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Culture capital celebrations tinged with sadness

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It is one of the most sought-after titles European cities vie for - the European Capital of Culture.

The initiative was developed in 1985 and has, to date, been awarded to more than 60 cities across the European Union and beyond.

The final city for the next round of “culture capitals” has just been decided – Bourges in France.

The capital of the province of Aquitaine at the end of the Roman Empire,Bourges, with a population of just over 60,000, carefully maintains its heritage from a glorious past.

A city of art and history, Bourges is noted for its monuments: the Jacques Coeur Palace and the Saint-Etienne Cathedral – included on the UNESCO World Heritage list – as well as its old streets and half-timbered houses.

It joins three other European cities which will share the coveted title in 2028.

They are České Budějovice in the Czech Republic and Skopje in North Macedonia.

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The title of European Capital of Culture rotates around eligible countries and České Budějovice and Skopje were made in the autumn while the decision to also include Bourges was made on 13 December.

There were three other French contenders: Rouen,Clemont-Ferrand and Montpellier.

Montpellier,I n the south of the country, found itself in what some have called an awkward situation, with controversy swirling around the tragic death of one of its leading cultural figures. Just a week before the final selection meeting, the celebrated and influential French curator Vincent Honoré died, aged just 48, in what is thought to have been a suicide.

Honoré was head of exhibitions at MoCo Montpellier, a contemporary art centre, and a key art institution in Montpellier.According to some local media his suicide came against a backdrop of what was reportedly an unpleasant mix of culture and political intrigue.

Aside from that, glowing tributes were paid to Honoré with Nicolas Bourriaud, the former director of Mo.Co.saying he was “one of the most brilliant curators of his generation”.

Francesca Gavin, newly appointed artistic director of the Vienna Contemporary fair, posted on Instagram: “You were always an incredible beacon of enthusiasm and humour and intelligence.”

Elsewhere, an article in the French publication, Le Quotidien de l’Art, said Honoré was “not afraid to tackle political, painful and complex subjects” and reported he had said that for several months had been suffering from his working conditions.

As well as Montpellier, two other cities are now gearing up for their big year in four years after their selection.

České Budějovice will be the third city in the Czech Republic after Prague (in 2000) and Plzen (in 2015) to hold the European Capital of Culture title.

Reaction to its choice came from Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission, who said: “It is a unique opportunity for a city and its surroundings to bring culture and Europe right to the heart of their communities.

“It is the chance for their inhabitants to discover the rich cultural diversity of our continent, and the common elements we share as Europeans.I hope that České Budějovice will harvest all the long-term cultural, economic and social benefits that the European Capital of Culture can bring.”

Meanwhile, the decision to select Skopje was announced at the House of European History in Brussels after the presentation of the programmess of the two finalists: Skopje and Budva in Montenegro.

Skopje will begin implementation of its programme as soon as next month and “during the following years, united Macedonian and European artists will participate in hundreds of cultural events that will culminate in 2028", the mayor of Skopje, Danela Arsovska said after the decision was announced. 

In fact, the city of Skopje announced the idea of its candidacy for the title of European Capital of Culture way back in 2014 as part of the city's European integration efforts.

Margaritis Schinas noted, “In 2028, we will once again have a European Capital of Culture beyond the European Union.

“After Novi Sad (Serbia) in 2022 and the upcoming Bodø (Norway) in 2024, it will be the turn of the city of Skopje (North Macedonia) to take on the mantle for a year.”

He said he believes the title will boost the city’s cultural “vibrancy and ambitions.”

Designating European Capitals of Culture must first go through two selection rounds:

a pre-selection round (following which a shortlist of candidate cities is drawn up) and

a final selection round approximately nine months later (one city is recommended for the title).

The selection criteria state that cities should prepare a cultural programme with a “strong European dimension, which fosters the participation of the city's stakeholders as well as its various neighbourhoods and attracts visitors from the whole country and Europe.”

The programme must have a lasting impact and contribute to the long-term development of the city.

The cities must also show that they have the support from the relevant public local authorities and the capacity to deliver the project.

The European Capitals of Culture title has developed into one of the most ambitious cultural projects in Europe.

It can also bring about real economic benefits for those selected.

For example, the 2013 European Capital of Culture in Marseille was part of an investment project in new cultural infrastructure of more than €600m – which was in turn integrated into a multi-billion euro effort to revitalise the city spanning several decades.

A European commission source said: “They are of course above all a cultural event. Holding the title enables cities to boost cultural activity and reach new audiences. Cultural operators acquire a more international outlook.”

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