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
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?)
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.
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.
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)