mr Hardman’s success broke new ground. As I noted last year eight of the nine winners were first timers (the sole exception was on his second entry). Unless there are previous entrants also called Philip Hardman this was his fifth entry. An encouraging breakthrough for those who enter regularly!

This year there is a slight change in the prizes. Unlike the Wisden Photography Competition there is no monetary reward, just recognition and an invite to the annual launch dinner (if held). A year’ subscription to The Nightwatchman will be now thrown in (£34.95 plus shipping). The shortlisted entries (whose authors are not disclosed which is a shame, not even with an * in the list of names) will be published in The Nightwatchman.

Four people remain ever present. Paul Caswell, David Fraser, David Potter and Christopher Sharp maintained their 100% record since the opening competition in 2013. A further seven have scored 7 or 8 entries, making up an all-time XI. (I keep my place). Eleven, including some of the all-time XI have been regulars over the last five years.

Mr Hardman’s article broke several other of the characteristics of winners: he lives in Lancashire (the first to live so far “north”); he does not appear to blog (or tweet) about cricket and, of course, he was not a first timer. His article was in the tradition of writing about cricket rather than the effect cricket has on the author. Clearly John Snow had an effect on the writer but the focus of the article was on Snow.

The short overview of the competition mentions that entries came from an impressive range of countries “Australia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and New Zealand, and also from Belgium, Canada and the Virgin Islands”. My entry from Spain was in there somewhere but as Valencia had a mention last year it is too much to expect an annual tip!.

What I found more interesting was the increase in women entrants. It’s not fully clear from the list of names to identify everyone, there are several unisex names, but it looks like around 5% of the entrants were women. It may appear to be low but it is a significant step forward compared to previous years. There are now more women article writers in Wisden, more match reports from around the world and a catch up in the obituaries section of women cricketers overlooked in the past.

Among the feature articles Emma John’s review of books stands out. No longer a placid run through of the years’ books she transforms this long standing feature to an essential commentary on the culture of cricket. Her reviews of recent books by Duncan Hamilton and Michael Henderson are priceless. Let´s hope she continues in the role to make the feature as indispensable as, and complementary to, the “Notes by the Editor”. There are many who would wish the post pandemic world to return to the past (2019 if not 1971 or even 1951). Articles by Ebony Rainford- Brent and Michael Holding building on their Sky interview on racism in cricket powerfully show that change is needed. Several claims of racial discrimination in cricket are underway and will no doubt be reported on in Wisden 2022.

Perhaps the outstanding sentence in the 1248 pages of Wisden is in the books review “There was nothing published in 2020 that feels like the cricket book we need right now”. It’s not just the Hundred which might bring in changes in 2021.

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

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

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

Selecting the European Capital of Culture: with added transparency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitals and Cities of Culture in 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.