Can culture be a game-changer for a city? The European Capital of Culture title has proven to be so in the past, and now Dundee is bidding to take the title in 2023. In this essay, Lorraine Wilson draws upon conversations with representatives from Dundee2023, Galway2020, and Aarhus2017 to find out what goes into capturing this sought-after city prize, and to assess the benefits which can accrue.
Early morning on 20 November 2013. The announcement of which city would take the title UK City of Culture for 2017 was about to be broadcast live during Lorraine Kelly’s imaginatively titled ‘Lorraine’ morning show. As a Dundee resident, she refused to hide her bias, sporting sky-high heels emblazoned with the WeDundee logo that had inveigled itself into the city’s imagination during the bid process. An initiative by the Creative Dundee organisation, WeDundee brought the population on board, and provided a vehicle for their direct input into what Dundee, UK City of Culture, should be.
It wasn’t to be, however. As the announcement broke Dundonian hearts, anointing Hull instead, the atmosphere switched from palpable tension to abject disappointment and a few tears. It was going to be a long day. Let’s hope Paisley has a more favourable outcome when UK City of Culture 2021 is announced next year.
Dundee is about to put itself through the process again, this time playing on the larger stage, as one of the six candidate cities for European Capital of Culture 2023.
Dundee is about to put itself through the process again, this time playing on the larger stage, as one of the six candidate cities for European Capital of Culture 2023. Along with Leeds, Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Truro-Cornwall (regional bid), and a joint bid from Belfast, Derry and Strabane, Dundee is finalising its first-round bid, which is delivered on October 27.
“The day after we were turned down for 2017, the leader of the council said, ‘OK, this has happened, what would it take for us to be a candidate city for Europe?’” says Stewart Murdoch, head of Leisure and Culture Dundee. “That gave us a trajectory. With the UK bid just gone, a lot of the thinking had been done and relationships had been established. The formal decision only came in June last year, however, when the city council gave cross-party support to go forward. That hasn’t changed after subsequent elections.”
Even those who haven’t visited the city can’t fail to pick up on the changing mood, and look, of Dundee. Still under construction, the £1 billion Waterfront development is already yielding positive results, with new open spaces hosting outdoor concerts and the V&A Museum of Design, Dundee, which is due to open in summer 2018, rising from the banks of the Tay, prompting locals to nod and say, “It’s fair coming on, eh?” every time they pass. Add to that the city’s adoption by the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as the UK’s only UNESCO City of Design, and it’s plain that the Dundee heading into the European Capital of Culture bid process is a rather different city from that which threw its bunnet into the UK 2017 ring.
The Dundee bid is themed around Connections, so that ever-expanding network of Creative Cities could prove to be a valuable ally in the battle for the 2023 title. But we should avoid getting ahead of ourselves. For those who don’t know how the process works, there is a 12-person judging panel, made up of creatives and cultural players rather than politicians and civil servants; two from the UK, and 10 from other EU countries.
During stage one, an 80-page document or Bidbook is presented, outlining the broad themes of the proposal. This is what Dundee and the other candidate cities will submit on 27 October, followed by a half-day presentation which takes place in London during November. “This is where we are tested on our credibility,” says Stewart Murdoch.
Should Dundee progress to the second stage, which will be decided by the end of the year, there will be another six months of work to show how the city would deliver what was mooted in the first Bid Book. At this stage, the judges will also visit the city. The shortlisted candidates will deliver final bids and presentations in the summer of 2018 – the winning city should be announced shortly after.
With our impending full divorce from the EU in 2019, this is likely to be the last time that the UK will host a European Capital of Culture.
The Brexit question. Despite the fact that the UK will be four years out of the EU by 2023, the designation will go ahead, as any activity of this type that happens during the Brexit negotiating period will be honoured on both sides. Norway has hosted the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) despite not being part of the EU (although it is within the European Economic Area). However, with our impending full divorce from the EU in 2019, this is likely to be the last time that the UK will host a European Capital of Culture. No pressure then.
THE BENEFITS of SUCCESS
What are the likely benefits if Dundee should take the title? The Dundee2023 team has commissioned independent research that projects a likely impact of 1600 full-time job opportunities, an additional £128 million boost to the local economy, an increase in GDP in the city region by 4.5 percent, an increase in tourism by 50 percent for the title-holding year, and a long-term baseline increase of 17 percent.
This would certainly chime with the benefits felt by Liverpool, which had the ECoC designation in 2008 (previous to this, the only UK city to host the ECoC was Glasgow in 1990.) The Impacts 08 study by Liverpool University academics found that the festival year saw 9.7 million visitors to the city, an increase of 34 percent, and generated £753.8 million for the economy. They also reported a positive change in perceptions of the city which had long revolved around The Beatles in the 1960s and social deprivation in the 1980s.
The Impacts 08 study by Liverpool University academics found that the festival year saw 9.7 million visitors to the city, an increase of 34 percent, and generated £753.8 million for the economy. They also reported a positive change in perceptions of the city.
There were also warning bells, however. High levels of enthusiasm perhaps led to unrealistic expectations of how the festival year would change Liverpool’s fortunes over the longer term. That’s not to say that the city has not experienced long-term benefits. But it’s important to remember that securing the ECoC designation does not offer a cure-all-ills solution to the problems which affect a predominantly working-class city.
In driving forward Dundee’s bid, Stewart Murdoch and his team are aware that they are working in a similar kind of city to Liverpool. They know the only way to conduct a successful bid process is to have the people of Dundee behind them, to let them know that it is as much for those who enjoy a bit of Strictly Come Dancing on a Saturday night as for those who attend Dundee Contemporary Arts and nod meaningfully at the installations.
As Murdoch notes: “To me, culture is whatever ticks your boxes – live music, sport, stamp collecting… whatever defines you is your culture. One thing about the UK City of Culture process that frustrated me was the exclusion of sport. I always felt that was unfortunate because many people define their own culture by the sports they follow. I particularly like how Aarhus has integrated sport into its programme this year.”
AARHUS: AN EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW
Every year, two countries are chosen to be European Capital of Culture. Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, is one of this year’s ECoCs – Paphos in Cyprus is the other. Even though it still has three months of its designation remaining, Aarhus has already been recognised as one of the most successful programmes for many years. In 2023, Hungary will also host an ECoC, with Győr, Debrecen, Eger, Miskolc, Tokaj and Veszprém bidding for the designation. With this prestigious award stretching back to the 1980s, there is a long list of previous winners whose experiences provide valuable information and insight for bidding cities.
The question ‘How much is this going to all cost?’ will inevitably be on peoples’ lips, notably those working in public services that are facing tough times and continued cuts. The answer to this question isn’t clear. Budgets for previous ECoCs have ranged from €20 million in smaller cities to €100 million in the larger ones.
Stewart Murdoch has been to Aarhus and has built a strong relationship with the team delivering Aarhus2017. “I keep finding links between Dundee and Aarhus – actually Dundee and Denmark in general”, he observes. “But it’s the contemporary links we wanted to develop, to have our thinking informed by Aarhus’s approach, which has been spectacular. They have invested sums of money that we would never be able to reach – I’m told that it’s around 120 million Euros worth of programming. That level is unsustainable for a lot of mid-sized European cities.”
This is a salient point. The question ‘How much is this going to all cost?’ will inevitably be on peoples’ lips, notably those working in public services that are facing tough times and continued cuts. The answer to this question isn’t clear. Budgets for previous ECoCs have ranged from €20 million in smaller cities to €100 million in the larger ones.
Murdoch’s approach on this issue is measured: “You have to be able to be culturally ambitious without being able to write a blank cheque”, he says. “Our pitch is that that we can use the assets that Dundee has – that Scotland has – and doing it, not in a more modest way, but being able to do it in a way that doesn’t involve the levels of expenditure that Aarhus has been able to give it. They have global brands as sponsors after all.”
Juliana Engberg is the Programme Director for Aarhus2017 and is amazed by the difference the designation has made to the city. Engberg moved to Denmark from Sydney – where she was director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art – to take up her role. “In many ways I still consider myself an observer because I’m not from here”, she observes. “But I’ve been here long enough to have a sense in the shift in temperament and mood from when I arrived in 2015.”
“There’s a different energy – it’s powerful. That’s partly to do with a huge influx of people from elsewhere, but this year has really stimulated a local engagement. People seem indefatigable in their appetite for culture. They come out for everything. In part I think it’s because they are so proud, they have embraced the year hugely. They love seeing new people come into the city and spread the word about the city around the world.”
The global networking possibilities afforded to Dundee by its UNESCO designation have already paid off – but in this ECoC bidding process, they are priceless. As Murdoch observes: “At the UNESCO Creative Cities Conference, we made sure that all 112 creative cities knew that Dundee was bidding. We have statements of endorsement from many who have already hosted the year including Turku in Finland, Graz in Austria, Krakow in Poland – I could go on. We’ve also already met with the six candidate cities in Hungary.”
The global networking possibilities afforded to Dundee by its UNESCO designation have already paid off – but in this ECoC bidding process, they are priceless.
Back in Aarhus, Juliana Engberg believes that a lot of the groundwork that could position Scotland as a good choice for the UK leg of ECoC 2023 has been done. “I think Scotland is positioning itself in an extremely interesting way,” she says. “Scotland has, for many years, thought of itself as a go-ahead country; it likes its engagement with elsewhere, and sees that as part of its own commitment to the global picture. From the artistic point of view, my entry point into Scotland has always been through culture and that’s because artists and groups reach out and are genuinely global citizens. Although they are also patriotic and think of themselves strongly as Scottish, which is quite right.”
Dundee’s relationships are also being built elsewhere. Strong links have been formed between Dundee and Galway, which will be a European Capital of Culture in 2020. Marilyn Gaughan Reddan, head of Programme Development and Legacy for Galway2020, echoes the importance of the engagement of the population:
“Phase one of our bid was an exciting time, as that was when we went out and spoke to communities and artists and arts organisations. We had conversations with all the cultural players as well as the social, economic, and tourism players and so on. During that stage, there was an enormous swell of support. People began to get excited about what Galway could do.”
Galway had been one of four areas bidding for the Irish designation: Dublin; the South-East; Limerick; and Galway. Reddan saw that for the first time in a very long time, the whole country was focused on culture: “These four areas had four really different proposals – each was equally great and responding to their own context. Then Galway was shortlisted and we moved one step closer. The name we gave to our overall concept in the first stage was Making Waves – this stage was about developing those concepts and turning them into projects. We could then have more concrete conversations. For example, we had an incredible business engagement programme, where businesses agreed to an increase in their rates to support the ECoC bid.”
Stewart Murdoch has seen the final Galway bid and has great respect for how it was put together. “It’s a narrative bid and beautifully written”, he notes. “I understand that their pitch was what won in the end – over incredibly stiff competition. The planning is important, the bid document is important, your pitch is important, the feel in the city is important, and the panel visits to the city are important. Get any one of them wrong and you’re not going to be in the final.”
The importance of getting the local population behind the bid was hugely important for Galway. When the competition judges visited the city, Reddan recalls, the public ownership of the bid was apparent:
“From five-year-olds wearing a Galway2020 badge, to those working in businesses such as pubs and clubs wearing their bands. One thing happened on the day the judges came – and this was nothing to do with the bid team. We only had from 9am to 5pm to show them as much as we could, but the communities and businesses got together and lined the streets to clap the judges as they left the city. You can see it on our Facebook page. We were surrounded by people who had been by our side through the whole bid phase – the communities, the businesses, the artists, the children, the older people. All standing shoulder to shoulder. It showed me what Galway was all about.”
BENEFITS BEYOND THE CITY
It is important to note that Galway’s bid incorporated not only Galway City. From the county to the Aran Islands, Ballinasloe to the east and Connemara to the west, the designation would impact every town and village of the county. “More than half of our programme is taking place in the rural areas and that is a game changer,” adds Reddan. In this case, the benefits of winning the accolade have extended well beyond the city itself.
For Aarhus2007, the city is working with around eighteen local authorities on the Jutland peninsula. Stewart Murdoch says that Dundee would work with at least 5 authorities in the immediate programming and would have an event in each of the major Scottish cities over the summer of 2023: “Each city will pick their event.”
The creative industries are strong in Dundee and many organic projects have become a success through co-working.
Working on a broader field can be a benefit says Engberg, with the smaller cities taking advantage of their walkability and compact size, while being able to spread out into the wider area for programming. “I sometimes feel that the smaller second and third cities of any country retain a more intact sense of their own history,” she says. “Aarhus feels like a major city; it’s just that everything is closer. It’s a liveable city, where you can go on foot to almost anything. It’s a 20-minute walk to a forest or to the sea. Dundee is a terrific city, as is Galway. What these cities have in common is a lot of charisma.”
That is something that Stewart Murdoch is hoping will come through on any judges’ visit, should Dundee make it to the second bid stage. “It also goes to what we think of as culture”, he observes. “Place and culture are different sides of the same coin. It doesn’t have to be an event. I was talking with Stephen Willacy, the city architect for Aarhus, and he says that the way your city looks and feels is your culture.”
The creative industries are strong in Dundee and many organic projects have become a success through co-working. The city’s UNESCO City of Design designation has help drive an emphasis on design so that Dundee now has a successful Design Festival each May.
As the Dundee bid moves forward, the authenticity of the bid keeps raising its head. How you take the citizens with you? Just as importantly, how do you demonstrate that this is happening? One unifying factor can be music. With that in mind, the Dundee2023 bid asked one of its musical sons, the songwriter Gary Clark (perhaps best known as frontman of the chart-topping band Danny Wilson), to come up with an anthem for the Dundee bid. Gary came back to live in his home city a couple of years ago, following decades in London and Los Angeles. Working with both established (Kyle Falconer from The View) and fledgling talent (Adam Hunter, Model Aeroplanes, ST.MARTiiNS), they recorded ‘Over Bridges’, a song which is available to stream free on Spotify, or the Dundee2023 website.
The range of programmes for any European City of Culture needs to combine the grassroots with attracting the best in the world in an effort to showcase the city during its year of global attention. And then there’s that most important of buzzwords: legacy.
Speaking from an Aarhus perspective, Juliana Engberg is upbeat: “We’ve encouraged our partners to go for broke – this is the year to shine. The worst thing is, maybe it doesn’t work. The best thing is that you have created some great cultural composting. You’ve upskilled the people and there’s money in the bank when it comes to a longer engagement. The legacy will be all of those young people who have engaged in this year and who have seen a wider horizon and a higher bar. In 2025 or 2027, these people will be the cultural leaders.”
“The legacy will be all of those young people who have engaged in this year and who have seen a wider horizon and a higher bar. In 2025 or 2027, these people will be the cultural leaders.”
Marilyn Gaughan Reddan also has an eye on Galway’s legacy, which became reality on 15 July 15, 2016. “The day we won, again the businesses had taken it into their own hands to organise a big screen where thousands of people gathered. We were in Dublin for the announcement, and when they said ‘Galway’, the streets erupted. We couldn’t get here quickly enough to be with the people who had made it all happen.
“It is transformative. It’s not a word I like to use but it is. Even the bidding process provides an opportunity to get people together in our day-to-day work – our cultural work and our civic life. And it means we can say, ‘we’re really good at this. Galway is really good at culture’. We have a young population and that means that what we call the second wave – the children – are there to take up the cultural baton.”
Dundee is also a city that, with the Waterfront and other projects, is placing a stake in culture as one of its future economic drivers. As Stewart Murdoch observes: “The amount of people for whom work is the most important thing is lessening. We need to think about the increasing amount of retired people, those who are studying or not in work. They deserve as great a quality of life. It’s not giving anything away to say that the pitch has to be that Dundee is a typical, mid-sized, European city with mid-sized European challenges, but we have many strengths.”
In a relatively brief period, Dundee has changed more than perhaps any other city in the UK. Hopefully that vision and ambition will be recognised by it finding its place in Europe in 2023.
Dundee isn’t staking its future prosperity solely on culture and leisure. Investment at the Port of Dundee is a way forward for engineering jobs in the renewables sector. However, those who hanker for a return of heavy industry will be disappointed. The jam is still in Angus (if not Dundee), the jute is back in fashion but only produced in a boutique amounts in the city, the journalism remains with DC Thomson recently relocating all its staff into the refurbished Meadowside building – consolidating their place in the city centre.
However, all eyes are on the Waterfront development. In a relatively brief period, Dundee changed more than perhaps any other city in the UK. Hopefully that vision and ambition will be recognised by it finding its place in Europe in 2023.
Lorraine Wilson is a writer, author, and broadcaster from Dundee. Having tried living in other places, she decided that was the best place to be. In the summer of 2015, she spent almost four months travelling solo around Europe by train, covering 11500 miles. The resulting book, Facing Forwards, is now available. Find her on Twitter at: @LorraineEWilson and please check out her website at: www.lorrainewilson.net
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Feature image: Discovery Point on Dundee’s waterfront lit up at night. Image: Neil Williamson [CC BY-SA 2.0]