Patricia Philbin is coolness personified. For a woman who is driving a project that is worth an estimated €50 million to Galway, she is very laid back about it all. She is that way because Galway is very confident about its bid — a 100-page document outlining more than 40 projects that will transform this city for a period of five years — and then for about a century after.
In 2116, when they look back on the history of an even more thriving Galway than now exists, one that will be driven by cultural and cruise ship tourism, hopefully they will show what a key role this bid process meant to Galway. Win this bid and Galway will have to develop accordingly, giving it the infrastructure to show off Ireland in 2020, giving it official cultural status right across the continent.
The statue of the Two Wildes on Williamsgate Street may link the opposite ends of this European Union, but the granting of this status will be the official copperfastening of this. This is the most important project that Galway has even been involved in. So, no pressure, right?
But first, there is more work to be done. For another fortnight. At least.
Started in 1985 on the initiative of the then Greek Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri, European Capitals of Culture have grown into one of the most ambitious cultural projects in Europe and become one of the best known – and most appreciated – activities of the European Union.
The original motivation of the project is more relevant than ever. It is to provide Europeans with an opportunity to learn more about each other’s cultures, to enter into intercultural dialogue and to enjoy their shared history and values: in other words, to experience the feeling of belonging to the same European community.
And Galway is ready for that, according to Ms Philbin.
“We are preparing now for the judges’ visit and for the presentation we will make to the full panel later that week. The judges will arrive on Sunday July 10 and have their own private time around the city. So we are hoping that they will find that people know what the European Capital of Culture is about and why we should win it,” she said when I met her on Tuesday.
“On Monday July 11, the judges will be meeting with various stakeholders in the bid, the businesses who are supporting it, the artists who are planning the projects, and they will also be visiting locations in the county to get a sense of what is happening there.
“They will be here for eight hours and they leave Galway at 5.30pm and will head for Limerick, so we are encouraging people who live along the Galway to Limerick route to fly their flags and mark the Capital of Culture bid in some way, whether it be with 2020 flowerbeds or banners or whatever. We are trying to get across the energy that exists for this bid, so we are asking people to get active on social media because the judges are looking at that too as a measurement of just how enthused everyone is.
“The locations which will be visited by the judges are not being revealed because we want them to get an authentic feel of what Galway is about, so that the bid comes to life in a real sense.”
100-page bid book
“It is was quite pressured to get all of the information into the 100-page limit of the bid book, but we are very happy with the detail what is contained within it. There are about 40 projects listed, some of which will commence next year if we win. Because it is a competition, we cannot reveal the entire detail of the projects but we are very satisfied that it is a very strong bid. We have the visit to try to animate the content of the bid book and we have the presentation as well to get the complete picture across.
“We have developed the projects to have a higher level than we had in the first stage of the bidding process, and had them all costed and reviewed, and we have also the benefit of additional European partnerships and connections,” said Ms Philbin.
She said that regardless of the result, the bid process have seen a sea change in the city and county in that it has resulted in greater partnership between the city and county and the various agencies involved.
“This has explored how projects can be funded and getting people to work together who not normally be working together. This is a real legacy that has come out of the bidding process.
“There have been great synergies between the city and county. Obviously one is very dependent on the other. Locations in the county have said that they are seeing the benefits of it already.
“It has given great hope to communities which had suffered in the downturn. Rural towns can now see the key role they can play in any situation if they collectively come together and pool their limited resources,” she said, adding that this meitheal-type approach is a bit like hosting the ‘cultural stations.’
Sense of public ownership of the bid
Patricia Philbin says they they are very encouraged by the response of the public to the bid and the competitive nature of the entire thing.
She told me that one day, an elderly lady called into the office to say that she had heard that “Kilkenny and Limerick are going for this too, so I decided I’d let ye know in case ye hadn’t heard.”
It is that sense of ownership that has made herself and her team so proud. They have really engaged the public in this competition to deem who will be the worthy winners.
Assuming that Galway emerges victorious on July 15, the real work starts straightaway.
“Yes it has to because, key appointments have to be made to ensure that the first of the projects which start next year, get underway. A post-announcement planning stage had to be developed to allow this to happen as soon as possible.”
And so they are all set —
But here are the key dates:
Sunday July 10 — the judges will arrive in Galway at an undisclosed hotel and will spend their private time walking around the city. Make sure they know we want this.
Monday July 11, the judges will spend eiught hours being shown the Galway bid herte in the city and county. They will spend eight hours here and leave Galway at 5.30 to ehad for Limerick. Make sure that along this route, they can see how much we want this title.
Thursday July 14 — The final pitching of the bid to the judges in the National Concert Hall, Dublin.
Friday July 15 — The announcement in the afternoon.
It will be 2035 before Ireland will have the next opportunity to host a Capital of Culture. I wrote last week that this will be the ‘opportunity of a generation for a generation.” Nobody wants to have to wait 20 years to get another shot at this.
And so it’s fingers crossed. So much has been done so far. Let’s push this over the line.
Flag up, banner up, colour up, and wise up — it’s the serious end of the 2020 bid.