Welcome to my sixth annual preview of cities with a title of Capital or City of Culture (CoC). This year I´m introducing my Awards of the Year.
The Solidarity Award goes to Comrat which was due to be the Commonwealth of Independent States CoC. But Moldova withdrew from the CIS because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So no CIS CoC for Comrat. Principles, and survival, come first.
The Never Give Up Award goes to Leeds. Brexit spoilt their bid to be an ECOC in 2023. Not to give up Leeds 2023 is a year long programme of “explosive creativity”. A role model for unsuccessful candidates. (and a late award to Volterra which was pronounced Tuscan capital of culture in 2022, after being unsuccessful in the Italian CoC for 2021. over 300 events in 2022).
The Blink and You Miss It Award goes to Luanda. The Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries give their CoC to the host of the annual summit (as do several others). Luanda managed their programme in just one week in 2022. No news on the 2023 title holder. No news either of the ASEAN CoC, another which rotates with the chair of the organisation. Indonesia this year.
The Under the Radar Award goes to the Valencian Community. A CoC programme since 2018 managed to escape my notice (and just about everyone else´s). Two title holders (below and above 5,000). In 2023 Geldo (population 700) and Guardamar del Segura (pop 15,000). Who needs PR and marketing?
The It was good whilst it lasted Award goes to the South Asia Association of Regional Cooperation. SAARC is on ice because of regional political differences so no more CoCs.
The Welcome to the Club Award goes to Čačak, the first holder of the Serbian CoC. The programme starts in the Spring ” through four sub-themes that together create one whole: “On Freedom”, “On Morava”, “On the crossroads”, “On the cobblestones””.
The Award for Let´s remember you were the first, and hardest, cities in Europe hit by COVID-19 The Italian Capital of Culture has, exceptionally, two cities this year with no competition. The Italian culture ministry chose Bergamo and Brescia in recognition that the two cities were at the forefront of COVID-19 when it first appeared in Europe. The two have a joint programme BGBC2023 with over 100 projects and 500 initiatives.
The Award for Let´s hope they actually do something is shared by the Arab CoC and the three Islamic CoCs. Tripoli (Lebanon) is the Cultural Capital of the Arab World, organised by ALECSO. The three Capitals of Islamic Culture, organised by ISESCO, are Abidjan (Cote d´Ivoire), Selangor (Malaysia) and Benghazi (Libya). The title holders in these two programmes vary from doing not very much (most of them) to a full programme of arts and conferences (rarely).
The Award for We may have serious financial problems but we will carry on goes to Croydon, the fourth holder of the London Borough of Culture title. The programme starts in the spring so little information so far. A major concern surrounds the programme as the council is deep in debt and has applied for significant central government funding.
The Award for Second Time Around is shared. St Helens holds the 2023 title of Liverpool City Region Borough of Culture, five years after holding the original title. The title rotates between 5 of the 6 districts of the region (omitting Liverpool). San Jose in Costa Rica held the Ibero American Capital of Culture in 2006 and repeats in 2023.
The Award for We are far more than Roman Walls goes to Lugo in Galicia. The only city with its Roman walls intact (2km, 71 towers, 10m+high). It is the Eixo Atlántico CoC (EU Interreg project covering northern Portugal and Galicia in Spain). The programme opens in late February and runs until November.
The Award for Supporting traditional culture whilst imprisoning hundreds of creative workers goes to Slutsk, the Belarus title holder. There are still many cultural workers in prison and artistic freedom is not possible in the country.
The Award for Not Noticing French and English speaking countries goes to the American Capital of Culture “aimed at all the countries of the Americas” which after 24 editions still has not picked a city in the 20 French or English speaking American countries. There is no title this year. The same organisation (Xavier Tudela) has arranged for Lloret de Mar to be the Catalan title holder. Package holiday makers will enjoy a change from the beach.
The Award for Optimistic Budgeting goes to Tauragė the Lithuanian Capital of Culture for 2023. A municipality of 21,000, it will receive €100,000 from the culture ministry and aims for around €500,000 for a full programme.
The Award for Upgrading goes to Shusha. Already nominated by the Azerbaijani government as the cultural capital of the country in 2021, the city gets an upgrade as the Cultural Capital of the Turkic World. At the handover from Bursa “the speakers especially noted that this event was hopeful, proud, and very important.”
The Award for Most Over-looked Cities of Culture is shared by the Cultural Cities of East Asia. Two from China, Chengdu and Meizhou; Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan and Jeonju in South Korea. The cultural ministers met, virtually, in September to formally appoint the cities; good to see the ministers meeting – the heads of government summits have not taken place since 2019. 11 cities competed for the China nomination. There is an interesting review of the Chinese selections since 2013 here. Jeonju (a UNESCO Creative City in Gastronomy) has the largest collection of traditional Hanok houses. It plans 4 major events and 17 projects, mostly festivals. Shizuoka outlines its programme.
The Award for Hey, There are Three of Them Again goes to the European Capital of Culture with three title holders again this year, a consequence of the impact of COVID-19 in 2020 on the programme. Three last year, three next year. Elefsina (or Eleusis) in Greece opens its programme on 4 February under the three themes of “People | Society, Environment, Labour”. Chris Baldwin, fresh from his success at Kaunas, directs the opening event. Timișoara opens over the weekend of 17-19 February. The year long theme “Shine your light – Light up your city! is the motto that reflects the journey from individual to conscious and involved European citizen, in which community values and passion are rooted.” The third title holder is Veszprém-Balaton in Hungary. It opens on 21-22 January with a distinctly national focus on the Hungarian national anthem and the day of Hungarian culture. Very Orbán.
The Award for Let´s Not Forget Mariupol. Readers of my review for 2022 will recall I mentioned the first Ukrainian City of Culture, Mariupol, in 2021. The destruction of the city, its iconic theatre, the mass murder of its citizens, the looting of heritage and arts, the torture, the forced migration of children, all horrors of the Russian invasion. There have been calls for both Kyiv and Kharkiv to be awarded an ECOC title. The Ukrainian Institute, the organisers of the Ukrainian CoC (and now an associate member of EUNIC, the network of cultural relations institutes of the EU and UK), has asked for a boycott of Russian cultural organisations. Accordingly I am simply recording that Yeniseisk is the Krasnoyarsk Region title holder; where the railway was sabotaged this week. Russia has announced its own Capital of Culture programme for 2024. It is unlikely to improve Russia´s international reputation, one of its aims.
I hope these are most of the 2023 CoCs. I suspect there are more lurking unseen in Google in various languages*. More smaller cities/municipalities. CoC programmes are centred on arts events and festivals; few venture into social issues or creative industries and tourism is the main driver for many. Last year saw exceptional CoCs in Procida, Coventry, Kaunas and the first French CoC Villeurbanne. Good to see the emphasis on evaluation in Coventry. Few CoCs get beyond reporting the numbers of events/audiences/tourists. No doubt CoCs, and candidates, will soon be using ChatGPT software to write evaluations and bid books!
Have an enjoyable year!
- I knew it! The Veneto region in Italy has its own CoC. Now in its third edition. Applications are now open for the 2023 title holder, closing date 15 February.