The European Capitals of Culture is a programme through which the European Commission designates one city or several cities with the title for the duration of one year. During that year, the selected city organises cultural events with a strong European dimension added to them. It is a great opportunity for each place to generate considerable cultural, social and economic benefits. Also, it's a chance to change the city's image, raise its visibility and rebrand its profile on an international scale.
The concept was first conceived by the Greek former actress and then serving as Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri on 1983, alongside with her French counterpart Jack Lang. It was given the name of European City of Culture, until 1999, when the name was changed to European Capitals of Culture. The initial goal was to bring Europeans together highlighting the importance of culture and arts, and address the commonalities in history and values between the European nations.
For new cities to nominate themselves, there is a specific application process. Six years before the title-year, the selected host member states publish a call for applications, usually through their Ministry for Culture. Cities interested in participating in the competition must submit a proposal for consideration. The selection of each city is decided by an international committee of cultural experts according to specific criteria selected by the European Commission. More than 50 cities carried the title so far, with Athens being the first bearer of the name in 1985.
For 2016, one year after the 30-year anniversary, the capitals selected are Donostia-San Sebastián in Spain and Wrocław in Poland. The cities will organise events throughout the year about music, cinema, theatre, literature, architecture, visual arts and other various performances. For both places the opening ceremonies showed the importance of the programme. They featured over 80,000 attendees, 80 cultural activities of all kinds with the main spectacle including 1,000 attendees in San Sebastián. While in Wrocław the 'Awakening' ceremony, as it was called, featured 1,300 artists, 200 choir singers, 50 soldiers and 300 cyclists.
Besides the stunning opening ceremonies, both cities have had great events on their agendas which they can be proud of. In Poland, the 'Wrocław as the Capital of Literature' and the 'Wrocław and the European Capital of Jazz and Guitar' stood out. The first event was different not only because it included special literary events, but also because the city began carrying the term as UNESCO World Book Capital City 2016 at the moment. In the second event the final concert of 'Thanks Jimi Festival' in Centennial Hall ended up in the Guitar Guinness World Record, which Wrocław has been holding already since 2014, but thanks to 10,000 guitarists playing 'Hey Joe' together, the title was won yet another time.
On the other side of the continent, in San Sebastián, the event that stood out so far was the 'International Classical Music Awards 2016', the equivalent of the Oscars for Classical Music. Additionally, an upcoming exhibition that is expected to impress is the '1516-2016. Peace Treaty' starting in the San Telmo Museum. It will feature more than 400 pieces from 21 international museums. The name of the exhibition was selected based on the fact that the artwork will come from museums that allude to peace, treaties and agreements, demilitarisation, the lack of war, and non-violence including the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Reina Sofía National Museum and Prado National Museum, to name a few.
If you are interested in getting some very interesting facts about the benefits and that the programme has brought to European capitals, have a look and learn all about European Capitals of Culture factsheet, including which city had the greatest economic growth, the highest community feeling and had the largest regeneration to host the event.
All the activities and events taking place in each city can be tracked through the social media channels and by following the hashtags #donostia2016 and #wroclaw2016.