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EXCLUSIVE, Ecoc special day in Dubai. Interview with Rossella Tarantino

A moment of the meeting A moment of the meeting Photo by EcocNews

For the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic, the European Capitals of Culture met live outside Europe to reflect together on the path of rebirth of cities and to share globally their responses to highly topical challenges such as the New European Bauhaus or the role that culture can play in connecting the rural and the urban.

The credit goes to the Matera Basilicata 2019 Foundation and, in particular, to the Development and International Relations Manager (soul of the Matera2019 project),which has seen fit to organize the "Day of the European Capitals of Culture" on October as part of the most important international event of the year such as the Universal Exposition 2020 Dubai.
EcocNews interviewed Rossella Tarantino exclusively to understand in depth the results of this important international event that has been able to gather around it a great interest from the European Commission, which among other things has sponsored the event, the Italian Government, in particular the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and, of course, the European Capitals of Culture.

Why did Matera 2019 decide to organize an event on the European capitals of culture in Dubai?
This idea was born in 2018 when an agreement was signed between the commissioner of the Italian Pavilion, Paolo Glisenti, and the Matera Basilicata 2019 Foundation strongly desired by the then director Paolo Verri, and by the then president Salvatore Adduce. An agreement signed symbolically during the Ecoc family meeting held in Matera. The idea was to tell this huge heritage of practices, examples, projects carried out by the ECoC on a very important stage such as that of the Universal Exposition in Dubai.
Thanks to this agreement, in the presence of the Italian and the United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministers, a major initiative was organized in Matera on the first presentation of the Italian Pavilion exactly one year before the inauguration of Expo.
After Covid, our idea of telling the Ecoc in Dubai has become even more pressing because there is an urgency to bring ECoCs to the global limelight together, after the long period characterized by the pandemic that led to the cancellation of most live events. All the more so, in the period in which, for the first time since 1985, there are no European Capitals of Culture in charge.
So the Ecoc Day has designed a bridge that connects Galway and Rijeka 2020 - that are the symbol of resilience and ability to know how to reinvent a great event facing the unforeseen challenges posed by the pandemic -,and the new capitals of 2022 that are the symbol of recovery: Esch, Kaunas and Novi Sad.
It was important to hold this meeting in Dubai not only because the Universal Exhibition is the most important international event of the year after the shutdown due to the pandemic, but also because it opens up new perspectives of discussion and collaboration with other countries and in particular with Arab culture.
Starting from the concept that inspired the Italian Pavilion itself, the initiative intends to present the genius of the European Capitals of Culture, which with their enormous and varied potential of experiences and cultural practices transform cities generating beauty, understood as quality and intensity of the experiences lived. And paraphrasing the claim of the Italian Pavilion, beauty connects (and opens) minds.

How were the focus themes chosen for this Ecoc Day?
Together with the Italian Pavilion we have identified two specific themes on which Matera has strongly invested also in terms of legacy, but which are also important for many other capitals and for the European Commission. To these themes that were discussed in the two Forums, we associated the workshop dedicated to the ECoCs game designed by the Open Design School, a moving laboratory of cultural geography, and a performance that represented the co-creation work we did in Matera, able to give an idea of the remote future.
The first Forum focused on the contribution that the European Capitals of Culture can give to the New European Bauhaus, the initiative with which the European Commission - through an innovative co-design process to which Matera 2019 is also contributing with the Open Design School - has called together thinkers and creatives from all over Europe to design futures and better ways of life.
Matera 2019, together with Kaunas 2022, Esch 2022, Novi Sad 2022 and Nova Gorica/Gorizia 2025 presented the projects and initiatives put in place to make cities more beautiful "for the eyes, the mind and the heart" by bringing together different disciplines, as provided by the NEB.
The Ecocs are the ideal field in which these practices are experimented, because all these cities make a regenerative journey along ten years and carry out projects to make the cities more beautiful, more sustainable, more inclusive.
During the Forum, after the key note speech by Carlo Ratti, many experiences emerged: the creation of new cultural hubs (Novi Sad power stations) reusing and regenerating existing and abandoned buildings and even a caravan; the creation of mobile infrastructure, such as the NEMUNO 7 ship in Kaunas, transformed into a new creative space, a symbol of continuous change; or the conversion of a post-industrial district of Esch into an area "open to all possibilities" inspired by the principles of environmental sustainability; or the transformation of a square crossed by a border between two cities in conflict (Gorizia and Nova Gorica) into a shared urban space without borders where the inhabitants of the two cities can meet, participate in events and share stories and future projects; finally, the experience of Matera 2019 with its pillar project Open Design School, which by bringing together the most diverse professionalism (engineers, carpenters, doctors, choreographers, designers, architects, cartographers, video-makers, etc.) and using the method of scalability and adaptability, has contributed to transforming desolate public spaces into places of use, expanded the perceptive boundaries of the city, converted abandoned buildings into new theaters for operas accessible to everybody. So much so that it is considered as an interesting prototype of the NEW Bauhaus.
We were talking before about beauty, created by ECoCs, but it is a word that can be deceiving. The Ecoc work on the sense of beauty, giving it a symbolic value: “beautiful for the eyes, for the mind and above all for the heart”. Ecocs work a lot on a new way of being together trying not to leave anyone behind, and many of them take access to culture as one of the main keys of their projects and their way of creating beauty.
In this sense, an important result of the day that emerged is that the European Capitals of Culture are a living lab of the NEB and at the same time an ideal platform of knowledge and experimental practices.Another very topical element on which the European Capitals, starting from Matera, are working a lot with their cultural programmes, concerns the relationship between the centre and the periphery.
A theme that the pandemic has further brought out is the unbalanced and unsustainable relationship over time between overpopulated areas and areas in the process of depopulation, between urban and rural. In this sense, culture can play a connecting role.
Many Ecocs have increasingly incorporated the dimension of remoteness into their cultural program, involving sparsely populated areas. During the Forum, we asked ourselves: how can culture connect too much and too empty? How can art and culture draw new relationships and geographies? Can culture go beyond stereotypes (the small happy village/the country in disarmament) and contribute to a new "sense of the places" and new contemporary narratives? How can artists, temporary citizens, work and regenerate permanent citizens of rural areas?
The cities of Veszprem 2023, Eleusis 2023, Oulu 2026 and Matera 2019, led by Beatriz Garcia, told their experiences, difficulties and their projects to connect the center and the suburbs, understood both as rural spaces but also as peri-urban.

These are very topical issues and they will certainly be the subject of reflection and action both in the Ecoc and in the highest institutions. What was the response of the institutions in this regard?
The event was very important from an institutional point of view because first of all we received the patronage of the European Commission. During the Ecoc Day, Barbara Gessler (read the speech here), Head of The Creative Europe Unit and ECoC programme for the European Commission, reiterated the importance of this meeting also regarding what happened in the world with the pandemic. The Italian Minister for Culture, Dario Franceschini, for his part, applauded the initiative also highlighting the importance of cultural diplomacy. And he relaunched the ODS as an important legacy for Matera and for Italy. Finally, the Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, Benedetto Della Vedova, welcomed the initiative for its ability to raise urgent issues in an international assembly and confronting European cities of various latitudes and sizes.

At the day you presented a workshop open to visitors to the Italian Pavilion
"The Ecoc game" is a game that was born from the desire to have a common device that would bind the Ecoc and at the same time tell them as a variegated unicum. To date, there is not even a logo that unites the 75 ECoCs. We thought of this formula because for us the game is a serious thing, in the words of Huizinga "culture arises in a playful form". It is a game designed by Ods with a multidisciplinary team led by Rita Orlando (1 game designer, 1 engineer-maker, 1 designer, 1 architect), in collaboration with the ECoCs and their informal network of volunteers to tell through a playful journey the adventure accomplished by the cities. As in Monopoly game, in the Ecoc game players have to face unexpected events. These are the same unforeseen events that Ecocs face from time to time. At the same time, the Ecoc game could be experienced as a role-playing game in which the participants interpret the various protagonists of the Ecoc in different ways and discover the highlights, curiosities and characters related to the history of this crucial project for the life of dozens of European cities.
Expo Dubai visitors really liked the Ecoc game. Many volunteers from the various Expo Pavilions, representatives of Ecocs team and even families with children participated in the game. It can also be used as a team building for Ecocs, or in other contexts such as Olympic Games or other major events.
It is a game that expresses the philosophy of Ods and Matera 2019 because it can be modified, improved, integrated by other people according to open source culture. (Here the link)

The other project you presented in Dubai is Open Sound
It was a very engaging show for all nationalities and is one of the co-creation projects of Matera 2019, co-produced with Multietnica, one of the cultural producers of Basilicata. In 2019 a mapping of the archaic sounds of Basilicata was created and this large archive has become the basis for various unpublished collective performances based on the fusion of contemporary electronic music and traditional sounds. It is the classic example of how an archive becomes a promise of the future, it becomes the future. And it is in line with another great project of Matera 2019, “Idea”, built right on the public and private archives of our region. The scalability of the method used is in fact generative of new performances.
Open Sound- Dubai session was accompanied by images of the rites of Basilicata, returning the idea that archaism and contemporaneity can coincide. Thanks to the Director of the Foundation, Giovanni Oliva, we worked with the encounter with the Arabian music: an Arab musician played with the musicians of Basilicata and an Italian producer, creating a very suggestive hybridization and a work of co- creation.

The best thing you brought from Dubai?
The confirmation of the strength and potential, still to be expressed, of the informal Ecocs network and the important role they can also play in terms of Europe's cultural diplomacy.

Serafino Paternoster

Ecocnews Founder, Journalist, repentant jazz guitarist, music critic and film lover.

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