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History of the European Capital of Culture

The European Capital of Culture evolved from a traditional arts festival to a complex programme tied to economic and social objectives.
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Hello, everybody. Today we will look into the European Union initiative that every year, since 1985, designates one European city, or more, to be the European Capital of Culture. This initiative has given cities the opportunity to showcase Europe’s cultural vitality to the world. After more than three decades, we can see that a wide variety of cities have held the title. During the first years, the event took place in the most recognised European cultural centres, such as Athens, Florence, or Paris. At that time, the event lasted only a few months, and involved primarily the cultural sector, aiming to achieve mainly cultural goals.
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In 1990, Glasgow played a pioneering role in using the event as a tool to transform the city’s image, by extending it into a year long programme and taking it as an opportunity to regenerate a city tarnished by the industrial crisis. This rationale was adopted in the following years by cities like Dublin, Antwerp, and Thessaloniki, which used the event to stimulate economic development through culture. What was initially conceived merely as an arts festival glorifying European culture turned progressively into a mega-event that cities compete to organise. For example, in 2008, Liverpool won the title against Cardiff and Bristol. Marseille obtained it for the year 2013 against Bordeaux and Lyon. And the competition continues.
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For 2023, a number of cities in Hungary, and for 2025 in Germany, are already competing for the title. After the example of Glasgow, Lille was another pioneer European Capital of Culture, and came up with a number of innovations that expanded the scope and objectives of the initiative. First, the project involved 193 towns around Lille. Second, it emphasised the social impact such an initiative could have, and established cultural sectors and events in peripheral neighbourhoods to reach out to diverse populations. Finally, Lille boosted citizens’ participation through a volunteering programme that involved almost 18,000 citizens to promote the event.
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This logic of metropolitan and trans-border cooperation was applied also by Luxembourg and Essen, with 53 cities of the Ruhr region, and by Marseilles, with the involvement of the Provence region. And following the example of Lille, other cities have benefited from implementing the volunteer programme. In conclusion, the European Capital of Culture Initiative evolved from a traditional arts festival to a complex programme tied to economic and social objectives.
Watch this video to learn how the European Capital of Culture evolved from a traditional arts festival to a complex programme tied to economic and social objectives.
Since 1985, every year, one European city or more is designated as the European Capital of Culture and given the opportunity to showcase its cultural vitality to the world.
During the first years, the event took place in the most recognized European cultural centres such as Athens, Florence, or Paris. It lasted only a few months and involved mainly the cultural sector to achieve mostly cultural goals.
In 1990, Glasgow played a pioneering role in using the event as a tool to transform the city’s image by extending it to a yearlong program and taking it as an opportunity to regenerate a city tarnished by the industrial crisis.
To avoid a narrow focus on urban growth that may not benefit the whole city’s population, the scope and objectives were later expanded to include, for example, intercity cooperation as well as social impacts.
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Cultural Heritage and the City

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