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Mark Hughes, A tale of two cities of culture: Liverpool vs Stavanger

Monday 14 January 2008

Note: the part about Liverpool can be found as well at Mark Hughes: A Tale of Two Cities of Culture: Liverpool vs Stavanger

Of interest is that Mark Hughes makes a very good resume at the end of some other ECoCs as to what they aimed for, what happened in reality and what legacy has been created or not as a result of having been ECoC for one year.


* Population: 117,000
* Unemployment: 1.1 per cent
* Life expectancy: Men 77, women 82
* Year of Culture budget: £28.5m
* Orchestras: Stavanger Symfoniorkester
* Art Galleries: Rogaland Kunstmuseum, Rogaland Kunstsenter
* Major artists: Jan Groth, New York-based modern artist

While Liverpool cheered at the sight of Ringo Starr shouting his love for the city, the celebrations nearly 600 miles away in Stavanger had a distinctly more regal feel to them.

The "other" Capital of Culture held its opening ceremony on Saturday night, a day later than its British counterpart, and, somewhat surprisingly, drew a bigger crowd: an estimated 50,000 people crammed into Stavanger's city centre, among them the King and Queen of Norway.

They kicked off their year of culture with a huge parade through the streets of the city and were entertained by performances from artists at various venues in the city centre before the obligatory firework display brought proceedings to a close.

However, it's fair to say that Stavanger 2008 had not been as hotly anticipated as the Merseyside version. Some local artists, musicians and performers have refused to give their backing to the event. And the organisation "Ka da ittepa?" ("What then after?") believes the year may have no lasting effect. Other critics have said that, with a budget of 300m kroner (nearly £30m), the culture year is a waste of money. The crowds on Saturday may have shown that the dissenting voices are in the minority, but why did the city bid for the title?

Unlike Liverpool, it is not using the year of culture as a chance to regenerate the city. Nor is it bracing itself for an influx of visitors as a result of its new-found status. The city does not need the money being Capital of Culture could provide. It is already very wealthy. The average annual wage is more than £30,000 and its unemployment rate is just 1 per cent. The only official reason is, rather romantically, simply that the city wants to promote culture and raise the city's profile.

The theme of Stavanger's year is Open Port – a series of events that will encourage major artists to visit the city and work with local artists, and to encourage local people to make their own art. At the heart of the theme are four month-long residencies from various international groups – music theatre company Muziektheater Transparant, Lithuanian group Oskaras Korsunovas Theatre, Israeli dance company Inbal Pinto and the South African Handspring Puppet Company.

The head of Stavanger's Culture organisation is a Scottish journalist and former violinist, Mary Miller. She said of the bid: "When I first arrived, I thought, why does this place need to be European Capital of Culture? It's an extraordinarily precious place, almost like a little utopia. It is a massive investment in people. You look at this pristine country, in many senses the chief enemy here is that it is as good as it is."

Liverpool and Stavanger do have some things in common. For a start, the people are proud of their distinctive identities. Where Liverpool has Scousers, Stavanger has Siddis – the word used to describe someone born there, who speaks the dialect, and whose parents were from Stavanger. And both cities owe much of their economy to their respective ports.

But the architecture of the cities is rather different. A typical Liverpool street scene is a row of two-up, two-down Georgian terrace houses, while most city centre buildings have their roots in Edwardian architecture.

Stavanger, on the other hand, boasts of being the wooden-house capital of Norway. The reason: simply that there is a lot of it about. Indeed much of the city's history can be told in stories of natural resources, from its economic foundations in timber and paper mills, to its Viking empire built on wooden ships.

The cities also have different cultural backgrounds. Liverpool has its roots firmly in pop music icons such as The Beatles; Stavanger's main cultural export is its symphony orchestra. And this year it will capitalise on the year of culture by hosting the European Amateur Brass Band championships, a big event in a country where such bands are an institution.

They've kept rather quiet about their year of culture in Norway, but now they are ready to make a bit of noise.

What became of previous European Capitals of Culture?

* Athens 1985

The hope: The first European City of Culture, Athens was used as a blueprint for others. The dream: was to foster deeper knowledge of the differences and similarities of cultures among the EU.

The reality: Hundreds of events were held throughout Greece showing the best of the country's dance, music, theatre and film.

The legacy: Transport and amenities improved greatly. It is now the sixth most-visited capital in the world and hosted the Olympics.

* Glasgow 1990

The hope: As the first British city to be named European City of Culture, its aims were simple; it wanted to lose the "mean city" tag.

The reality: The city's theatres, museums and art galleries saw a 40 per cent increase in visitors during the year.

The legacy: When the city made the bid in 1983 it attracted tens of thousands of tourists a year. That figure is now 4 million. However, a report suggests that Glasgow's image changed only superficially.

* Dublin 1991

The hope: Aimed to provide a spring to its economy by moving away from its turbulent past. Sought to move into a new era of tourism, redevelopment and investment.

The reality: Dublin's year didn't get off to a good start with many critics fearing it could become an underfinanced flop.

The legacy: The city is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. In 2003, it was named in a BBC survey as the best capital city to live in Europe.

* Cork 2005

The hope: To provide a tourism boost, raise the profile of a city and bring social, cultural and economic benefits to the area.

The reality: The city saw a 25 per cent rise in tourism in the first three months and the title was the catalyst for bringing in investment, and for the expansion of the city's airport.

The legacy: The rebirth continues, according to Fiona Buckley, of Failte Ireland South West. "It raised the profile of Cork and that effect is still resounding today."

* Weimar 1999

The hope: An unlikely cultural Mecca, Weimar wanted to show its cultural beauty to a wider audience. It also wanted to use the year to perform something of an image change – the city is tagged with the legacy of a Second World War concentration camp.

The reality: The year was used to confront its past and celebrate the reunification of Germany.

The legacy: Aside from a brief boost in tourism the city has all but remained in obscurity.

* Lille 2004

The hope: To give identity to a town that became a transport hub when the Eurostar arrived in the 1990s.

The reality: A year-long programme of events which covered theatre, art and design, music, dance, cinema and literature.

The legacy: Lille has stepped out of the shadow of Paris and is now seen as a legitimate place to visit in its own right. The company that was in charge of the culture year is still going and is now planning "the city of tomorrow".


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