European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Candidate cities - learning from the past what has an impact

How candidate cities learn from past experiences – or what they consider to be a successful implementation - that is an important process. It shows with what cities can identify themselves when examining previous ECoCs and their stories. As it underlines the importance of a continuity of learning, the need to reunite former, current and future ECoCs within a network which can sustain a common archive has to be stressed again. Right now, the cultural cooperations between cities extends itself fore mostly to the partner city which holds the title during the same year, while looking at other ECoC cities which have already received the designation and are preparing themselves for the decisive year.


Example: Cluj Napoca – candidate city in Rumania for 2021

Of interest is here how the title is perceived and interrpetated, so as to find the legitimate ground for how to activate resources, in order to make the bid possible.

The story

The initial idea of the "European city of culture" is said to have originated from a chat between former actress Melina Mercouri, then Greece’s Minister of Culture, and her French counterpart, the charismatic Jack Lang, while they were waiting for a flight at Athens airport in January 1985.


From the beginning, the European Capitals of Culture aimed to build bridges between European countries, bringing Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values.


The European City of Culture programme was launched in the summer of 1985, with Athens being the first title-holder.

Cultural impact

The impact of the programme was strong, both culturally and from a socio-economical point of view, a large number of tourists choosing to explore the European Capitals of Culture each year after its launch.


Today the European Capitals of Culture are Europe’s most ambitious collaborative cultural project both in scope and scale, with budgets far exceeding those of any other cultural event.


Assessment by Cluj Napoca Comments (HF 3.10.2014)

Measures in numbers:

  • Almost 60% of the number of residents of the city of Luxembourg visited the ECOC events in 2007, where 139 cross-border projects have been implemented with partners from the Greater Region.

  • The same year, 73 official international delegations were received at Sibiu.

  • 12% more tourists visited the city of Liverpool in 2008, than the year before, 10 million people attended at least one cultural event and all the children from all the schools in the city participated in at least one cultural activity during that year.

  • For Stavanger, 2008 brought collaborations, co-productions and exchanges with 54 countries.

  • In 2009 Linz hosted 200 cultural projects, which generated a total number of 7,700 events, involved 5,000 artists and increased the regional GDP with a total of 8.4 million euros.


Cultural statistics

  • Ratio: population size / nr. of events needs to be understood in terms of public street events with no charge in relation to more restricted events at what scale, in order to assess the complexity of interactions made possible, so as to assess the level of cultural competence required for active participation

  • If the term 'capital' would include official meetings e.g. by the Cultural Committee of the European Parliament, then assessment can be made in terms of European and international reputation gained

  • Tourists / different age groups e.g. in Thessaloniki, it was found out greatest participants were single women with high income

  • Projects not only initiated, but not completed or never started despite having been in the bid book

  • Linz is a good example of being able to boost in numbers but it was not supported in the end by the free cultural sector nor sustained by criticsm

 Cultural impact

The impact of the programme was strong, both culturally and from a socio-economical point of view, a large number of tourists choosing to explore the European Capitals of Culture each year after its launch.

What people both inside and outside can understand and therefore support

Most programmes are culturally weak in terms of cohesion as there is an obvious gap between flag ship projects with high visibility in terms of the media / press while smaller projects go unnoticed and are often ill prepared.  Also a large number of tourists coming to the city does not mean they will understand better the intricate life in that city, especially if they are kept only to safe areas.


Today the European Capitals of Culture are Europe’s most ambitious collaborative cultural project both in scope and scale, with budgets far exceeding those of any other cultural event.

Criticism of budget

Whether the European Capitals of Culture are Europe’s  ambitious collaborative cultural project both in scope and scale, with budgets far exceeding those of any other cultural event, has to be questioned both in terms of what is meant by collaboration and what priorities determine the budget e.g. if 20% is spend on public relation exercises to convince it has been a success, while participation in terms of content is close to zero. Missing is a clear indicator what investments in culture are made and how they are accounted for in short, medium and long term. Crucial is the overall strategy for cultural adaptation needs to changing conditions and how this is going to be financed.

Long term impact / part of unmeasurable impact: development of the city

However, the European Capital of Culture title is first of all a process of development for a city, both in terms of its image and infrastructure, and of its cultural sector and citizens. The positive impact of this process on the cities can be felt many years after the programme is concluded. The well-inspired phrase: "Luxembourg 2007 starts in 2008," was written in the city’s project at that time. The long-term effects of the programme are very varied, some of it being measurable, others less.

Stories told

A good measure is what stories people tell each other long after the year has receded in history. In Linz, people have not only forgotten the year, but do not wish to be reminded thereof. Of course, all that depends whether or not the concept allows such improvements in international communication, but why Linz never used fully Ars Electronica, for example, is a mystery. Key to that question may be how to combine ongoing with outstanding activities, and thereby make a cultural difference.


Beyond their short-term impacts, the Cultural Capitals always seem to leave behind a legacy that no other similar European project is able to achieve. The first type of legacy, highlighted by several cities, which held the European title, is the one directly related to the development of the cultural infrastructure. Newborn and renovated locations during the year of the capital are still functional after this event, which bring a considerable contribution to the city’s capacity to host cultural events, therefore making them more appealing to its residents.

The effects of the program tend to extend even to other areas of the local economy. Suggestive examples of this kind of impact were registered in

  • Luxembourg 2007, where Rotonde Grande, a building originally intended for the industrial production of trains was restored as a meeting place for cultural events;

  • in Lille 2004, the Maison Folies, a series of old industrial buildings have been hosting cultural exhibitions, performances and workshops since the year of the capital;

  • a new stadium was built on the docks in Liverpool in 2008;

  • a new contemporary art center opened in Salamanca in 2002 and

  • also in Stavanger in 2008.

These projects were planned before the implementation of the capital programme in some cases, but the prospect of becoming the European Capital of Culture always served as a catalyst for their completion.

Sustainability or myth of a city

Certainly this is true of many cities starting with Athens 1985 which has created the 'theatre of the rocks', Madrid opening up new parks, Glasgow converting a church into a cultural centre down town etc. At a larger scale, Genoa achieved a transformation by removing the overhead road system blocking the view from the old town of the port. Also most crucial is gain in competence and ability to take on greater challenges by developing further cultural resources. But this has to go as well in a qualitative direction e.g. Cork enhancing the skills of translators of poetry.

Interesting would be how diversified a local economy becomes once linked to yearly or biannual events e.g. building floats for the yearly Festina festival in Palmero (a good example although the city was never ECoC)

  • the conversion of former industrial buildings has become a modern trend by transforming them into 'creative hubs', but with a strong industrial taste

  • artistic spaces need to stay at affordable prizes and not all spaces should be restored by being literally an overkill of past remnants, for unruly and wild places are also sources of inspiration with a unique value

  • most of the time these restitutions are linked to cultural / industrial heritage designated investment programmes but do little for the contemporary art scene, and more often than not things are started too late and only finished way after the decisive year.

Investments in infrastructures / cultural heritage

In addition to the objectives, which focus on the cultural development, the cities have massively developed the transportation and tourism infrastructure, and invested in the preservation of heritage buildings, changing the urban geography and the economic potential of the city forever.

Politicians never make mistakes when promoting cultural heritage

The risk to become ever more mono functional in an age which erases cultural differences due to global pressures means a real predicament of culture (James Clifford) has to be faced, namely how to modernize without losing the character of the place. It means also identifying the economic potential of the city.

Social and economic cohesion in the city-region

The infrastructure development has always been accompanied by a development in the sense of social cohesion of the city or region. Volunteering projects, involving all components of social structures have been implemented, mobilizing citizens from the young to the elderly, from the periphery to the central areas, from the wealthier people to the ones with lower income.

Cultural cohesion

Some cities never reach that cultural consensus needed to unify the population. Instead as has been the case in Marseille 2013 a culture of discrimination reinforces even more so the social and economic differences between the rich and the poor. Also by focusing on key tourist areas, other parts of the city are neglected whether now in Pecs with regards to the suburban areas or in Marseille the northern suburb.

Citizen participation: volunteers

The active participation and inclusion of the citizen have become key elements in the success of Cultural Capital projects.

  • Patras (Greece) has developed a novel concept for volunteers in 2006, who had the opportunity to become ambassadors for the city, thus empowering citizens and leading them into the sphere volunteer service, combining work with diplomacy.

  • In 2008, Liverpool (United Kingdom) gave the inhabitants of the whole district of Meyerside the chance to become the official hosts of the city and

  • in 2004, Lille (France) used the entire school system of the city to prepare young volunteers.

Civic society and cultural sector

There has not been any serious study of how civic society and an active artistic / cultural sector intertwine, but since cultural participation brings about an enhanced literacy allowing for greater participation in politics, it would mean active citizenship can also influence the agenda and how resources are spend. Instead libraries, theatres are closed and even public radio /TV is pushed aside for the sake of making way for private and commercial enterprises, until any sense of public good is missing due to the absence of a real competition between private and public institutions. The latter like civic society itself has not only money as sole motive and orientation. Hence the dialectic between public truth and public space has to be safeguarded by a ECoC if the exploitation of volunteers is to be avoided.

Resolving conflicts

The Cultural Capital has now become a well functioning mechanism for the resolution of interethnic conflict and inclusion of disadvantaged people. The role of being a bridge between the people in Europe has now developed in being a link between different social worlds.

Culture of peace

Repeatedly it has been observed that even while human rights, inclusion etc. have appeared in the agenda of European Capitals of Culture, in reality they have devoted little time, energy and resources to learn how to resolve conflicts, while neglecting in practice inclusion of Roma or migrants despite paying lip service to diversity.

Opportunity to bring people, culture and city together

In its essence, the idea of ​​European Capital of Culture brings together people, cultures and cities - the three essential components without which a project like this can not exist - and instills a sense of pride and belonging to the local and to the European community as a whole. This is how the title becomes one unique opportunity for cities and their citizens, but also for the European Union as a whole.

Lost opportunity

Most cities, when looking back, regret at all the missed opportunities, due to having concentrated on wrong priorities which were forced upon the agenda by a single 'value' orientation, insofar everything had to contribute to the economy or was related in terms of success to economic indicators. That left culture and especially the artistic sector speechless, literally speaking. Like birds they had only crumbs which fell of the table to eat. Moreover, the European dimension has gone missing in almost all cities due to their exclusive focus on re-branding their image and not really taking care as to what is happening to culture within the European Union.




















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