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EXCLUSIVE. Steve Green: The European Commission is weak on communication

Novi Sad Ecoc 2022 Novi Sad Ecoc 2022

Today begins a series of interviews with the leading experts of the European Capitals of Culture.
The first one is with Steve Green. Green was appointed Chairman of the European Commission jury to select the European Capital of Culture from 2011 to 2016 and main author of the Guide to Candidates issued by the European Commission.

After 35 years, does the ECOC program still has a future?
It has a future to 2033, which is when the current programme ends. Already candidates are preparing for the 2031 title to be selected in 2027. Beyond 2033? I don´t know.  Not in its current form.  When it was introduced in 1985 the idea that culture played an important part in a city’s well-being and prosperity was almost unknown. Charles Landry, Franco Bianchini were just starting to write; Frank Thorsby and Richard Florida came later. By now every mayor and city administration should know that the arts, culture , heritage and the creative industries are essential to a city’s future. (If they don’t elect someone else). Most cities in Europe and indeed the world now attach importance to the idea of culture. So the ECOC as a pioneer is no longer needed. As Q5 points out Capital of Culture titles are proliferating worldwide. So what would I do? If the title continues I would make one major chance.  Selection would be based not just on a future proposal but on what a candidate has actually done in the three years leading to the bid. 

What can the pandemic teach European Capitals of Culture?
Norman Foster, the architect, wrote that major crisis (wars, pandemics etc)  accelerate what would have happened anyway. Clearly the move to digital is critical not just because of “social distancing” but to widen the audience, to engage with more people, to develop new forms of artistic production not simply filming and broadcasting. The climate emergency should impact even more on ECOCs and cities.  Every arts and cultural manager/institution regardless of public or private, has a duty to reduce their carbon footprint; they cannot leave it to others. All future ECOCs should be assessed on how they are tackling the biggest crisis the planet is facing.

 In addition to the European dimension and the relationship between cities and citizens, what should the cultural programs of the ECOC focus on?
They need to focus. They have become too big for cities, of the size now winning the title to manage. The next major problem is that governance at Board level is becoming too interfering, by politicians, major influencers in a city. Trust in the Board, and the Boards trust in CEOs and Artistic Directors is disappearing.  If this carries on and we have several current examples, the programme must be wound up. I would prefer a candidate to focus on 3 or 4 practical, measurable outcomes. Bid books have become too complex, too internally focussed. Each candidate will have different items. But simplicity not the current complexity which might be useful for a MA in Cultural Policy but is not an achievable programme. 
I would like to see a city say "Two years after the ECOC the attendance at arts institutions will have increased from X to Y” or “ Two years after the ECOC we will have moved five major arts institutions/forms to the  outer working class suburbs”. By the ECOC year the arts and heritage community will have reduced its carbon footprint from X to y”. Note I do not included tourism.

The European Commission, from our point of view, is quite weak on the communication front of the ECOC. What could it do to disseminate the program among European citizens?
The European Commission is weak on communication on every front not just ECOCs. Look at the mess over vaccines!. It is not a marketing organization and the internal culture is very rule bound and formal. The responsibility rests with the ECOCs themselves. Who are their target audiences in other countries as well as their own? You can’t just say “European citizens” (a common fault). ECOCs do not spend enough time with local and national journalists; they are generally rather inexperienced beyond adverts for events.

 Many nations have invented national cities of culture, isn't there a risk of overlapping with the ECOCs?
There are national CoCs in Lithuania (2 titles large and small cities), UK, Italy, Belarus, Slovakia and now in 2022, France. Serbia is about to announce. In the UK London and Liverpool have Boroughs of Culture. Portugal used to have a programme. There are regional programmes in Eixo Atlântico and Catalonia. The Finno-Ugric title covers four or five countries. European cities can also be named in the multi-country  titles in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Turkic World and Ibero-American. Excellent news for local consumption. Only the UK title has a decent budget (larger than many ECOCs); the rest are very small and can’t make an impact much beyond the city. Only Italy has perhaps done so but this seems entirely based on tourism and heritage and not on contemporary arts production and engagement. Are they a risk to ECOCs? Not in their current format. Just compare how much the Culture Ministry gave to Matera or Marseilles compared to the single million they give to their national titles.    

Mariateresa Cascino

Ecocnews Editor in Chief, Journalist, book lover and Co-Founder of the Women’s Fiction Festival.

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