Guimaraes is the first city of Portugal, a fascinating Celtic sit part of the world patrimony since 2001. It is a small town, you can visit it in only one day, it has a bit over 50.000 citizens and almost half of them are under the age of 30.
Even though it is a small town, it represents a very good working case especially for the nomination as European Capital of Culture and also for how they’ve built the long term strategy. We met with Tiago Andrade, Production Manager @ Vila Flor, one of the main members of the official team, Guimaraes 2012.
The Mayor of the city predicted that their future could lay on tourism and culture.
After the textile industry collapsed they began thinking on how they can make a connection between tourism and culture so they can maintain the city’s economy. They started by restoring the center of the city, they’ve cleaned the squares and the buildings and thus gave possible tourists a reason to visit their city. Even from the ’90 their major problem was that most tourists spend maximum a day due to the fact that you could see the city pretty fast. So, they began to invest more in culture, to organize new festivals and to give one more reason to tourists to stay a bit longer. Basically the festivals opened in the ’90 have set the city on the map and Guimaraes Jazz Festival is one of them.
In 2001 they became UNESCO patrimony and this has motivated the local authorities to think that it’s a good opportunity to invest more in infrastructure for culture. The same year Porto was the European Capital of Culture and people from Guimarares started conversations with the team over there to make a plan for the next 10 years.
Most of their plans were long term made and they thought “Big”. In 2002 they began thinking to a cultural center, something not very easy to accomplish, Portugal not being a wealthy country. In 2005 they managed to inaugurate Vila Flor after a ~15 million euro investment, only from local budget, no government help.
In 2004 they hosted the European Championship’s games for countries like Sweden, Denmark, or Italy. They took advantage of this opportunity to show them what Guimaraes means, they had animations in main squares and benefited of a lot of PR which proved to be a good idea for the future, in the years to follow they had many tourists from these countries.
Like in San Sebastian, co-productions are a very good idea that can help a lot. They’ve inaugurated Cultural Center Vila Flor but they needed promotions for it. They’ve stared locally, then regionally, nationally and internationally, and all the promotion was based on co-productions and support on their side for many events and international festivals, just for them to be present there, even if only for networking, to say “Guimaraes is here”.
Starting from 2002 Portugal investment in culture is 0, 2% of the budget, while in Guimarares is 5%. To be more specific, Guimarares has a local budget of 100 million euro annually out of which 5 million is only for culture. They realized that there are many culture consumers, so in order to become European Capital of Culture they have invited international artists too temporally live in Guimarares, to try to fit in and most important to create/ produce culture.
“From Guimarares, for Guimaraes, for the whole world.”
85-90% of what was created through this program was from Guimaraes, for Guimaraes but with a European opening. They managed to make of Guimarares not only a home for artists but for private sector too, many Portuguese companies changed their city for Guimaraes.
2012 is nothing. 2012 is the beginning.
Carols Martins, Guimaraes CEO 2012, alongside then vice Mayor proposed a part of the budget for European Capital of Culture title to be at disposal for the years to come, and not to be spent entirely for 2012.
When they opened the Cultural Center they had in plan the change of perspective over the city and to create a city of the artists. A program, abandoned after, that referred to a house of the artists in Guimaraes, where anyone could apply for a place, and if accepted, could live for a year without paying, with the condition to create in Guimaraes, for Guimaraes.
Important for them was to combine the creative part and the industry to work together with the local council so they can offer a boost up to the city. They expected that after 2012 to have a “hangover” year, but it went better than they have expected. Only in 2014 the “hangover” effect began when the audience was drastically diminished and the population lost its interest. Still this can be due to the crisis in Portugal, but it is a common effect met for European Capital of Culture, after a whole year of events come a “short” break.
It is important to understand that public funds are managed but only for the city, for its citizens, and this is difficult to communicate. You cannot use public funds working as a rich manager even if you do it you have to show some results.
A local problem they had with the stores and pubs from the center of the city which at the invitation to become partners to support/promote the European Capital of Culture title they answered simply: “We want money, we know you have a big budget”. After many disagreements they found a solution to convince them that through this partnership they will be helped to earn more money if they get involved in the project. A great idea was to offer them English classes, to understand how to discuss with tourist and so on.
Another idea was to offer them exclusiveness for previews of all the shows starting 2011. “Word of mouth” applied very well, stores and restaurants being the first to interact with tourists, and thus being able to recommend events and activities for their visit period. Immediately after the official opening for Guimaraes 2012 they released the program “Mi casa es su casa”, a successful event with the community involvement. They invited the most important artists of Portugal, without their bands, for acoustic concerts in houses, shops, café bars and so on. They had concerts in hairdressers for customers, in apartments for neighbors and the artists were thrilled with the idea. Before these programs, all shops in the center were closed during weekend. After the official opening and after “Mi casa es su casa” program, practiced too at the beginning of 2012, all shops, café bars, restaurants began to make a schedule for the weekend too.
For the official opening they asked all citizens to be part of the program European Capital of Culture and they designed pin badges with the caption “I am part of it” that they distributed all over the city. The next day, after opening, everybody was wearing pin badges proudly. They didn’t stop at the grand opening but organized even bigger events for the entire year (21 March, 21 June, 21 September, 21 December) to show to the people the evolution and how the city was changing along with the title.
For instance, Guimaraes 2012 budget was 60 mil. euro. Very important is how it is managed and more how the cash flow is managed over the years of preparation and most importantly for the year you benefit of the ECOC. At the beginning, European Union transferred the entire sum of money to the new European Capital of Culture. Now they send a small amount, they ask for a report and go on with another amount of money, and so on.
Guimaraes was not supported by government and had not managed to raise a large sum from sponsorship either. There was a time when they could not afford to pay their artists, service bills, and so on. It is very important how you select the official members of the team. From day one you choose professionals. Guimaraes had a big problem in 2009 – 2011 periods. The entire team thought they knew what they are doing for this project even though they had no experience nor have they been informed correctly of the entire procedures. They woke up in 2011 when they saw how much they spent, without keeping in mind the taxes and other spending.
As in Pecs, one of the advices was about how the CEO of the project should be. This is a much debated subject in the EU meetings, if the CEO should be a good manager or has to have an artistic perspective. Those from Guimaraes came to the conclusion that a good manager can make a great job but with the help of counselors from artistic domain. CEO is not the front man, the official image of the project, meaning the one that gives interviews and goes to the official meetings.
Very important is the support of the City Hall and the Local Council for this project. Everything that was made in Guimaraes starting with the ’80 was built on long term, projects for the next 5 to 10 years and no matter the political color, they remained a priority.