European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Bob Palmer Report 2004

Study on the European Cities and Capitals of Culture and the European Cultural Months (1995-2004) by Bob Palmer.

In 2003 the European Commission launched a tender to commission an analysis and synthesis of the events "European Capital/City of Culture" and "Cultural Months" for the years 1995 to 2004, on the basis of documented information.

Within this context, Palmer/Rae Associates was selected to carry out the study.

This report provides a single source of information for organisers of European Capitals of Culture, municipalities and governments, cultural operators, researchers and journalists and others interested in this and related topics. It also offers a basis for future policy-making in the field.

The study focuses on the organisational and financing aspects as well as the social, economical and cultural impacts. It is divided into two parts and can be downloaded here.

Part I contains a synthesis on numerous aspects of the "European Capital of Culture" event and its impacts.

Part II contains individual city reports for the 29 cities that formed part of the study.

First findings and recommendations:

The value of the study is that it provides some information concerning the factors of success for a Capital of Culture. It reveals that the people surveyed who had been involved in the organisation of an ECOC underline the importance of the context of the event, local involvement, partnership, the need for clear objectives, sufficient resources and strong leadership coupled with political will.

This study also looks at the importance of the monitoring and evaluation of the systems in place for organising a Capital of Culture (on this subject, cf. pp. 130 and 131 of the Palmer report).

A first reaction:

The European Capital of Culture - an event or a process?

Issues on sustainability and long-term impact

published in ArtsProfessional Magazine, November 2004

One of the main conclusions of the study is that despite the huge potential and opportunities that hosting the Capital of Culture offers to cities, many have not met the objectives they set out for themselves. Furthermore many of the initiatives taken have proved not to be sustainable in the longer term due to the approaches that were used. The study highlights successful and unsuccessful strategies. Very few of the past Capitals of Culture undertook comprehensive impact assessments following the cultural year and the lack of independent evaluation is quite astonishing considering the large amount of public funding that is invested in the project (on average 78% of the operating budget of a Capital of Culture comes from the public sector). Over the past ten years the average operating expenditure of the organising structure of a Capital of Culture has been 36.9 million Euros (25.3 million pounds), with some spending at least two times that amount. The study outlines important lessons that can be drawn from implementing a project of this scale.

What has been gleaned from the available information and through hundreds of interviews is that the issues of legacy and long-term effects of the cultural year are of crucial importance. The most frequently cited advice offered to future Capitals of Culture given by people involved is to concentrate firmly on the long-term perspective. As one respondent put it "fireworks are often fantastic, but you cannot use them for heating purposes!" Along with the importance of local public involvement and engagement, strong partnerships with stakeholders and clear objectives, long-term planning was cited by respondents as being one of the main keys to a successful Capital of Culture. Too often, Capitals of Culture have focused most of their efforts and funding on events and projects that form part of a year-long celebration, with too little time and investment given to the future. If there was a hint of regret from respondents about their cultural year, it was mainly because the momentum could not be sustained in following years. If it were possible to go back in time they would have tried to prevent this by selecting fewer projects of higher quality and impact, and developing clearer strategies for the continuation of such projects.

However, certain Capitals of Culture did achieve significant long-term impacts. Although cynics would say that injecting millions of pounds into any project is bound to have ripple effects, the Capital of Culture has often acted as a catalyst for city change and has triggered billions of pounds of investment. In every city that has hosted the Capital of Culture you will find new or improved cultural venues, new organisations, networks or projects, some of which have continued beyond the year. Most cities demonstrated a wealth of experience and new skills that permeated the city's cultural life. Although much attention has been focused on the 'hard' legacies of the cultural year that are visible and measurable, such as new or updated cultural infrastructure, a more developed programme of cultural events and activities and economic and visitor impacts, the 'soft' legacies have often had a greater impact. Image transformation, increased confidence, improved atmosphere and increased knowledge and experience are more complex to measure, but their importance should not be disregarded. Sustainability is not just a question of whether an individual project, organisation or building continues over time; rather it is more useful to look at what the experience has led to. An important research project would be to track down individuals involved in projects that were initiated as a result of the Capital of Culture to see how the experience has shaped them and their professional lives. Enhancing the talents and ambitions of people can have a greater transformative effect on a city than creating new buildings. However, this strategy leads to fewer ribbons being cut; so many politicians tend to prefer headlining building projects.

Over half of the cities within the study aimed to continue the work started by the cultural year after the year had finished; for most such an aim proved to be unrealistic or short-lived. Only in a handful of cities was a structure created specifically with the responsibility to do follow-up work, and in even fewer the city authorities themselves did very little to maintain and develop the work that had started. The main difficulties in maintaining the impact of the year were reported to be insufficient funding and the lack of political will and vision. In some cities the cultural budget was even cut in years following the Capital of Culture and a hangover effect was not uncommon. Unfortunately, in many cases the Capital of Culture was used by city politicians as primarily a marketing and promotional tool to raise the international profile. Culture and cultural development as a unifying concept was overshadowed by other interests and agendas. To have any significant impact, the study demonstrates that it is imperative that the Capital of Culture be an integral part of a city's long-term cultural development strategy and be assimilated into other facets of urban development. This has been rare.

The way that cities have approached their cultural programmes is also an indicator of the potential for long-term effects. Where cities have chosen the more challenging route of attempting to weave projects carefully through the existing cultural fabric of a city as opposed to viewing the year as an isolated one-off event, there have been rewards in sustainability. Whereas blockbuster events proved to have the advantages of attracting large audiences, tourists and media attention to the Capital of Culture, it has often been the social and community projects, and those that have created new-style partnerships between cultural and non-cultural organisations that have become rooted to the local landscape and have produced lasting changes in the city. Essentially, viewing the Capital of Culture as an event rather than as a process, as most cities have done, has been an obstacle for longer-term impact. The opportunity and potential that the Capital of Culture offers in terms of placing culture as a driving force in city development has not been taken advantage of in most cities.

Over the years, the goals of the Capital of Culture have become increasingly ambitious and inflated. Using culture only as the vanguard to complex city regeneration strategies or as a quick-fix solution to urban problems is an untenable short-term strategy. Expectations are high from a wide range of stakeholders who have different and sometimes opposing priorities and interests; simply winning the designation of Capital of Culture has proved not to bring results in the long-term, unless a longer-term investment programme is developed.

In the UK, the focus is now on Liverpool Capital of Culture 2008, but will they learn the lessons of past Capitals of Culture, or as many before them, stride forward ambitiously, blinded by a certain over-confidence, destined to repeat the same mistakes? Certainly, they seem to have realised the need for a process of development and have initiated yearly themes running up to 2008 and continuing until 2010, but they are yet to prove that this is not simply part of a slick public relations and marketing campaign. And while Liverpool stands in the spotlight, perhaps we should pay some attention to the losers of the UK Capital of Culture competition who may in fact also turn out to be winners. The Capital of Culture bidding process has led Newcastle/Gateshead to launch an impressive ten-year cultural development programme that could leave people wondering which cultural city they should be visiting in 2008. No bad thing if the winner does not take all and many cities learn the lessons of how to make culture really work for a community, cultural capital or not.


Palmer/Rae Associates
74, rue de la Croix de Pierre
1060 Brussels

Tel: +32 (0)2 534 3484
Fax: +32 (0)2 534 8161

The study can be obtained as well from the EU website:

For further information, go to official EU website informing about European actions with regards to the European Capital of Culture action programme at:

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