European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do


The guide for cities wishing to make a bid underlines the importance that each and every city provides the European Commission with an own evaluation report.

"The European Capitals of Culture (ECoC) were created in 1985 as an intergovernmental initiative and transformed into a European Union action in 1999. The rules were renewed from 2007, developing the effectiveness of the action further. In accordance with these rules, the European Commission ensures the external and independent evaluation of all 2007-2019 ECoC. In addition, a number of ECoC so far have initiated and carried out their own evaluations of the title year, following different models and approaches.
Decision No 445/2014/EU1 (the "Decision") lays down new procedures for the implementation of the ECoC action for the period 2020 to 2033. Regarding more particularly evaluation, the Decision introduces a key modification, i.e. the obligation for all ECoCs 2020-2033 to carry out their own evaluations of the results of the title-year. As part of this new obligation, cities bidding for the title will have to indicate in their application the plans for monitoring and evaluating the impact of the title on the city as well as for disseminating the results of the evaluation."

Source:Commission's guidelines for cities' own applications


General remarks about evaluation

              "In the audit society everything that moves is being evaluated"

                                                             - Franco Biachini

A normal evaluation report considers the relevance, efficiency and effectiveness of having been ECoC throughout the entire “life-cycle”: making the bid, going through pre- and final selection, preparing for the decisive year and evaluating long term impacts.

Here Liverpool '08 serves as a model since it covered a period of 5 years (from 2005 until 2010 with the decisive year being 2008). Its report called 'Impact '08' makes the claim that Liverpool 2008 has been a huge success. In one way this is not really astonishing, since the city attained the highest budget in the history of ECoC cities, for it exceeded 1 Billion. Yet there are numerous articles contradicting this claim especially with regards to the crucial criterion of participation by the people, such as by Francesca Battistoni (2011) „Liverpool 2008 : capital of whose culture? The cities on the edge project“ Tafterjournal n. 42 - dicembre 2011 -numero speciale .

For official report by Liverpool, see

Aarhus University has developed an entire evaluation strategy along some clear thematic lines, see Rethink IMPACTS 2017 - role of the University of Aarhus

Further learning steps can be gained by looking at what other cities preparing for their decisive year are doing. For instance, has adopted the model of Liverpool and shall likewise be doing an longitude evaluation lasting over a period of 5 years so as to cover the time period 2014-2019.

Evaluation can pin-point various positive and negative effects covering an entire range from logos, design, to the quality of the cultural programme and how the image of the city has been changed (city branding).

It is clear from all of this that the European Commission has drawn some conclusions out the experiences made so far (until 2011/2012). In a wish to avoid some of the mistakes from being repeated by future ECoCs, for the new selection period 2020 - 2033 there has been established the need that each city which has been designated the title will one year after completion provide the European Commission with its own evaluation report.

Hence it is stated that

"Article 16 of the Decision defines the cities' and the Commission's responsibilities and obligations as follows:



(a) a first interim evaluation report by 31 December 2024;
(b) a second interim evaluation report by 31 December 2029;
(c) an ex-post evaluation report by 31 December 2034."

All this serves the purpose to guide the European Commission in future deliberations about this particular project claimed to be one of the most successful ones of all European projects the Commission has initiated.

The purpose of the document is to animate in a positive way each ECoC to carry out their own evaluation of the results of the title-year. For this purpose the European Commission "provides cities with a set of common indicators to use as well as common guidelines in the form of a list of questions cities should ask themselves when deciding to bid as an ECoC and planning their evaluation procedures."

However, this effort towards a standardization of all the criteria to be used for evaluation purposes can lead easily to a new kind of conformity. If so, it would be in contradiction to the wish of the European Union to uphold cultural diversity as cultural value within Europe. In the end such a strong emphasis and focus upon a standardised way of evaluating cultural capitals may force all cities into a much greater conformity to the rules of the new power game for the sake of the economy, that what is being admitted up front. This trend is already being questioned in following way:

"We have for some time been looking into the effects of neoliberalism on culture, identity, and institutions – effects that have included ‘audit culture’ (Marilyn Strathern), self-branding, and the subsuming of any collective ‘voice’ into individualistic ‘consumer power’ (Nick Couldry). At the same time, we have struggled with the fading importance of structural inequalities in the minds of policymakers." - Anna Carlile "Creative spaces for collective voices" :Discourse, Power, Resistance 15 with following website:

Conformity at the expense of leaving structural inequalities unresolved can lead towards an urban society no longer basing its political judgement on practical wisdom as nourished by its cultural diversity. Lewis Mumford pointed out a long time ago a city is not an organization which can be planned and organized in just one certain way. Rather it has its own dynamic and this means from the side of the political authorities, there has to be given such degree of freedom that its creative powers can unfold and be truly innovative. This requires freedom of expression but also an independence from the defining powers of the day. Such freedom would no longer be upheld if the dialectic between 'public space and public truth' (Bart Verschaffel) came to an end. But this would be not the only possible negative outcome.

Something else should be kept in mind since by seeking a standardization of indicators, the European Commission contradicts itself. The document states that every city is unique. Hence no model used by an ECoC can be simply copied and adopted by another ECoc. That would lead to certain failure. Moreover artistic impulses cannot be reproduced despite the thesis of Walter Benjamin that the arts have moved already into the age of being reproducible. This should be kept in mind since the guide states explicitly:

"There is no standard template for (the) programme. Every city is unique. Its programme reflects its needs and objectives whilst meeting the formal ECOC criteria."

So how to meet the criteria not just once but over time? One implicit answer is given by the guide, namely 'consistency'. Over and again consistency is stressed because there might be changes over time e.g. during five years municipal elections can take place and alter who is mayor. Thus it is important to retain the vision and concept of the original bid. As a matter fact, it is being taken as contract by the city and therefore further developments are measured in terms of this first commitment.

What an ECoC bid should not entail

EU demand



A forward-looking programme.

It should not be merely an expression of the existing cultural heritage or of its current vibrant cultural offers i.e. not a variation on the UNESCO or European heritage labels.

The programme put forth serves  as contract by which the jury can evaluate the consistency of the city over time, and hence the importance that the city is really committed, the indepence of the artistic director guaranteed and the people participate truly.

 Not business as usual.

Some candidates have submitted bids by pulling together their existing cultural activities under an “ECOC” banner. They were not successful. The ECOC is awarded on the basis of a specific programme over and above the normal cultural activity of a city.

Intended by the EU Commission is a demanding cultural programme which challenges even at times difficult to resolve issues e.g. Manibor and the attitude of the local population that nothing will change, hence there is no point in becoming engaged. This preference of long term changes over short term successes requires, however, a mediation and link between confidence building measures so as to take on greater challenges in future.

Capacity building requires some progression in many fields, including greater European awareness and interaction as a result of being ECoC for one year.

 Antwerp '93 sub-divided its budget into three components: 1. upgrading existing activities by giving them the logo and helping to improve their communication strategy; 2. platform events for politicians to make their appearances, as is mentioned as well in the new guide book e.g. May 9th Europe day or the Melina Mercouri Prize being awarded, that leading politicians from the EU should be invited; and 3) funds for new creative acts since Antwerp followed through the concept of culture meaning 'doubt'. Eric Antonis commissioned 20 new opera pieces, 19 of which were performed for the first time in 1993, the year when Antwerp was ECoC.

The same activities can be valorized differently due to a change of context and not just local, but European standards are introduced due to a change in audiences.

"Business as usual" is an assumption of the times being 'normal', whereas the crisis leaves more often in its wake the perversion of taking the abnormal to be the normal e.g. see the peace fence in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Not a tourist-led project.

One of the objectives of the programme is to raise the international profile of a city through culture. Most ECOCs have experienced an increase in tourism; this is a success 8

Here a clear contradiction becomes evident, for while the programme should not be tourist-orientated, nevertheless increase in tourism is named as an indicator of success.

There has to be made a careful distinction between gain in reputation world  

 A European (international) programme

 This is a European project. Programmes must highlight both the common features and the diversity of cultures in Europe. The overall vision of the event must be European and the programme must have an appeal at European – and international – level.

The European dimension is elusive, especially if an attempt is made to link the local with the European level when the gap between citizens and the European Union has become larger, not smaller. The local requires an opening so that reflections grasp an opening in the clouds, so that the sun can shine through. Local, present and a sense of history means another impetus gives opportunities another signifcance. In turn, there is a danger that the European plane touches down for a brief moment and then takes off again as if this symbolic link suffices. In Liverpool there was expressed a relief that the highly paid caravan full of Eurocrats and other famous experts move on and let the city return to what it needs to go forward: calmness. To this can be added confidence that this missing link can be resolved by giving citizens equal rights.

 It is a cultural project

Many ECOCs have gained significant economic or social benefits from an ECOC: city infrastructure, physical regeneration, inward investment, increased pride in the city etc. These are positive side benefits. At its heart the ECOC is a cultural project aimed at citizens, artists and cultural operators and those who use their creativity skills in many sectors of society.

Too many ECOCs  have misunderstood the concept of culture and reduced it to be a mere factor for the economy. Somehow the European Commission repeats this mistake even though it declares this to be a cultural project. The concept 'culture' may be fluid, but it has to do with people wishing to come together and not be isolated. Only when there is a true sense of community, can culture be said to be the best binding force through honesty and openness. That makes understanding of the other possible.

 A city can challenge itself.

An ECOC is an opportunity to explore the darker side of a city’s history. For example Linz2009 tackled its connection with the Nazi period. Liverpool08 explored its role in the slave trade.

Whoever wrote this part of the text did not check the details. Both examples are unique since they took place before the special year started. In Liverpool the museum opened in 2007, in Linz the exhibition about Hitler was opened late 2008. Liverpool was ECoC in 2008, Linz in 2009. There is no proof that Linz due to having been ECoC learned to deal with its difficult past differently. Likewise the slave museum in Liverpool has its own story and concentrates on the colonial trade. A museum covering slavery and the use of slave language has to be far more comprehensive if to do justice to this subject. It is not known if either in Liverpool or in Linz these two respective themes were really treated during the decisive year.

 It is a long-term commitment.

The preparation, development and delivery periods take 6-7 years of sustained, continual effort. The legacy lives on; many ECOCs are still benefitting from their year decades later. Others, less successful, have to deal with the negative consequence of failing to live up to expectations. Holding an ECOC title brings considerable benefits to those cities willing to commit themselves.

Having to sustain this effort, and then fail, that requires some philosophical reflections. Bloch spoke about founded hope, for when you fail, you learn. There is no need for seld admonishment. Other case is political influence upon the action prevented the artistic direction from becoming a clear articulation of honesty.


The definition of 'success'

The time it takes to prepare the bid is often under estimated. Hence it is said explicitly those cities which start late have less of a chance to make it.

Once the bid has been made and the city manages to be short-listened, then the second phase puts emphasis on what progress has been made since the original bid was declared. While the original design may indicate mere potentials, in this second phase it matters what of this has already been realized so that expectations can be fulfilled. Naturally many more challenges await a city once the title has been designated.

All along what is often mentioned only indirectly, but plays a huge role is participation. Since phases a city goes through before and after the designation until the decisive year, are ever more demanding, care has to be taken not to lose the original support giving by the people both of the city and abroad. What is required at all times is best circumscribed by the term 'management of expectations'. Since nothing concrete can be offered at first, anything driven by a vision for the future is going to experience ups and downs. The key to this problem is not only the degree of participation but also the kind. Without understanding what makes a crucial difference, nothing can be altered and then there is the added risk that people are exhausted even before the crucial year starts. Participation begins needless to say with the fact that people feel that they and their opinions are taken into consideration. Culturally speaking, here enters a difficult terrain since it includes deeper wishes and thoughts, but also doubts and resignations.

Maribor may be cited here as a good example of trying to tackle the a priori judgement that nothing will change and therefore the people stay phlegmatic. Such an attitude is quite challenging when aspiring to do something exceptional, something which touches and uplifts at the same time the human spirit. Given general inclinations to belief in certain things and not in others, a lesson can be drawn from Homer's Odyssey as this classical narrative gave people above all 'confidence'.

There is as well a more general condition in need to be taken into account. What can be done, what not, when not merely the city but the entire society has gone through a deep crisis and is still unsure if the exit to that crisis is close by, and this while the entire continent is hovering at the brink of a n economic stagnation? Since each city retains the knowledge of having gone through different development phases independent from the rest of society, it can become a viable proof of some independence from even global factors. It depends on making some extraordinary and substantial efforts best indicated by leading in the kinds of interventions. If done well, they can inspire others while other cities just tag along as if in a trace and not really aware as to what is happening to the overall social fabric. For instance, alone the quality intervention when restoring former industrial buildings for re-use can bring about a new form of existence based on design, aesthetics and sustainability.

Keeping pace over time is equally important. Thus those who were slow to start, they may well end up being first in goal while those who started too early have exhausted themselves. The competition is like a marathon race with the theme of the loneliness of the long distance runner most telling. For every city competes mainly against itself since it can easily fall prey to the usual forces which wish to capitalize on the opportunities offered but never leave so much a substantial trace behind while taking all the money with them.

Success can be established by showing that money has not been squandered but was spent wisely. Above all, it does not leave right away the city after the year is over but is retained in the local economy. Here a distinction needs to be made in how resources were allocated, and whether not only the holding of events was financed, but real investments in culture were made. The latter makes a difference in terms of sustainability.

Sustainability cannot be only for the short run, but must serve equally a purpose for the long run. Care needs to be taken not to reduce this to only material outcomes as evidence of having created a long lasting legacy. Naturally there is often a combination of building and hosting of events which can substantiate the claim of the year having made a definite difference in the city when compared to how things were before. For instance, Graz managed to construct finally a concert venue which had been blocked in the years before 2003 due to much political in fighting. Clearly to claim success, it has to be shown what was done for the benefit of all people to make a difference in the life of the city and even beyond that has been a substantial contribution to the Institution of European Capital of Culture.

In the case of Marseille 2013, criticism has been levelled by focusing on iconic buildings in the port area, the northern part and therefore the poorer area of the city was neglected. Since it is true that not everything can be done, it depends what theory was applied to instigate a new type of cultural development. It seems too often a kind of growth pole model is adopted with spill over effects being merely hoped for, but they do not materialize. The applied measures fail to have an outreach so as to have an impact upon the remote areas of the city which have been neglected until now. The same applies to the usual duality which comes into play with main focus being on restoring the historical centre for tourist purposes while neglecting completely all those living in suburbs without any cultural infrastructure. In Wroclaw this has become a dilemma since the supermarkets on the outskirts of the city are deemed to be the new churches of the 21st century, that is where everyone congregates as nothing else is being offered in these endless high rise apartment blocs reminding of the socialist buildings of the past.

While outcomes are often limited to scopes within the city, it matters whether or not the European dimension has been fulfilled. Most cities have not, and if they made any corrections like Liverpool '08 after having received some criticism by the jury, then it amounts at best to some cosmetic touch but which leaves behind a bad taste.

Also it has to be said plainly that a true success is not achieved by giving to people merely hope. It would mean to resign, while to live is not to resign (Albert Camus). Rather if inspired to be courageous in how they live, then they break out of the usual pattern of conformity which defines their 'well being' but negatively. There is a difference between setting constraints to become creative and accepting limitations so that no free expression is even tried since resignation rules a priori that it is of no use. What matters and will make a difference is that preparing and living through a whole year truly inspires people to do precisely what a culture having come alive consists of mainly, namely to live consciously.

Unfortunately 'success' as criterion is defined by the European Commission for the selection process from 2020 onwards until 2033 more than as the capacity to bring about the 'new'. Here some doubt has already been articulated by Adorno who criticized this orientation for the search of the new of the new may well end up being forced to flee back into old structures. This is especially then the case if these structures have remained untouched by the events.

The same critical question applies to European values, for they are set and cities are expected to uphold them. At the same time, the economic and political developments within Europe upset these values and reproduce malfunctioning relationships till another crisis erupts. The real question should have been whether or not the new guideline for cities to undertake their own evaluation corresponds to upholding such cultural values which make possible human relationships?

Moreover there is the overall question, whether ever such a success can be achieved which amounts to initiating such a change which is to the benefit of all.

To remind as well art implies resistance if there is a dictate leading only to conformity with already leading artists saying that political connections count ever more and curators having all the power. Hence much of the same is being reproduced with success being considered to making a difference in this conformity. The press will then celebrate it as something outstanding and already the very lack of substantial criticism will mean art has been subordinated to mere marketing strategies to which even the best artists can fall victim to. How to make a name and keep the reputation in a hard fought for claim to success. Worrisome is if the arts are then appraised in the end only what prize they fetch.

Also a theatre director like Grotowski would evade the dictate of any cultural policy if it means but a coercive power to produce much of the same as if theatrical performances can be compared with an industrial production line, and therefore so many plays per year have to be performed to make the support of the state worthwhile. There is no space for failures in such a scheme. Grotowski answered to this in his own way by engaging in research rather than in directing and therefore producing one play after another. That took him out of his own context so that when an artist begins to flee, it means other experiences have become of crucial importance so as to retain vitality of the creative spirit.

Hatto Fischer





Example 1:

Obviously the evaluations undertaken on behalf of the European Commission in the past are of quite a different calibre. Hence it shall be crucial to study these various evaluation reports, in order to see what lessons can be drawn out of them.

Evaluation of the European Capitals of Culture in 2012, Guimarães (Portugal) and Maribor (Slovenia)


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