European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Mary McCarthy

Mary McCarthy in Brussels at 25 year celebration of ECoC cities


Mary McCarthy, between 2002-2005 was the director of the winning program of Cork - European Capital of Culture Cork 2005; in the years 2007 to 2008 she acted as an international expert on behalf of the Council of Europe's candidate city evaluation committee for the European Capital of Culture for 2012 and 2013 and is a specialist in the field of cultural policy as well as a national and international expert in the field of art and culture.

Looking back in 2010 by Mary McCarthy

During her presentation in Pecs, October 14, 2010 at the Conference organised by the University Network of European Capitals of Culture, Mary McCarthy started out with following remark: "culture is becoming a serious business, equally much more competitive and therefore as someone working in the cultural sector, she is backing off a bit."

For Cork she things the designation had come too early. Time is needed to prepare. Confidence does not come over night to handle the cultural demand upon a city once it does become a European Capital of Culture, but requires going through a process of maturation. Certainly now Cork has much more self confidence.

There will be going on a look at the legacy left behind by the year 2005. Mary McCarthy feels some of the things are coming out only now. She appraises this out of a perspective on how to imagine the city coming together.

The aim was to give a validation to the culture of the city, including its artists and creative sector. She warns about putting too many expectations upon the artists and the cultural sector since they cannot solve everything. This includes the demand to create new jobs and to help the economy out of the severe crisis in which Ireland finds itself in right now.

- collaborations across different cultural areas by means of festivals not good models but there is a pressure to organise them

- needed are projects which engage other cultures and diverse cultural groups

- projects that would animate and create a mind shift to increase Cork's capacity to be a creative centre

- take the arts and culture into health areas but also prisons to link these actions to what could be termed perhaps public health

- projects which alter the concept of citizenship

How to avoid mistakes:

- it is better to avoid doing too many projects (in Cork there were 250 projects)

- not to overlook the need for free access; it is important to counter economic restrictions

- use culture to awake people and do not reduce it to fire works e.g. opening

- what spaces are used for activating events

Outstanding projects were e.g. barrel project or traditional events like the Cork Harbour Race as part of the Maritime Festival.

Attract thinkers and intellectuals e.g. John Berger to evaluate the concept of a European Capital of Culture.

Attention needs to be given to impact of various institutions such as universities in terms of

- economic activities

- local identity

- confidence

- social and cultural cohesion

Projects with a European dimension involved further development in European translations of poetry but also to promote new technologies.

A failure in communication means not to meet expectations.

Immediate legacy has been greater confidence and therefore more public spending in cultural projects.

Longer term legacy - need to overcome the fact that people were depleted and left. How to sustain a long term programming.

European Capitals of Culture have to be looked at as a laboratory to test new ideas. In addition to fulfilling own ideas the European dimension should be celebrated in terms of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue.

How people connect is a matter of energy and spirit and not so much a matter of buildings. How can cities become more open and tolerant to others and not just like all the other international cities.

There is a danger of EU member states to retract to their national identities.

Certainly five years on Cork has grown in confidence which comes with the recognition and needs further research to understand in which way to go in future. The European Commission needs to rethink the emphasis it gives to competition e.g. in Spain 16 cities competed for the designation to be given for 2016.

She poses the crucial question: is it becoming a branding tool to serve an image or should it rather encourage dialogue? And she reminds culture is not a commodity but a process so that care has to be taken as to how this successful project of European Capital of Culture shall develop further.

HF Pecs 14.10.2010




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