High praise for Galway’s 2020 bid, but concerns that ‘European dimension’ is lacking

support for its European Capital of Culture bid, and has the potential to host an event of this magnitude. However Galway 2020’s lack of detail and plans on the all-important ‘European Dimension’ has been criticised by the capital of culture selection panel.

The ‘European Dimension’ will have to be addressed in the next bid-book to come before the capital of culture selection panel ahead of its final decision. However all three Irish bids were lacking in this regard, and it is a matter there is time to address. The main concern for Galway will be Limerick, with the selection panel noting approvingly how that city was already a ‘national capital of culture’ in 2014.

Last November, Galway, Limerick, and a joint bid from Wexford, Waterford and Kilkenny - dubbed The Three Sisters - were shortlisted for the European Capital of Culture 2020 status. The following month, the ECOC selection panel produced a Selection of The European Capital of Culture in 2020 in Ireland- The Selection Panel’s report Pre-Selection Stage, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the various bids, and what it expects from the three contenders in their next bid-books.

Regarding Galway’s bid, the report noted the “enthusiasm” of the Galway 2020 presentation team, and praised their “ability to take on board new ideas and respond to sometimes critical comments”, as well as the level of public consultation which had been undertaken. It praised a number of its proposals and recognised “the ambition of the region in developing its cultural and social offers”. It also said the “overall proposed budget is sound at this stage”.

The report remarked that the Galway 2020 bid had “clear support at political and executive levels”, and highlighted as “an exceptional statement of intent and support”, the Galway business community’s agreement “to an increase in the business rate, on the condition it is used for the ECOC”.

However the selection panel had criticisms. While the report acknowledged the city and county “have the proven capacity to manage one-off large scale events”, the Galway 2020 team “needs to show it can develop this for a year-long major programme in addition to the normal cultural offer”, especially as the panel has “concerns over the ability of the region (including the rural areas with 50 per cent of the programme ) to manage a venture of this magnitude”.

The panel also questioned the “rather late timing” for the recruitment of the artistic director.

Crucial to the securing of the European Capital of Culture 2020 status is that the year of events must have a ‘European dimension’. In many respects this is possibly the most important criterion the selection panel needs to see. However all three Irish bidders were criticised for not taking the European dimension into sufficient account.

“The panel felt his criterion was considerably under-developed in all bidbooks,” the report read, later complaining that all three proposals were too “inward looking”: “That a city is in Ireland, in Europe, has a vibrant existing cultural offer and will market itself in Europe is not in itself a strong interpretation of the European dimension”.

In its recommendations to the competing Irish cities, the report said the bids must “broaden the understanding and awareness of the city’s own citizens on the diversity of cultures of Europe” and it expects to see “a significantly increased focus on European partnerships (co-productions, co-curations as well as visiting artists/performers ) and multi-year projects addressing issues of concern across Europe”.

Referring specifically to Galway, the report said, “The European Dimension was the least developed part of the bid. It was covered in only one page of the bid book and did not set out a comprehensive strategy”. It also said Galway’s bid “did not seem to have sought out similar areas in Europe for learning and partnership as would be expected at this stage”.

Despite this Galway appears to be in a stronger position than Wexford, Waterford and Kilkenny, which the report said, “needs more development breaking out of the current cultural offers”. Their plans regarding the ‘European dimension’ have “not been developed as far as the panel would expect at this stage”. The selection panel also expressed “concerns over the balance between national and local funding”.

Galway’s main competitor is clearly Limerick, whose bid was praised in the report as “ambitious”. Worryingly for Galway, the report explicitly stated: “Limerick’s successful national city of culture programme in 2014 could form the basis for a successful ECOC”. However the panel also stated that Limerick’s programme “as outlined needs considerable development with a particular emphasis on the European Dimension criterion”.

The panel’s other general recommendations to the Irish bidders were more ideas on how to “attract visitors from the rest of Europe”; more information on the managerial capacity in the city/region to “manage the depth and range” of the capital of culture status; and further development on how to attract “audiences which are more difficult to reach”.

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