Culture forty-fold

An initiative born in 1985 draws citizens closer to the European Union

The story goes that the “invention” of European Capitals of Culture is due to a delayed flight. It was the beginning of 1985. Actress and singer Melina Mercouri, later elected MP in Greece after the recovery of democracy from dictatorship, and Jack Lang, chair of the culture department in France were both at the airport of Athens, waiting for their flight that had been delayed for bad weather conditions. They spoke for hours, and addressed the subject of the circulation of culture amidst European populations, until they focused their attention on the involvement of urban centres. Indeed, Athens and other cities in the past had been the fountainheads of learning, arts and of all that is “beautiful”.Three priorities. The discussion between Mercouri and Lang had many developments. In 1985, the initiative of the Capitals of Culture was born, almost informally, and obviously Athens was the first recipient. A quarter of a century passed since then. The EEC progressed to become the EU, it extended its borders and responsibilities and brought together Western and Eastern Europe. The Capitals of Culture eventually became forty, designated with an apposite procedure by EU authorities, which also receive a financial contribution. The main goals of the European Capitals of Culture project are: “highlighting the wealth and diversity of European cultures” (opening the borders also to non EU member States); “promoting mutual understanding between European citizens”; “encouraging a sense of belonging to the same European family” by raising public awareness to the knowledge “of our common European roots and our shared ambitions for the future”. A driving force for creativity. The European Capitals of Culture can act as “a driving force for creativity, job creation, social inclusion, regeneration and tourism”. On the 25th anniversary of the initiative, Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Education, Culture, presented the conference and the exhibition scheduled for March 23-24 in Brussels. According to Vassiliou, “It is one of the most recognised cultural events in Europe and I am confident that it will continue to represent the best of Europe in the 25 years to come”, he remarked. More than 400 representatives of past, present and future Capitals and many other cultural operators attended the event. Debates focused on cultural themes, along with communication strategies, exchanges and twinnings, and on the effects of these initiatives on local tourism. Speakers made known that tourism and catering businesses increased by 25% in Liverpool, 2008 Culture Capital, where the pivot point was the revival of the Beatles’, the renowned music band from Liverpool.Historical background. The first Culture Capital (that commits the city to hold events in the areas of visual arts, culture, training and the youth) was Athens, followed by Florence, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris. With time the choice fell on national capitals such as Madrid, Copenhagen, Lisbon or Vilnius, and on smaller and less known cities like Tessalonica (Greece), Weimar (Germany), Cork (Ireland), Sibiu (Romania). 2000 was a special year, with 8 capital cities: Bergen (Norway), Bologna (Italy), Brussels (Belgium), Helsinki (Finland), Krakow (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), Reykjavik (Iceland), Santiago de Compostela (Spain). This year there are three Culture Capitals: Istanbul (Turkey), Essen im Ruhr (Germany) and Pécs (Hungary). From next year two cities will be chosen; in 2011 Turku (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia).Art, tourism, economy. Commission president José Manuel Barroso, underlined the “EU’s commitment to cultural diversity”, and pointed out that “culture can unite people within Europe”. “I would like to thank all the cities which have put Europe to the fore during their year as Capitals and I wish the European Capitals of Culture every success for the next 25 years”, Barroso remarked. The Commission values the event’s 25th anniversary, which will give “new vitality” to the cities’ cultural life, their creative industries and transform their economic and cultural image in the long-term”.

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