Located in the south-west side of the country, Pécs or Fünfkirchen, its German name, is the fifth largest city of Hungary and centre of Baranya area.
When considering the most representative attractions of Pécs, the famous Zsolnay porcelain factory is a must see, as well as tasting the local wine, visiting the Paleo-Christian cemetery and University of Pécs, which is the oldest university in Hungary.
Pécs was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture in 2010.
The official website is not working as it should, but you can find more information here.
During our visit in Pécs we got in touch with official representatives in order to talk about the implications of the candidacy and what it meant to win the title of European Capital of Culture for both the city and its citizens. Tamas Szalay answered our five standard questions for Pécs, questions that we will address to all former European Cultural Capitals that we will visit during our #ClujX adventure.
1. Why did your city decide to apply for the title of European Capital of Culture?
The coal mining was economical basis of Pécs was in the last 150 years. After the political change, in early 90`s all coal mines has been closed. Based on the rich cultural heritage and creative minds of the city (for example the university, 2nd biggest in Hungary), the city tried to focus its economy on the cultural tourism and creative industry. The ECOC title was a good occasion, to develop a long-term concept for the culture-based urban planning, and to facing honestly with its strengths and weaknesses.
2. Could you briefly describe the candidacy project concept? Tell us about projects that were implemented successfully.
Hard to answer in brief. The main aspects of the concept, the main goals:
To change the cultural infrastructure of the city
To strengthen the civil society, to break the post-socialist mentality
To re-positioning of the city in his international region as a strong cultural centre
To celebrate the multicultural multiethnic living together as an asset
To make the city more international
To develop audience in the international region
Successfully were implemented the urban development projects:
The new Kodály concert hall and conference centre (a strong point of cultural industry, not only because of concerts but also as a tool for strengthen the conference tourism
The rehabilitation of the legendary Zsolnay ceramic factory as a cultural quarter (which made possible to experiment new ways of collaborations and synergies between cultural institutes, NGOs, university, creative companies, studios etc.)
The renovation of the so called „Museum street“ in the city centre
The renovation of numbers of public spaces and parks, focused also on peripheries
The new Regional Library and Knowledge Centre.
More or less successful was the re-positioning of the city as a cultural centre (the city is more well-known international as before).
It is not a visible success, but very important, that is started a long and slow process for the strengthen of civil society.
3. How receptive were your citizens to this project? Did you feel their involvement throughout your projects?
In the beginning, in the first year of the preparatory period we tried to make a symbolic (and on the other hand very practical) process for involvement of the inhabitants: we opened the discussion about the concept for the citizens. It caused a very strong feeling of community and involvement (which was very unknown at this time in Hungary). It was a never seen enthusiasm in the city. And after we got the title, the politics tried to make strong interference into the project – and it succeed for them. After this turn appeared a big criticism and disappointment among the inhabitants. In the first months of 2009, one year before the start 80% of the citizens were pessimistic and sceptical. But in the first months of the ECOC year, 80% were content.
Other problem was, that the city (I mean the decision makers) didn`t understand, what does it mean, to involve the inhabitants – that it is not same with the big audience, and it is not enough, to make an open call for the citizens.
4. What was the major issue you managed to solve through winning the title of European Capital of Culture?
To beat Budapest as the red-hot favourite – it means to try to avoid the political decision for ECOC city.
5. What piece of advice would you give to current applicants for the ECoC title?
I don’t think it is possible to answer in brief, but if I would have to stress something, I would say:
Build sustainability – don`t focus with the concept for the ECOC year but for couple of years – decades after.
Make a very clear management and decision-making structure, with clear responsibility.
Try to formulate very-very clear and measurable goals, not only in general., and be realistic.
Involve the citizens as much as possible.
Be creative and provocative
Dare to facing with the weaknesses of the city, don’t belief in the false myths.
As mentioned before here, Simon Wintermans was our guide and shared with us his opinions on Pécs 2010. After all we discussed, one thing got stuck in my mind:
What happened after 2010? Simon: Nothing.
Local politics got involved and removed the initial team from managing the project as the mayor named a group of his own to coordinate the project. The new team failed to handle the strategy, thus the Government got involved and sent another team from Budapest.
Conclusions from which we must learn:
– Firstly, politics was not supposed to manage the project. Surely, their involvement is more than welcome, but running a project of this magnitude must be done by someone who is highly creative, in collaboration with a skilled manager.
– It is essential that the team who won the title for the city is part of the team that implements the project, as otherwise the implementation timeframe is extended and there might be misunderstandings, etc.
– Another necessary element is the active implication of the community in this project. Pécs ran an idea competition for the community in 2007, but failed to have any results because of the poor promotion and lack of communication.
– Most of the cities don’t communicate efficiently externally and lack proper PR skills, thus making it hard for people to get in touch with them.
– Last, but not least, the importance of the managing the project on the long term cannot be stressed enough.
We discovered a few nice ideas here in Pécs, but unfortunately they died after a short while. You can see here a projector which shows the façade of the opposite building in its initial design.
This building was formerly a Puppet Theatre which can no longer be used as such due to regulations set by the EU.
Wondering what’s the story behind this massive horse?
It was made specially for this exhibition, which cost the city 1 million euros and it is not seen favourably in the eyes of the citizens due to high maintenance costs.
Simon is one of the very few who is still trying to keep the idea of European Capital of Culture for Pécs through his project, while almost everybody else gave up on this. Feedback from pedestrians sustains the idea that Pécs did not continue to work the project further on.
Pécs had a lot to benefit from being awarded the title of European Capital of Culture, but unfortunately it did not know how to profit from it fully.
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