After settling in Varna (we arrived a bit late because there was work carried out on the Danube Bridge) the first thing we did in the morning was meetup with the team that developed Varna’s candidature for the title of European Capital of Culture 2019. They firstly made some suggestions of what to visit and things to try there and also told us about a simple Bulgarian recipe that we could cook. We then discussed only about Varna and its candidacy for ECOC.
The beginning of Varna 2019
When the idea of this project first appeared, the Bulgarians were protesting nationwide, especially in Varna. The last drop was the suicide of Plamen Goranov right in front of the City Hall, a young man who protested against corruption in the city, followed by the resignation of the mayor. At the place of incident many people brought a stone instead of flowers, because he was fond of mountain climbing. The pile of stones remains there even now:
The political tensions back then have not been helpful for this project, but the team managed to prove that Varna deserves to reach the finals.
Initially, there were 12 Bulgarian cities that expressed their wish to run for the ECOC title, but only 8 of them officially applied: Burgas, Gabrovo, Plovdiv, Ruse, Shumen, Sofia, Varna si Veliko Turnovo. Similarly, in Romania many cities voiced their intentions to run. However, out of all the Romanian cities which want to have this title in 2021, only a few are ready to submit their candidacy this year.
Plovdiv, Sofia, Varna, si Veliko Turnovo got into the final round, and Plovdiv was recently announced winner. Varna’s candidacy was appreciated and the team applauded them in the finals, but it seems that what they had was not enough …
Their jury was composed of seven members from Europe and six from Bulgaria; from what I understand, Romania will have a jury of twelve members, ten from Europe and two from Romania.
Sir Robert Scott, the person thanks to whom Liverpool won the ECOC title in 2008, also the ambassador for Liverpool Culture Company and member of the jury for the candidacy of other cities, was Varna’s official advisor.
Liverpool is one of the best examples of the legacy left behind by the title of European Capital of Culture.
“When you win it’s like doomsday.” – Sir Robert Scott
Varna mentioned they wanted to run for the title, but at the beginning there was nothing official. Given the protests and situation at that time, they feel that their starting point was not zero, but -10. Initially, an independent association started this idea, but their involvement was not very active, so they then created a team as a cluster, with representatives from different fields. During the preparation of the candidacy, there was no association; the team was led by a representative of the mayor who says that he tried his best to maintain the project independent. There was no financial support from the local budget, the reasons being quite clear: “Why should we support this project before winning?”. Political support is very important, and a candidature can be considered a different type of contract. Without a clear commitment from the local authorities, such projects will never come to be implemented. Unlike Varna, Plovdiv has shown that it can rely on political support, this being one of the reasons why they won.
In the selected Bulgarian cities as ECOC 2019 candidates, the city councils organized special events, maintaining a tight communication among them. Equally important is cooperation with local artists, art curators, art and culture organizations, as they are the ones who really support the city’s candidacy as a European Capital of Culture.
In Varna were carried out various projects in universities (Varna has 5 major universities) and schools to promote and support the city’s candidacy. For example, there was a competition between students of different schools to interpret the logo of Varna for European Capital of Culture. Nine of these drawings were awarded, awards being given both to the pupils and the people who inspired them.
Even though Varna is the city which has the largest variety of minorities in Bulgaria (Russians, Greeks, Romans, Hebrew, Polish, Armenian, Roma) the projects were designed in such a way that they are accessible to everybody, without special projects addressed to certain social classes or ethnic groups.
Some of the most important points achieved in Varna’s ECOC candidacy program:
The active involvement of citizens in cultural activities in order to gain and grow their trust.
Right after the elections for a new mayor in 2013, they thought of a strategy to involve citizens in the process of Varna’s candidature for 2019. It was a difficult process, team members say, because it’s hard to convince a citizen to contribute to something that happens 6 years from now, primarily due to the tense economic and political situation locally and nationally.
Media used to communicate with the citizens:
– Media campaigns
– Focus on the online environment, especially Facebook, which has been very effective
– MoTo – Mobile for Cultural Contact Point – promoting cultural events, citizens can see an up to date program and make reservations for events. The main goal was decentralizing culture because most of the events were happening downtown, and MoTo points were located in city neighborhoods. Shortly after withdrawing these sites (when Plovdiv was announced winner) citizens made petitions for resettlement.
The legacy left after 2019 – a very important aspect, the main purpose of the program was to provide a solid and lasting cultural infrastructure that encourages new talent through laboratories, hubs and platforms.
The balance between the current cultural offer provided by the city and the ECOC program.
Varna was already and still is considered the Festival capital in Bulgaria with over 30 festivals with tradition.
Cooperation with neighbouring countries that have opening to the Black Sea – an issue that the selection committee considered not sufficiently developed in Varna’s submitted project. However, Varna cooperated with other cities outside the region, for example Matera in Italy, winning city for ECOC title in 2019 together with Plovdiv.
4 Tips from Graffit Gallery Cultural Manager, Petrova Dimitrova, member of Varna 2019:
“BE HONEST – Be honest about who Cluj is and what it can become”
“BE PRECISE – make the presentation as long as it is required, not a word more”
“NO REBRANDING OF THE CITY – it’s against the cultural legacy”
“THIS TITLE IS A SCHOLARSHIP – if you have certain problems with the city, put them in your book”.
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