European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Assessment of the programme

There are several ways to assess an artistic and cultural programme. For instance, did the organisation identify clearly and well enough the challenges a city like Stavanger has to face if it is to undertake such a programme in the name of ECoC? Another way would be to assess the philosophy and vision expressed by the artistic director. As this is linked to the key concepts, were they sufficient to link citizens of the city with what any programme needs if to come to life, namely artistic substance? Likewise time measure can also be applied, in order to see if the programme is well structured so that it can be sustained over the duration of one year? Finally, did the programme set free impulses to go further and thereby created something out of the usual, that is differs from what happens usually year in, year out in that city and surrounding area? 

Preparing the programme

Since preparation for the decisive year is a special task stretched over four years, the original vision needs translation into concrete steps. That includes the creation of such conditions that a demanding programme of one year can be realized. Since creative energies are freed, they need as well a careful handling at the level of the imagination. This should not be reduced to a mere management of expectations in order to avoid disappointments.

While this effort is made to realize a programme, it has to be unerlined already by anticipation of the years ahead in order to leave behind a legacy. It has be something which is both tangible e.g. iconic buildings and intangible e.g. a reference point of meaning for future generations. 

Altogether being European Capital of Culture for one year entails an unusual experience. It is, therefore, not only about the events held, the fireworks going off, but also what people come to the city and how they feel being welcomed during their visit. This is not merely hospitality, but an expression of the art of bringing people together and in having a new equally common sense of being a part of Europe due to being engaged in dialogues and exchanges of experiences. It has also to do with what has changed due to having been for one year ECoC. For being that can and does set new standards in how things are managed and artistic works appreciated as part of an ongoing search for truth. After all culture is created out of this search and through making possible various, including unusual encounters. 

There is the risk that only a kind of self affirmation is strived at and therefore culture merely a mask for having done something but which has no substantial ramifications for how things are treated in future. Some ECoC cities strive to overcome closeness and therefore their slogan focuses on being an open city. Yet the true test of success is how the programme manages to bring together past, present and future so that it becomes an ongoing learning process within a dynamic model pointing to the future. Here already the new selection process emphasizes less cultural heritage as this was usually the case and stresses the need to relate much more actively to contemporary artistic and cultural expressions.


What is to change? What is to be underlined as continuity with which the community identifies itself readily? What can be treated as having been a component of the past, but which is no longer relevant for the present?

In that sense, it is important if the programme reflects efforts to mediate between social-cultural norms which exist in such a city and what can be perceived as something outstanding or exceptional. Since that creates a special tension, care has to be taken not to overdo it. Like the violin, if the chords are stretched too much, they will snap.

As said not only expectations should play a role, but how processes entered allow for experiences to be made in advance of the crucial year, so as to prepare everyone for what works, what not. This will have to include a new form of sublimation of artistic ideas, so that they can mature in time for that special year.

Acts of creativity

The need to give shape to a demanding, equally challenging programme reminds of what Arthur Koestler described best as being the main difficulty, namely how to make possible 'acts of creativity'. Koestler compared it to stepping stones which need to be reached if one wishes to cross over a pond. In other words, creativity is not a linear sequence but has leaps and gaps in between. It is a matter of how they are bridged over or how a sudden poetic interpretation can give people suddenly a way to express themselves. There is a lot latent there, but sometimes the step into public light is too great and the shyness simply a hindrance as if what one feels and things has not really any value. To bring out these latent potentials is an art. It would be smoothered by using already well known names of the artistic and cultural world, and unfortunately this seems to have been very much the case when Stavanger devised its programme. No wonder when Nils Asle Bergsgard & Anders Vassenden suggest besides innovation and reproduction of much of the same, there was a third dimension which appeared at the end of the year: exhaustion.

One can also relate to the organisers themselves and review what problems, issues and challenges they perceived, and what they initiated as a result. For the creation of such a programme is as well a reflection in what they succeeded. That includes convincing artists to join this project while being able to link the various activities so that there is some inner coherence to the entire programme.

Artistic director

In the case of Stavanger, the Artistic Director was Mary Miller. She saw in the city and in Norway the problem of being nearly without problems at first glance. So where to start initiate some new actions without alienating the programme from those who live and act at the local level. That tension field is typical of many ECoCs, Linz '09 was to experience that in a special way.

The local dimension and beyond

Reference to the local level is too readily used as formula to cover many aspects, even though it may entail a historical dimension going way beyond the local dimension. This is especially the case in a global world but also history has something to say about what is going to be played out locally. Crucial would be to draw out of the local level artistic works. In German this would be 'aus dem Lokalen schöpfen', like drawing water out of a well. Often local talents are unware tht they have been developing expressions of really high standard. It is a matter of giving them both recognition and a measure by which they realize what high standards they set. When Dragan Klaic visited a long time ago Athens, he remarked Greek theatre lacked exposure to international standards brought into the local level by international artists and critics.

It is an art to let things take on meaning by being included in an overall programme which is sensitive enough to bring together both artists and people by setting the levels of reflection where joint meanings can be accessed and mediated. What constitutes then the experience of having these events, festivals, workshops, landscape sculptures etc. take place at location is accessibility in both novel and unconventional way. That is also another way of linking up with Europe and the world.

Unfortunately too little is done to mediate between those coming in from the outside and those wishing to express themselves in reference to their own cultural identity but also to go further in their expression by reaching out to others. It does say something when Sartre would acknowledge Jazz as being universal since it touches upon human pain in an universal sense. That sense would be limited if confined to a local-national syntax and stamped as being either local or Norwegian since then no new cultural synthesis would be brought about. 

All this can make even further sense by quoting Thomas Mann. When he returned from exile in the United States to Germany after 1945, and upon arriving in Hamburg, he noted that the immediate level reflected no link to the world at large. It was just provincial. As an extension thereof it would be crucial to distinguish between global and European links.

The structural model

In the case of Stavanger '08, the programme brought in at seasonal rhythm theatre companies, but only two of the four were of European origin. The four companies were:


The choice of these four companies should be studied a bit further as it might reflect the fact that Norway is already more globally and not necessarily European orientated. Something similar of that can be noticed onhand of the Aarhus 2017 concept.

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