unFailing European Capitals of Culture into platforms for citizens initiatives

A deeply honest conversation around working in the cultural field and about collaboration. Takes place at Living on the Edge community event in Brussels 25-28 February. Instructions for registering below.


The European Capital of Culture (ECoC) is an opportunity for deep cultural change more than a competition with a prize. Cities can rethink the way citizens participate in culture making, as (co-)creators rather than producers or consumers. But does the experience of cities committed to undergo profound transformations confirm this? ECoC is failing in many ways.

ECoC strives to “bring together all stakeholders for a shared vision of change which makes sense both for the locals and for the institutions at all levels. This is quite unique” (@ilariadauria). Factor in the European thinking that should be present in the bid, the multi-annual planning and political commitment required, and one sees the many risks of failure in such a complex task. What do we need to better navigate this kind of complexity and minimize waste of energy, resources, (public) money?


Culture making at the center would benefit from greater participation of non-experts traditionally seen as “consumers”, yet we don’t see enough of it.

Increasingly, citizens from all over coordinate and work together in new ways, deeply participatory: in democracy (street movements turned political parties), in economy (decentralization of financial institutions), in social cohesion (hacking reception of migrants). Culture is about all of these and more. If properly brought in, non credentialed experts can help overcome challenges administrations and policy makers have.

Can we work together to address this?

Nadia argued recently that we need to start by shaping institutional demand for alternatives. But are administrations able to onboard new thinking in their organisation? Is there a tradeoff between keeping cultural funding more in control through traditional approaches and letting risks and innovation in? Does it depend on the individuals who make up the administration?

In this session we share insights and experiences of people who are at the intersection of public and private service, who are familiar with the struggle inside out. More than lessons sharing, this session aims to uncover new ways of working in cultural projects (no matter their size!) and new processes that involve a diversity of stakeholders in order to achive change.


Personal journeys (5’ pitches)

  • Robert (Bob) Palmer will offer a birds-eye view on the current situation: where traditional experts and citizens fail to work together. What buttons need to be pushed in order for broader participation to happen? Has something changed over the years in the way ECOC is organized and the structures in place for citizen engagement?
  • Ilaria D'Auria – unfailing political breakdown: the case of Matera 2019
  • Niall O'Hara (@NiallOH) - unfailing barriers to participation: the case of Galway 2020
  • Roxana Bedrule - unfailing operations breakdown: the case of Bucharest 2021

Culture in cities - a moderated conversation on participation and collaboration challenges

  • led by @Noemi Salantiu (EdgeRyders) in plenary or smaller groups, depending on number of participants

How can you get involved

Are you a citizen, a decision maker, an organisation involved in a cultural project and experimenting with collaborative processes? Tell us about it, we are eager to learn how you organise, how you make decisions together with others, how you build partnerships.


Tickets for this event do not cost money, but you need to complete some small tasks. It’s easy!

  1. If you don’t already have one, sign up for an edgeryders account here: http://bit.ly/1SKCYtZ

  2. Leave a comment below to introduce yourself.

  3. Share or tweet this session on your social media using #LOTE5 #ECOC hashtags. We will send you ticket immediately after.

  4. See you in Brussels :slight_smile:

If you are a member in a European Capital of Culture team and would like to join in as a panelist, get in touch! We would be happy to have you.

Date: 2016-02-27 15:00:00 - 2016-02-27 17:00:00, Europe/Brussels Time.

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“That’s not culture”?! and what prompted this session

With Edgeryders we have been working with some of these cities, doing work mainly in bridge building. One failure we’ve seen as recurrent is the inability to see culture beyond arts.

At discourse level around ECOCs, there seems to be agreement that artistic production is only one way to build new markets, audiences, or cultural economies. But in practice there is some resistance. Our argument has been: we can’t afford to not look for solutions in other directions; not when our societies are plagued with a number of highly complex issues: rise of authoritarianism, economic breakdowns, rampant social inequalities and generally a greater distance between the centre and periphery, between the establishments and newcomers. Culture is political, whether artistic or not. And a city is its citizens, all of them and their endeavors.

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Stakeholders (brandishing stakes)

In practice, a city seeking to run a successful ECOC bid needs to onboard its arts organisations. That would be great, if not for the fact that arts orgs – especially in smaller cities – can be inward-looking and parochial. They tend to see ECOC as a way to get more lavish funding for their business-as-usual activities rather than as a chance to grow, internationalise, and regenerate. They may move to secure what they perceive as “their turf” by excluding others.

This is where politics moves in. When everything works well, established arts orgs are assured that their pet projects are to be absolutely central in the bid book. Next, they are told that many “new kids” are going to have to be on board if the city is to win the title. The context is of increasing financial resources, so there is no direct competition for funding between the existing orgs’ activities and the new stuff that is being brought in.

In other words, the ECOC competition is framed as a positive-sum game. This was done successfully in the case of Matera. Unfortunately, once the title is won, it becomes much harder to prevent stakeholders from seeing a cake that needs to be split, and splitting a cake is very much a zero-sum game. That’s when they could be tempted to use their stakes as weapons against each other…

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