Capitals of Culture

Each year two cities from two pre-determined states are selected as Europe’s Capitals of culture (ECoC). Criteria such as the artistic quality of the presented program and its overall european vision determine which city is to represent for the coming year the richness and diversity of European cultures.

All have spent 365 glorious days as Europe’s Capital of Culture (ECoC). Pécs (Hungary), Essen (Germany), and Istanbul–a special addition to the–two city rooster–share the 2010 crown, joining the huge list of cities who have hosted the event since 1985. The initiative was the brainchild of Greek Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri, who saw the necessity for expanding the Council’s efforts and activities in promoting and highlighting Europe’s rich and vibrant cultural melting-pot, thus “[Bringing] the peoples of the Member States closer together.” Contrary to common belief, the ECoC title is not a prize awarded retrospectively to a city for its existing cultural value or for its historically important heritage. Rather, it is a mark of approval for a city’s ‘exceptional’ cultural program covering a period of one calendar year. Two cities from two pre-determined states are selected as Capitals each year. The final choice is made by the Council of Ministers of the European Union, based on several criteria, such as the ‘high artistic quality’ of the program, an ‘overall European vision’, and the strict adherence to the event’s core mission: “To highlight the richness and diversity of European cultures and the features they share, promote greater mutual acquaintance between European citizens, foster a feeling of European citizenship”.  Hayati Yazici, Minister of State and Chairman of the Istanbul 2010 ECOC Agency Coordination Board, promises a sophisticated mixture of “Visual arts, literature, cinema, theater and performing arts, music and opera projects” which “Will bring European-famous esteemed artists to our city to collaborate with Turkish artists.” Some of these events, according to the organizers, will generate important opportunities and employment for “Independent … curators and art operators”.

ECoC represents an opportunity to present an ehanced image of the city that is capable of attracting tourists, skilled cultural brainpower, and capital. Kris Donaldson, Director of the Liverpool Culture Company states that Liverpool was chosen as one of 2008’s Capitals precisely “because of its potential to transform what it means to be a European Capital of Culture”. A related study stated that “The status of European Capital of Culture in 2008 … [aimed] to show the world the 21st century Liverpool – a modern city, driving forward both economically and culturally.” Oliver Scheytt, General Manager of Ruhr 2010 believes that the event can “create new pictures of the city in people’s minds”, and states that the Ruhr has gone to great lengths to assure both success and sustainability. “Our motto for 2010 is Change through Culture, Culture through Change. We will show the world that the Ruhr is no longer breathing dust but the future.” For cities whose tourism efforts are hampered by a predominant industrial reputation, the title is also an unparalleled opportunity to shine a light on lesser known or under-appreciated cultural facets of the city. According to Donaldson, “Liverpool’s tourism sector has boomed with a record one million hotel beds sold in the city. Average occupancy rates are at an all time high of 77% over the year. However, cities hope to attract not only mere visitors, but also workers, investors, and new citizens.” Giuseppe Pericu, mayor of Genoa from 1997 to 2007 is convinced that Genoa 2004 allowed his city to show “Its new identity, that of a city open to Europe and the world, where people can come to live and invest”. Improvements to cultural infrastructures, personnel and network are vital for the success of an ECoC. According to Lille 04’s organizers, the event generates “Direct employment in the cultural sector” and elevates the city’s “reputation in the cultural professional milieu of tourism and culture”. To future Capitals, Donaldson offers the following advice: “Bring professional standards in community arts” and, “Don’t be afraid to commission new brave work.” Urban implementation is another key component of the objectives of candidate cities. Hayati Yazici states that “Sixty percent of the agency’s budget” will be devoted to such works, and will include “The rearrangement of our cultural heritage pieces, and restoration and renovation of the historical and architectural artifacts”. The organization of an ECoC leaves, as part of its legacy, a new network of connections and an extensive know-how. These can prove vital as the city works to build on the publicity triggered by the event in order to mantain cultural interest and tourist appeal. The organizers of Istanbul 2010 hope that the many additions and improvements to the cultural sector, which include the creation of new jobs, will result in a “sustainable management of the city’s cultural heritage” so that it will become “even more of a magnet than ever”. So far, the organizers agree in describing the event as having been “most beneficial for [the city] and “a catalyst for … cultural development and … transformation”. As the current title holders try their best to fascinate visitors and improve their cultural renown, Turku, Marseille and eight other cities are already at work to bring us the Capitals of the future, creating jobs, synergies, opportunities, and new and exciting destinations for our weekend getaways.


Sometimes the best ideas occur far from formal settings: the ECoC concept is said to have seen the light during “A chat between the former Greek and French Ministries for culture, namely Mrs Mercouri and Mr Lang, while they were waiting together for a flight at Athens airport in January 1985”.


Enhancing the image and attraction of the city
• Fostering cultural tourism
• Improving the cultural life
• Improving cultural infrastructure
• Sustainable mng of the city’s cultural heritage
• Integrating culture in a urban regeneration plan
• Integrating the city in a network of EU connections
• Boosting the city’s cultural relations with EU
• Develop a sustainable model for the future


Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Spring 2010