ECOC or Marketing Cities in Europe?

Sandy Fitzgerald

On the European City of Culture, this idea, this project I think it is really time for review for this project, which has been run for quite a while. And I think there are two levels to it. One there is the official level, which you can call the profile of the city and the officials or the profile on a macro scale. And then there is the profile on the community scale or the cultural scale on the ground level.

One of the big problems with it is that it is a misunderstanding again about this term culture and arts. Because actually they are European Cities of Art really. They are not investing in European Cities of Culture because if it was culture I think there would be a very different approach. Otherwise they have been investing in the holistic and future development of a city or a town. If you are investing just in arts projects or bringing stuff in from abroad, you know bringing really big acts or symphony orchestra or whatever. That is not the investment in the cultural development of the city. It is a very small investment.
I have seen and been close to quite a few Capital Cities of Culture. And there is always a downside to them in that first of all a lot of the money that comes in is actually not in the hands of people who understand culture. So what they end up doing and investing in is either very high profile signature events that is very good for photo opportunities for politicians etc. But does not actually do much for the people on the ground.

The second thing is that it sucks a lot of the funding out of the city so that you end up the year after, two years, three years with a very little funding for the organizations that are on the ground that were receiving the funding. Because it eats up funding, it takes funding, takes resources. And a lot of the infrastructure as in the people who were involved in the city or a town and who are involved in arts and culture end up being damaged by this. They end up having to struggle both to participate in City of Culture but secondly to survive after the City of Culture because a lot of resources do not come back to play in two maybe three years after the City of Culture is over.

So I think the City of Culture idea is not really the City of Culture idea at all. It is actually a promotion, it is a marketing tool for the city. Now if you look at it that way, fine. I think you really have to look on the Cities of Culture as marketing exercise for the cities, which can be very beneficial and can be very positive.

For instance Glasgow benefited hugely from their City of Culture because they changed the attitude, the profile of the city from one of the no-go area, which nobody wanted to go to, to a city that was interesting and that people went to. So it improved tourism, it improved investment and they did that using the City of Culture. But it is a marketing exercise.

And if you call that something like Marketing Cities in Europe it would be more honest. That you are actually approaching it in that way, what you are actually doing. But certainly a lot of the time does not benefit the people on the ground who are creating arts and culture in society.

And I think I have seen a lot of anger out of that because people feel very let down, people feel very disappointed. And what they do not realize is that actually this was never really the City of Culture project in the beginning this was the marketing project. And I think there is a misconception happening around European City of Culture idea. So I think a review would be really timely and a reconfiguration of what it is and what it meant to be and how can benefit the city and what is the real role is for a city or for a town.

Related fights

More fights by Sandy Fitzgerald

Sandy Fitzgerald

Sandy Fitzgerald

Ambassador of Trans Europe Halles in Dublin, Ireland

Full biography