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EXCLUSIVE. Bob Scott: National COCs is a positive result of Mercouri’s vision

Liverpool Liverpool Photo: Atanas Paskalev by Pixabay

 After having interviewed Steve Green, today we ask the same questions to another Ecocs expert, Sir Bob Scott.

Scott became Administrator of the 69 Theatre Company in Manchester in 1968. He later became Administrator of the Royal Exchange Theatre Trust. As Managing Director of Manchester Theatres Limited he revived two major theatres in the city – the Palace (1981) and Opera House (1984).

In 2008, he was appointed Chairman of the European Commission jury to select the European Capital of Culture. He was Chairman of Trinity Laban (from 2005-2012), Greenwich Theatre and South London Business. In June 2003, he led Liverpool’s successful Bid to become the European Capital of Culture in 2008, and then was appointed the International Ambassador of the Liverpool Culture Company. In Manchester he is Chairman of the Granada Foundation.

He founded Cornerhouse, Manchester. He has been a Governor of the Royal Northern College of Music, a Director of the Buxton Festival, the Halle Orchestra and the Whitworth Art Gallery. He was a Board Member of the Central Manchester Development Corporation from 1988 to 1996.

After 35 years, does the ECOC program still has a future?

There is no doubt that the programme has lost something important. Equal sharing between 27 countries both stretches things out a lot and giving countries like Germany and Luxembourg the same number of opportunities is pretty silly. The cultural capitals of each tiny country are virtually unknown now. If there are no fundamental changes I fear for the programme. Although this observation may overlap with the answers to the others, I have always felt that the real battle for the nomination (and the real prize) has been driven by National rather than European considerations. Liverpool loved beating Birmingham, Newcastle etc. Ditto Marseille beating Bordeaux and Lyon. The only way you could exploit that is by having an annual Europe-wide competition or some kind of version of it. The trouble is that the small countries will feel disadvantaged.

What can the pandemic teach European Capitals of Culture?

I am not sure there are many lessons to be learnt from the pandemic except that Covid must have ruined the Year of the 2020 and 2021 and may have an effect on 2022. I subscribe to the view that the whole horror will only be over when the whole world is clear. Also, this will not be the end of pandemics.

In addition to the European dimension and the relationship between cities and citizens, what should the cultural programs of the ECOC focus on?

As long as the programme continues these two objectives will remain the most important.

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?

I have, frankly, always been greatly disappointed by the whole Commission attitude to the programme. The money is pathetic, the resources and staff size equally inadequate and the lack of interest within the Commission, unless things have changed since my day, has been deplorable. A fundamental change to money, staffing, resources and enthusiasm is required but unlikely.

Many nations have invented national cities of culture, isn't there a risk of overlapping with the ECOCs?

You could say that the creation of national COCs is already a positive result of Mercouri’s original vision. Yes there could be an overlap but the Commission will not be able to forbid national competitions. 

Mariateresa Cascino

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

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