What is a European Capital of Culture?
In matters of culture, the European Capital of Culture is one of the largest programmes undertaken by the European Union. This title has been awarded since 1985 and was initially known as the European City of Culture. It is "an initiative putting culture at the heart of European cities with EU support for a yearlong celebration of art and culture".
The programme aims to protect and promote the diversity of cultures in Europe and to highlight the common roots of our civilisation. It is also an opportunity to develop cities and their regions through activities in the realm of culture.
The European Capitals of Culture 2023 are Veszprém in Hungary, Eleusis in Greece and Timișoara in Romania. More and more often of late these towns and cities are neither large nor well-known, but places with potential that have thoughts on how to develop creatively. In 2029 one Polish and one Swedish city will become a European Capital of Culture. To date only two Polish cities have celebrated winning this title: Kraków in 2000 and Wrocław in 2016.
Why are we competing for the title of European Capital of Culture?
The challenges facing Bielsko-Biała today largely mirror what is going on in the globalised world. The City of Weaves artistic agenda draws attention to the most important issues of both Europe and Bielsko-Biała. We want to implement new solutions, learn together, share good practices, in order to create the city of our dreams.
We want EVERYONE to feel safe and at ease in Bielsko-Biała - regardless of age, origin, views or sexual orientation - so that, through the empathy shaped by culture and art, we can strengthen respect for each other and build social capital founded on the bonds of trust and cooperation.
This is an extraordinary opportunity for us both to celebrate art in the city and to use culture as a tool for social development.
Being a European Capital of Culture brings a number of long-term benefits to various aspects of city life, from culture, through community and infrastructure, to economic growth.
Our aim is to:
- strengthen European identity through an awareness of the common values and the similar challenges faced by the people of Europe today;
- build lasting relationships through international projects that will make possible an exchange of experiences and mutual introduction of good practices in European cities;
- inspire local makers and designers to bold, innovative works and to participate in international projects;
- strengthen ties and relationships in the city through the integration of communities;
- strengthen the sense of mutual responsibility and accountability for local natural and cultural heritage;
- better look after the green spaces and the river in our city;
- implement educational projects and sustainable ecological solutions in the city;
- revive empty spaces in the city through the media of art and modern technology;
- increase the friendliness and attractiveness of our city for children and young people;
- create places for meetings and dialogue so that everyone feels safe, so that communities can be formed that have an impact on the development of the city;
- increase access to culture for all residents, visitors, migrants and refugees;
- improve accessibility of public spaces for everyone, including people with special needs.
What is the selection procedure?
The official process takes two years. In the first year, we formulate a basic bid or proposal, also called a ‘bidbook’, which contains answers to the most important questions posed. These responses are grouped into six elements: contribution to the
city’s long-term strategy of cultural development; a submission of cultural and artistic events; visibility on a European scale; involvement of our residents in the creation of the bid, its implementation and through it reaching a new audience; management based on infrastructural facilities taking into account financial and implementation frameworks. The 60-page bidbook will be submitted on 15 September 2023. We will then be invited to a meeting to present our bid and to an interview with twelve experts (two from Poland and ten from Europe). Following this meeting the committee of experts will create a list of towns and cities which will move onto the next round. We firmly believe that we will be among this group. We will then become acquainted with the opinions and recommendations of the Committee for further advancement of our bid. A final version of a 100-page bidbook must be submitted by mid-September 2024. We will then compete for the title of European Capital of Culture 2029 in the next presentation before experts
Who else is competing for the title?
The following towns and cities have announced that they will take part in the competition for the title of European Capital of Culture 2029:
Bielsko-Biała, Bydgoszcz, Jastrzębie-Zdrój, Katowice, Kielce, Kołobrzeg, Lublin, Opole, Płock, Pszczyna, Rzeszów and Toruń.
Aren't we too small a town?
There have been much bigger and much smaller towns represented in the history of European Capitals of Culture. On many an occasion these were towns with populations fewer than 100,000. Among the smallest of these selected were Bad Ischl in Austria with fewer than 15,000 inhabitants, Matera in Italy with 60,000 inhabitants and Weimar in Germany with a population of 65,000. Moreover, a trend can be identified whereby it is the smaller and medium-sized towns that tend to be more appreciated by the committee of experts.
What if we don't win?
We are competing because we believe Bielsko-Biała can win. Even if we don’t, we know from the experience of Žilina and other towns and cities who, despite their best efforts, were not awarded the title, that the very process of trying has a great impact on their development and an improvement in the quality of life in these places. Even at the stage of preparing the first Bidbook, taking part in the competition has helped us to better understand the expectations of residents and to analyse the most important challenges in our city. To this end we integrated artistic circles and cultural institutions. We also held meetings with representatives from the world of business, with residents with special needs and with marginalised groups. Such meetings will continue. We hope that the young people who took part in our discussions will be equally determined to actively co-create WELLBEING with us in our city. We have established international contacts, which we definitely want to maintain by participating in
international projects and programmes. In an open call-out for ideas for projects under the ECoC, we received over 100 applications. Almost as many were additionally submitted by members of the Policy Council and Tasking Team. We are already implementing some of these ideas in prototype form; others we want to implement regardless of whether we become a European Capital of Culture or not.
How much will it cost?
The launch generates certain costs, because it is necessary to organise workshops, carry out consultations and obtain expert opinions in order to prepare a bid. In addition, there are the costs of translation, promotion and operating expenses. However, all these features are an investment that will be preserved for the city, whether they be in the form of know-how or specific projects regarded as solutions for the future. Research conducted in other capitals of culture shows that, on average, for every one zloty spent, we can expect an inflow of over 4 zloty from outside the city. When Wrocław was the European Capital of Culture it spent 100 million zloty over the course of the first year and the preparatory period - a large part of this amount constituting an investment in infrastructure - and earned 186 million zloty from external sources. Added to this was the income generated by people attending organised events.
How can I become involved
One of the important principles of the European Capital of Culture competition is the involvement of the local population who co-create the programme and who wish to change their town or city for the better. It is not just about the artists or people that are in charge of cultural affairs, but about each of us. We want to hear about what is needed. We want to discuss matters and together create scenarios for a good future, be it in the context of cultural events, functioning institutions, places, public transport or missing features within the cultural panorama of Bielsko-Biała. In the capitals of culture to date we can observe many interesting projects that combine art with nature, business, education and sport. It is for this reason that the scope of our interests is extensive. During the first stage of our endeavours two open project calls were held, but you can contact us at any time to share your ideas and work with us. If you want to get involved in the activities, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. The information office is located at Point 11 on ul. 11 Listopada 24 in Bielsko-Biała (open Monday to Friday from 12.00-18.00), telephone: +48 506 210 636.