Kalamata is a small town in southern Greece, and one of the most interesting destinations on our #clujx 2015 route. We liked it from the moment we got there and drove around a bit. It is a city that supports itself economically through olive cultivation and vineyards, exporting products worldwide (thanks to the port), but most importantly from tourism.
In 2021, Romania and Greece are partner countries for the title of European Capital of Culture, both having one city that will carry this name. Applications will be submitted this fall, and until the end of 2016 we will find out who are the winners.
Kalamata is one of the candidate cities of Greece. Although there have been a number of candidacy intentions of the Greek cities in the press and on Wikipedia, some of them no longer wish to continue running for this title. There are currently 7 official candidate cities for Greece and 11 for Romania on Wikipedia. If you count, however, all intentions to run expressed by Romanian cities we have around 14 interested in the title.
Kalamata is probably the best prepared city, thus we wanted to learn more about their candidacy. After walking through the city, trying the local cuisine and talking to the locals, we visited the Kalamata21 Cultural Center office where we discussed with the executive director, Ektor Tsatsoulis.
Just the day before our meeting, their team managed to complete the first draft of the application document, detailing the budget, the European Commission requirements and so on. Their concept, Kalamata Rising, is closely related to the history of the city. Around 200 years ago, the Greek War of Independence burst in the region of Kalamata; then, in the ‘80s, an earthquake devastated 70% of the city. Nevertheless, Kalamata proved it can develop very well and at a fast pace. The city recently received a new opening towards Greece and Europe, through the highway that links Kalamata to Athens (approx. 2h drive, a route which took 8h in the past). Furthermore, the airport is now international, this summer they have around 50 destinations and on a busy day they have 10 flights per day, increasing air traffic by 300%. These elements are important to highlight the dynamics of the city, and the title of ECOC may not necessarily mean a change for the better, as long as it is not controlled and designed for the longer term.
The city and its people have long been isolated, which is the main reason why they have learned to support themselves economically. There was no import/ export trading, leaving them unknowing of their situation as they could not compare themselves to anyone. The only international festival is Kalamata Dance Festival, which this year celebrates its 21st anniversary. However, this only means one week of culture per year …
They started to realize the changes happening in Kalamata and they don’t want let them get out of control. Currently, they have the capacity to accommodate up to 3 000 people. It is assumed that in the following years, this number will double. They are considering ways in which this development can be made in a sustainable manner, in order to avoid environmental destruction and bad service hotels.
Through their candidacy, the city hopes to help develop itself on the long term, protect the environment and attract investment. Also, they want to create new festivals, but protect the current ones; every action they make is based on the idea of developing something new while protecting what already exists. They want to establish a set of rules to follow from now on, arguing that 5 years from now it will be too late.
Kalamata is best prepared city in Greece for this candidacy. They officially started to get ready in October last year, a big difference if we compared it to Cluj-Napoca, but they were among the first to do so in Greece. This idea first occurred to them the year before, proposed by the City Council, but was then slowed down by political changes. Fortunately, they did not change the mayor, thus the idea to candidate was put into practice. They are aware that they started to work for this very late, but given the short period of time, they advanced rapidly. Their official office is filled with young employees and professional collaborators.
Kalamata has political support at the local level, but also the support of five neighboring municipalities. Essentially, the whole region of Messinia is collaborating on this project, with a total of 6 cities, having the epicenter in Kalamata as it is the largest city and also for its great geographical position.
The first issue Kalamata is facing is Tripoli’s application to the title of ECOC, e neighboring town located only 90 km away. It is indeed a much smaller city than Kalamata, but they will have a different approach and concept for the ECOC title. However, the two cities made an agreement that no matter which of them wins, they will support one another.
The budget is almost set, and will soon be proposed to the City Council. The City Hall will only be engaged in discussing matters related to the infrastructure and investments made in this direction, the budget and legal entity. All the rest regarding the candidature, from concept and projects to the cultural program, all are determined by the responsible association. They aim to receive 20% of the necessary budget from the City Hall, which is a small percentage compared to other cities, but is related to the Greek government structure. When Thessaloniki (1997) and Patras (2006) were European Capitals of Culture, their municipalities did not contribute to the budget, almost 99% of the budget was then supported by the government. Since then the rules have changed, and City Halls are more involved in such projects, supporting the development of their cities.
The Greek government did not make an official statement regarding support for the candidate cities, most probably they are waiting until next year when they will know which are finalists. After the announcement of the winner, a lot of political lobbying will be done in order to attract sponsors and partners. Kalamata has an advantage in this respect as the Greek president is from Kalamata, and if the city wins it expected of him to support it. Theoretically, this should be done with any of the cities, regardless of who wins, but in this case he would have an additional reason.
Another advantage for Kalamata constitutes the industry and large companies developed in the area that could provide the city with financial support. However, these are just ideas and hopes, because the Greeks are currently in an economical crisis. They hope that in 2-3 years there will be improvements, for now they are just trying to make a reasonable budget.
Due to Greek laws, offices from Kalamata 2021 are funded by the City Hall and there is no association, having no opportunity to build an independent organization. They hope this will change soon, but until then they have a service agreement with the Cultural Center. Those in charge of this project are not employees of the City Hall, they were contracted for the candidature, having well-established terms and goals. They report to the City Council and have no political supervisor to tell them what to do, they are the ones making all the decisions. They do not, however, manage the money directly, they must send requests for their expenses.
Specifically, the first stage of the candidature budget was 250 000 euros, of which 75 000 were sponsored and the rest offered by the City Hall. Besides this, several companies in the city provided their services for support. After this first stage in which the municipality support is established, they will discuss larger amounts, including from sponsors. In comparison, other Greek cities work with zero budget and no involvement from the municipality, and this does not imply sustainability. If the City Hall does not get involved, such projects like ECOC will never be implemented. Moreover, it is an important aspect that the jury takes into account.
In the Messiniei area, there are many large companies that could financially support Kalamata 2021. For example, Costa Navarino, a tourist resort recently opened already showed their support. The owners of the resort are a Greek family which holds shares in air and maritime transport companies. In this area there is also one of the biggest tobacco factories in the country, with a profit of ~ 28 mil. euros last year, of which 2.5 million were offered to the employees representing bonuses. There are a few alcohol factories, but also factories which produce olive oil.
They admit that they have some problems, but considering how relaxed the Greeks are in general, nothing is that bad …
They lack job opportunities for their people, and are struggling to persuade the young not to leave the city. It is a city better suited for families, most youngsters choosing to move to the capital or other European cities. The youth is well educated and many go abroad to further develop themselves as in Greece their opportunities are narrow, and have no reasons to return home.
For example, those who organize TEDxKalamata sit throughout the year in Athens, coming back home only to organize the event. There were also startup companies, but they all moved to the capital later on. It is a common European problem, and Romania is facing it as well.
They are aware that they cannot bring major changes in all areas, but they are trying to develop the cultural and tourism sector by trying to create a creative hub offering young professionals a reason to stay.
All around Greece, cities face budget problems in the cultural sector, having no money to open museums, sites, monuments and so on. Kalamata’s situation is not as bad as in Thessaloniki’s, but you have difficulty here if you want to visit all the city has to offer.
Kalamata’s cultural sector is supported by amateurs. They have several independent theater companies, but not professionals. For example, Kalamata Castle has an outdoor theater, where performances and concerts usually take place The events program is more active during summer time, and the rest of the year has smaller independently organized events. Most of these events are free.
Kalamata undertook some research on its citizens, willing to learn how they will respond to the idea that the city will candidate for the title of ECOC 2021. They found out that 77% were positive about it, 5% negative and the rest of them did not know about it at all. Kalamata ran an informative campaign, in which they explained what the project meant and how it will help the development of the city and then began to discuss the general plan and projects. There were public meetings and presentations, with one weekly meeting in different areas of the city. Each event had eight implementation teams and 200 participants. They wanted to find out directly from the citizens what they want and how they can develop together the city’s cultural strategy, while at the same time using these ideas for the candidature application.
There are few NGOs in Kalamata that develop events, and all of these work with volunteers, having no professional employees at all. For this they will announce a call for proposals, the plan being directed towards collaboration one-to-one, to see if they can develop a project for Kalamata 2021 to present, or if they want to get directly involved in projects proposed for the candidature application. They will need people from outside the city, and their plan is to invite people both from Athens and abroad. Everything will be implemented through local forces in order to provide them with a broader experience which will teach them how to sustain themselves long-term. If they win, they will start with a comprehensive training program to all partners involved to provide them with the needed practical skills.
Currently, the national press is not interested in this topic. They have enough problems to write about and the economical crisis at this time captures all the attention. They need to hold press conferences in Athens to gain attention from the press. However, the local media supports Kalamata’s candidature and all of them are official partners.
An important criteria in the judging process refers to cooperation with other cities both nationally and at European level. Most of the candidates turn to their twin cities, but also to other candidate cities for the same title. Kalamata is already discussing with our city for a possible cooperation, but they also have an agreement with Brăila and Timișoara. There was an official meeting in Sibiu recently with both Romanian and Greek candidates to the ECOC title, where they discussed about cooperation. Not all of the Romanian cities were prepared well enough to discuss specifics with.
By coincidence, Ektor has experience working with various cities in Romania including Cluj, which is why he knows their structure and way of working. Just like Cluj-Napoca, Kalamata is receiving advice from the German Acultos. Ektor worked with them in the past for Patras 2006 where the city won thanks to them, thus he decided to continue the collaboration. Last year, we met with Prof. Hanns-Dietrich Schmidt in CJX, who is a consultant for Cluj-Napoca in 2021. He was recently awarded the title of Artistic Director for Plovdiv 2019. In other words, we are happy to have the best consultants in this industry.
On the other hand, Kalamata has support for communication & PR from those who have dealt with the Olympic Games in Athens 2004.
One of the main concerns is regarding Kalamata’s citizens who are frightened for tomorrow’s situation, due to the economy, whether or not they will remain members of the EU or which currency will be used further on. Moreover, many say that 2021 is too far away to think about and no one will know what will happen until then. Another issue for them is the bad reputation of the former ECOC Greek cities which left behind scandals, untransparent spending of funds from the budget and a general sense that nothing came out well, so why would anything change now? To make matters worst, Greece is the one who proposed the European Capital of Culture project in the 80s.
Ektor’s opinion about the Romanian candidate cities for the title of ECOC
“For me, Timişoara has the greatest potential based on the city’s structure, location and problems they want to solve. However, they encountered some structural problems for the candidacy. Then there would be Cluj-Napoca, with a very good and organized team, but I’m afraid that you have done too much. At the end of the day, the jury may say that you do not need this title because you worked hard for 10 years and the city has developed anyway. For me it is still not clear why Cluj needs this title. I saw the plan, which is very good, but I think the real issues are important, not just the positive side of winnin. Iasi and would be a good candidate, but there is nothing sure in light of the recent situation. I do not think you’ll have big surprises from Arad and Braila, but you can never be sure. ”
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