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Opening ceremony of Guimarães, European Capital of Culture 2012

A clear concept and communication with the public

“There’s a harsh rule – if you are doing something wonderful, but nobody knows about it, you might as well not be doing it,” says Laur Kaunissare, emphasising the critical role of communication with the public – “not just marketing, but communication overall is very important”. Maarin Mürk claims this was one of Tallinn’s weakest links – the way of presenting information was poor: “The Tallinn 2011 logo could be seen all over the city, but they did not make the main focus or the main axis of the programme clear – what else, except for the concentration of events, made that year’s events different from any other year? It is wonderful if the European capital of Culture acts as an umbrella for a great diversity of ideas, but a backbone is still necessary to help people navigate and perceive the event programme as a whole. This is also easier to present to the public.” Of course, this implies that form should be balanced with content before investing in public relations. “In order to communicate, first there has to be a great idea to share,” Laur Kaunissare repeats. Giving a speech in Brussels in 2010, Robert Palmer also emphasised the need for a reasonable balance:  “There is a danger of these cities being transformed into cultural industries with the communication budget for public relation exercises alone going proportionally up at the expense of some real investments in the arts and in authentic cultural developments.” Jokingly, Kaunissare adds that he is not quite sure whether the aim of a European Capital of Culture is being a marketing project with an ‘icing’ of culture, or a cultural project with an ‘icing’ of marketing.

Less is more

Maarin Mürk questions whether it is even possible to take all the necessary measures for a European Capital of Culture to reach the bar set. Namely, whether the aspirations themselves are not too grand. Although Tallinn 2011 was organized by a great team, involving highly regarded professionals from various fields of culture, there was still a feeling that all the good intentions were buried under efforts to re-invent the wheel.  As the saying goes – “We wanted to do it better, but wound up with the usual.” There is an acute lack of time to find the most suitable strategy, carry out administrative duties and still see the big picture clearly.” Mürk sees the solution in a clear idea – to define what there is a desire to do; to find a specific leitmotif. “Maybe some projects have to be discarded, maybe less should be done, if this helps to maintain a clear vision and carry it out properly. In Tallinn last year, it was sometimes sad to realize that so much was going on, but it was not possible to see it all. Creative people, in particular, missed out on a lot – while you were organizing one event, another one was going on next door.” Regarding the distribution of finances, Dr. Raminta Jurenaite emphasized intelligent programme development: “It is very important to think strategically and plan special events in various cultural sectors. In Vilnius, millions were spent on New Year fireworks, as well as on excess promotional material, like souvenir cups and chocolates, leading to a lack of money for more important things. Care must be taken that the programme is not dominated by mediocre events, if larger and more sustainable projects suffer on their behalf.”

The European dimension

Returning to the birthplace of the European Capital of Culture in Greece, and the initial purpose of the idea, Robert Palmer observes that “the European dimension has not been a primary focus for European Capitals of Culture, and the potential for bringing Europeans closer together has not been realized.” However, he points out that this original idea could do with some changes – changing the focus from building relationships between Europeans to establishing an international platform to introduce European culture to the rest of the world.

Opening ceremony of Guimarães, European Capital of Culture 2012, on January 14

This year, Slovenia’s second city Maribor and Portugal’s Guimarães hold the status of European Capitals of Culture. In 2013, the chosen two are Marseille in France and Košice in Slovakia, while Umeå in Sweden will be European Capital of Culture in addition to Riga in 2014. In 2015 the position will be held by Mons in Belgium and Plzeňin the Czech Republic, while Spain’s San Sebastián and Wrocław in Poland will be up in 2016.

Read Robert Palmer’s study here