European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Keys to Success

Experience made during this one decisive year

The term 'experience' needs further clarification. It is entailed in the question by Spyros Mercouris. After he listened to all the statistical reports given by various European Capitals of Culture cities to prove their success stories, and after hearing Liverpool's research team put figures into context so that the story can be told on the basis of a cultural impact assessment, he asked but what experiences do people take away with them after having been to one or another event in due course of this one year?

Evaluation and Cultural Impact Studies

Eric Antonis said as conclusion of the 10th workshop on 'European Capitals of Culture' as part of the Fifth Seminar, 'Cultural Actions for Europe' held in Athens 1994 that culture is the most difficult to evaluate.

Bob Palmer has attempted to substantiate that through concrete programs things become real. However, he warned during the 25 year celebration of European Capitals of Culture held in Brussels 2010 that there is a danger of this institution becoming solely Cultural Industries.

This trend is underlined by what Bob Scott stresses if a city is to have success, namely to ensure good communication. In fact it means going to the media but also this new dependency upon the media makes a city become primarily focused on what overall image is being conveyed during this decisive year. Something has to catch the attention of the media but this would also reduce culture to avert advertisement strategies designed for the sole purpose to suit and to serve the city e.g. to have one event like a mechanical giant spider going through the streets of Liverpool. That is a spectacle not a cultural action. Over and again it needs to be said culture requires long term investments and these are very different from what managers think needs to be done to register at city hall a success story.

Of course, the European Capitals of Culture can narrate since 1985 various success stories but rarely culture is not understood in terms of the  European dimension. Culture is about working through contradictions in order to realize what is not self-understood. It is about being open and ready to face an uncertain future. Where there are no answers given, mankind must rely on creative capacities. It is also about facing failures openly in order to learn out of them. Retelling a story of how things were without beautifying them or by not creating heros in retrospect when there were none, that is a part of that authentic story. To tell them it requires 'integrity of memory' (Michael D. Higgins).

It is also important what Bart Verschaffel says about the artistic director of Antwerp '93, namely that if you talk to Eric Antonis even today, that you are talking to the whole city. He has understood to build up cultural infrastructures and knows what cultural resources Antwerp has available, in order to undertake still further cultural actions.

Cork gained in confidence after that one year in 2005 and is now willing to take on new tasks. It underlines as well what Bart Verschaffel points out as being a likely pitfall for cities. He says it is natural that all cities are eager to receive this designation for one year but very few are really up to it once that year comes around. Bob Palmer would pin-point reasons for such failure is not to prepare well enough the programme for the entire year.

Certainly people in Thessaloniki expressed after the year was over that they would wish to have the chance to do it all over again but this time without the mistakes they made. In retrospect they realized among many other things how crucial it is that political intervention is kept in check in order to guarantee the independence of the artistic director

Transfer of Knowledge from former to current and future ECOC's

The Commission wishes to encourage the sharing of good practice, which is essential for the success of the European Capital of Culture event. Indeed, the preparation for such an event is a long and complex process which necessitates, in particular, a clear concept and outline and implementation of local structures and strategies.
In this context, the candidate cities are invited to take advantage of the experience of the former European Capitals of the culture.

In addition to compliance with the criteria specified above, the experience of the previous Capitals of Culture can be used to highlight certain factors which prove to be important for the success of the event. They can be called "keys to success".

The keys to success

Although there is no real key to success for an event such as the European Capitals of Culture, the experts who have organised the Capitals of Culture, the panels which have evaluated the applications and the results of a summary report ordered by the Commission (the "Palmer Report") underline the following elements:

1. It is essential to thoroughly prepare the concept well in advance on the basis of the objectives and criteria for the event and to have very clear ideas on intended actions. Above all, the application must present a clear, coherent vision of the year in question, established in light of the "philosophy" of the title and the criteria set out in the Decision. A simple compilation of different events or projects cannot constitute the one-year programme for the European Capital of Culture.

2. Public commitment to the programme and the budget must be firm and constant throughout the preparatory phase for the Capital of Culture.

3. The structure created for planning and running the event must be given sufficient financial and administrative capacity. The quality of the contacts and networks which it will establish with civil society is fundamental in this respect.

4. The selection of the partners and projects for the programme is one of the crucial aspects of preparation, particularly in the context of the "European Dimension" of the event.

It is therefore important to

5. One of the factors of success for the Capitals of Culture in the past has been the city's capacity to involve both stakeholders in the cultural and socio-economic world and the local population. The event will have to reconcile artistic standards with public enthusiasm.

6. In order to unite the stakeholders in the cultural and socio-economic world in a common project, it is first of all important to consult the cultural operators in the field, i.e. to design the event using a "bottom-up" approach.
On the subject of partnership with stakeholders in the socio-economic world, we can give the example of Lille, which managed to mobilise socio-economic partners with the active participation of sponsors. It should be borne in mind here that the sponsors contribute on average 13% to the resources budgeted for a Capital of Culture (source: Palmer report). This cooperation is essential, particularly in the transport sector. In 2004, the SNCF provided connections between Lille and many cities in both France and abroad at particularly favourable rates, especially for the Lille 2004 event.

7. The organisers of the event will have everything to gain from highlighting the special features of the city. The previous Capitals of Culture stress that it is useful to start with local culture and then work outwards to include other cultures: in other words, they recommend building the event from the city's own roots.

8. It is important for the programme to be forward-looking, without neglecting the history of the city underpinning its identity. This means that the innovative nature of the event and, in this context, the emphasis laid on contemporary cultural forms and the capacity to foster creativity by involving local and European artists, are of the utmost importance. The programme will be supported by a cultural dynamism which surpasses the historical assets of the city, namely the richness of its heritage.

9. The sustainable nature of the event is a parameter to be integrated into the project at the time of its design: the follow-up to the Capital of Culture year must be envisaged before the year in question.
The challenge at the heart of the "European Dimension" and "City and Citizens" criteria is therefore to develop a well-balanced project, promoting the special features of the city as elements of European cultural diversity while conveying an attractive image at international level and arousing the interest and enthusiasm of the local population and those further afield.

10. The communication campaign directed at the city, the region and beyond is a key factor in the programming of a Capital of Culture and is planned far in advance.

11. Independence from the political authorities of the artistic director and the structure responsible for implementing the programme can prove crucial in a Capital of Culture's preparations. Some previous Capitals of Culture suffered considerably from the direct involvement and omnipresence of the political authorities in the structure responsible for implementing the programme. It must be borne in mind that a city's preparations for the title take at least six years and that policymakers may change over this period.



European Capitals of Culture: Success Strategies and Long-term Effects - a study commissioned by the European Parliament and coordinated by Beatriz García and Tamsin Cox

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