European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

ECoC contributions to Europe connected through culture

When any ECoC city begins to deliberate its artistic and cultural programme, then certain things pertaining to each category of the arts should be kept in mind. For it can set the premise for still further going acts of creativity and fruitful interactions as to what is to be known about not only European, but as well American, Asian, Latin American and African cultures.

The known is often the still unexplored unknown, especially when intercultural and intersubjective perception no longer stays at the level of symbols and images, that is where projections upon the other leads to gross misunderstandings due to fallen victim to stereotypical images.

The connection of Europe through culture can be developed further by including the Mediterranean culture. Thus a key pivot point for setting the terms for a new EU cultural policy can be reflected upon from a vantage point which includes both local-national, European and Non-European terms of references. As Borges stated the Mediterranean has been throughout the history of man the main fountain of inspiration linked to light and the blue sea reflected in the sky and vice versa.

Of interest is that the organisation and network 'Soul for Europe' in its reflection of the new legislation of the EU as to how ECoC cities are to be selected during the period 2020 - 2033, states as point 19 the following:

"Almost every attempt of the ECoC cities to link their cultural program to previous ECoC's programme remains, if it happens, artificial. Therefore, there is no need to ask the designated cities for co-operation and to “seek to develop links” (art 12,1). ASfE proposes that links should instead only be 'welcomed'."(1)

Not sure what is meant by 'artificial', connections need to be made. Afterall, ECoC do not implement their cultural programmes in isolation, and more often than not they reproduce much of the same. The oversight as to what previous ECoCs did, may be explained by the false need to present their programme as if something completely 'new'. Ruhr 2010 was based on the premise of not having to learn anything from previous ECoCs, but this meant ignoring, for instance, what Weimar did in 1999 when ECoC, namely to confront the heritage of classical culture identified with Goethe and Schiller with the fact that there exists the concentration camp of Buchenwald on the outskirts of Weimar during Second World War. In the case of Ruhr 2010 it would have been expected to deal with slave labour in the Third Reich especially within the industrial sector, and therefore to link up with the Slave Museum in Liverpool.

Moreover connections need to be made to fulfil the European dimension. This is said especially in light of the panel making the selection also on the basis of the level and degree of interactions, cooperations and joint projects, the candidate city has developed already with former, current and future ECoCs (the latter in the category of 'candidate cities'). Naturally this comment reflects as well the lack of cultural content and artistic achievements only to be attained if something like a common cultural policy promotes and furthers artists and cultural operators over time. Like the relay run, one city can pick up there, where the other has left off. This would mean intensifying and developing further literature hubs, poetry centres, artists in residence programmes etc.

Yet it is so often the case that cultural and artistic events are but a side issue when evaluations of the impact of the year are made. It reflects the fact that when so much money is being spend on everything else but artistic contents, there is no art historical viewpoint included in the reports, never mind what it means to follow developments in terms of the contemporary arts.

All this may be due to a variety of reasons, for much more effort goes into everything else but cultural work. More often programmes are reduced to slogans like wanting to promote creativity and share knowledge. They become a blurr of events since the main focus shall be if the hotel bookings are up and so much more revenue comes into the city due to visitors spending a lot of their time on food and drinks. So while Greg Richards and his institute for Gastronomy becomes influential in terms of cultural mapping, Franco Bianchini addresses the problem of visitors becoming a part of the alcoholic agora. Already Spyros Mercouris was critical of ECoCs becoming a mere series of festivals ending with fire works, but once over, not much is left. Hence the emphasis by Bob Palmer on the legend a city leaves behind, but then this would be precisely the potential a city has created so that future ECoCs can pick up from there and develop these contents further. If a Rembrandt exhibition was shown in one, then a next theme could be why they are called 'murder pictures' and lead further on to examining which artists could exist alone on the works they produced?

Of interest is to notice that no longer festivals take up space in the programmes being proposed, but lately there is much more talk about actions, projects, even research undertakings. Still, it is still far from recognizing that the quest for knowledge through the arts is a special kind of research. It is open ended and cannot be transformed easily into measurable objectives. A city like the candidate city Siena for 2019 spoke in its bid more about creation of jobs by wishing to use the title to make a fresh start in the city.

Such a wish for revitalization meant in the past urban regeneration. Nowadays there is a shift in focus to be noticed. More importance is attached to innovation assumed to be best done by linking traditional and cultural crafts to what are high tech jobs producing things desired in a global economy with a highly specialized tourist sector. To make that understandable, recourse is taken to metaphysical themes e.g. Orpheus, but the question posed by Ferruccio Marchetti is still in need to be answered. His question was in view of the fate of Orpheus when he left Hades and then turned around to see if his beloved one was following him, so that he lost her by not heeding the warning and instruction, can an artist look back at what he has created and still continue being creative on the same path as before he turned around? That is a deeper artistic and philosophical question. It is important not merely to avoid underrating or under estimating such a question, but likewise alone the posing of the question entails criticism of the widely used term of 'creativity' as if self understood and easy to be brought about, if only the right planning tools are in place.

This is said because bringing about creative hubs is no guarantee for creativity to take place at that place. In the absence of an ethical vision, creativity in terms of human self consciousness is impossible. Rather a more appropriate name should be given to all of this technical intelligence which seeks to invent new things, insofar it does not seek to empower the human being to participate in social life but rather seeks to make the 'user' or customer to work for free while the money gained goes to the owners of the system which steer the entire process. In view of Leeuwarden having a 850 Million budget, it can be wondered what relationship this entails when the city not only relies on volunteers, but also refers to the children who live below or at poverty line? Something is highly disportionate between money being spend and real conditions to be found in a community at the periphery of Holland and Europe.  

The consequence of the new trend is a reduction of culture to interaction based on social media and corresponding communication technologies. Candidate city Siena 2019 wanted to create a platform for intangible heritage. The visitors expected to be attracted to the city during that decisive year were then no longer just those coming to the city, physically speaking, but the ones who went online i.e. visitors to websites and the platform offering digital interactions.

The shift in focus explains the rapid decline in possibilities to trace where cities pick up things where previous ECoCs have left off. But alone the existence of Cafe 9 during 2000 would underline the need for ECoCs which follow to draw some lessons learned out of that two month experiment. 

Hatto Fischer

Athens Nov. 2014


1. ECoC Position Paper No 1 Published on 12th July 2013 by A Soul for Europe



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