Mons is a small town, very close to the border between France and Belgium, at about 80 km from Lille or Brussels.
It is a city with a rich history, where great legends of World War I were born. Winston Churchill said about Mons that it is a fated town, and Victor Hugo called it “a very strange town”.
The former industrial and mining town, today a university and commercial center, Mons has developed a lot toward technology, so much that Google invested a lot for one of the topmost Data Centers in Europe.
Together with Yves Vaseur (Commissioner General) and Ornella Mancini (International Relations Assistant), we discussed about the bidding process for this title, and what they have prepared for 2015.
The idea of running for the title of European Capital of Culture appeared in 2003 and belongs to Yves Vaseur, who proposed this thought to the most long lived mayor of Mons, at present the Prime-Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo. Thus, a work plan was set, based on three objectives: tourism, education and culture.
Mons managed to overcome the crisis caused by the shutting of the mines (that were the primary source of income) by opening up to technology. Once Google settled in the Mons area, over 100 new private investments appeared, with over 1.000 new jobs.
The biding process for the European Capital of Culture title met with distrust by the locals, at first. “People’s mentality is difficult to change”, believes Yves Vaseur. “The solution is involving them as an integral part of the project. The Mons ECC Commission initiated a long series of debates, discussions at a personal level and roundtables discussions with the town’s citizens, the media, syndicate representatives, local associations and investors. A competition of local cultural projects was initiated, and 22 were chosen, then all 500 propositions were individually discussed, and were going to be –one way or another- a part of the Mons ECC program.”
Once they were involved, the town’s residents became fervent supporters of the project. Initiatives appeared, like: a choir of local talents of over 800 members, a rock band whose members are over 60 years old (Rocking Chairs), Mons ECC ambassadors etc.
For now, they decided to not offer us a lot of details about the official Mons 2015 program, all being kept secret. It will be announced in October, and until then, they are working on the people chapter, on giving the feeling of European Capital of Culture, and what this title really means. However, we did manage to find out that the main focus will be on grand expositions that will reveal European geniuses whose lives were changed in Mons, from Van Gogh to Verlaine.
With the help of 100 projects, 14 partner cities and 23 institutions they will try to offer a cultural earthquake. Eight regions of the town will celebrate for 8 weeks, one region each week, each with a specific theme, after its own rules.
As far as the plan for what happens after 2015, it doesn’t exist in a concrete way. “We shall see”, declared Y. Vaseur.
At the end of the discussion, we asked for advice they could give to Cluj, as an aspirant city for the title of European Capital of Culture. Yves Vaseur said that, eventually, the structure of the bidding process is the same, the questions of the jury do not differ, and the answers can be the same. What matters is how we can show that we are different from the other aspirants. Also, it is very important what problems we want to resolve if we win this title.
Don’t forget to mark your calendar for January 24th 2015 – the official opening for Mons 2015.
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