Complexities of European Capital of Culture 2020 bid laid bare

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

A 'fantastic opportunity': Arts minister Heather Humphreys with City of Culture director Mike Fitzpatrick on a visit to the City Gallery of Art last year. Ms Humphreys will announce the finalists for the European Capital of Culture 2020 title later in the year, after a complex process. Picture: Alan Place
THE process behind the bid for European Capital of Culture in 2020 and the event itself will be “demanding and complex” for the selected city, which must offer a strong European dimension.

THE process behind the bid for European Capital of Culture in 2020 and the event itself will be “demanding and complex” for the selected city, which must offer a strong European dimension.

An introductory briefing held in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht this week, attended by the Limerick Leader, set out the process behind the application for the designation, which Limerick is one of at least four Irish cities seeking.

Sylvain Pasqua of the European Commission, who hosted the information session, admitted that it would be “complex, but by the end of the bidding process, cities should have already improved in some way.

“It is a way for the city to engage with their citizens, with the various stakeholders - economic, social, political - and it is also a way for cities to reflect on their relationship with Europe,” he said.

“What it means for a city to be European, how you can project your own cultural diversity abroad, how you can make your citizens more aware of the richness of European diversity, these common themes. I would say that the basic, fundamental benefit is really an increased pride and confidence in the city.”

Local authority representatives from around the country attended the briefing. Sheila Deegan, arts officer, Mike Fitzpatrick, director of City of Culture, and three officials who worked on the year of culture in 2014, were in attendance. Arts minister Heather Humphreys said that the designation represents a “fantastic opportunity”.

“It is essential that Irish cities are armed with all of the information necessary to put together the best possible bid,” she said. “I expect to be in a position to announce a shortlist of finalists later this year. I am encouraged by the level of interest and enthusiasm which is already evident, and I would like to wish all interested cities well with their bids.”

Limerick faces strong competition from Galway - which has been preparing for 12 months and has a strong regional dimension to its bid - and the regional clustering of Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny, while Dublin is thought not to be a strong favourite, having already held the title in 1995.

The Capital of Culture is regulated at EU level and awarded on an annual basis. It will be given jointly to an Irish and Croatian city in 2020, the third time Ireland will hold it, after Cork in 2005. An independent panel of 12 experts will judge the proposals, based on an initial 80 page document, presentation and site visits.

While funding is available from the EU - €1.5m - it will not be awarded to the selected city until towards the end of 2020, with the onus on the local authority and Government to underwrite it. With that in mind, Limerick CEO Conn Murray told councillors at the presentation of the book of estimates this week that “a sum of €600,000” would be included in the budget as a resource to start planning a programme for 2020.

“Limerick, the Mid-West Region and Ireland have been treated to a successful, enjoyable and culturally enlightening year as a consequence of our year as City of Culture,” he said.

“To build on this success and prepare us for the European Capital of Culture bid 2020, I have included a sum of €600,000. This is not money to be spent on preparation of the bid, but in anticipation of being successful to ensure sufficient resource is available at an early stage of planning.

“This is,” he added, “a lesson learned from our experience to date.”

Asked for some clarity on this position, a council spokesperson said that figure of €600,000 “is part of the planning process for 2020 and is building capacity towards preparing the bid, but it has to be discussed yet about how it will be spent.”

While it is expected that an agency will be created to manage the bid for 2020 - as outlined by Mike Fitzpatrick recently to the council - the spokesperson said “the bid team hasn’t been established yet and we’re really in the very early stages”.

In the interim period, councillors approved a rise in service support costs of €250,000 in 2015 as part of the budget and it is thought this will help to fund staffing of the bid.

Asked about this, the council spokesperson said: “There has been a rationalisation of how Limerick City and County Council provides service support across all its cultural services since amalgamation and this figure is representative of that.” A key aspect of the process will be the focus on Europe. Mr Pasqua said that the programme should appeal to all European citizens, as well as those living in and around the city in question - no easy task.

“It is not about what the city looks like or its past and heritage, it is about what it will do. A specific programme must be developed for the year and you must explain how current events will go one step further and have that European dimension. It is on the basis of programme and objectives that the application will be assessed.”

Limerick previously bid for the cultural designation in 2000, and arts officer Sheila Deegan said that experience, plus that gleaned from City of Culture, would be important in framing the 2020 process.

“We are only beginning to release it now, and especially in this context, because it was very hard for us when we were so close,” she said of the benefit 2014 would bring to bear.

“There are already lots of connections (to Europe) and a lot of those were already revealed last year. We have to show that this is going to be an adventure, and we have to make that appealing.

“We now have an eco-system in Limerick of cultural practitioners, of artist-led organisations, of an appetite and a confidence after 2014. And if you can bring all of that to bear on the process, than we have a very good story to tell.”