zondag 10 maart 2013

2013/09 City Branding

My city is one of the three finalists in the competition to become the European Capital of Culture for 2018. Actually, I like the idea of a cultural city, and I have experienced several. The competition started in 1985 with the kinds of universally accepted arguments so often used when dealing with the arts: “Preparing a European Capital of Culture can be an opportunity for the city to generate considerable cultural, social, and economic benefits, and it can help foster urban regeneration, change the city's image, and raise its visibility and profile on an international scale.” It expanded in 2000, at a time when the European continent was becoming uniform, but the Balkans were being destroyed by a horrendous war, and the European Union grew to 27 countries, while excluding some others, like Turkey or several Balkan countries, for a longer period. Now, the program is used by local authorities for city or region branding and inter-network employment.
I recall a meeting in town some months ago. It was to introduce the new city marketing organization called Eindhoven365 to our city’s cultural players. The previous one had to be closed before the shit hit the fan. It was a funny introduction and quite informal. It started with a drawing, like a pyramid or triangle, divided into a bottom, a middle part and a small top. The bottom is the basic infrastructure: roads, canals, shops, supermarkets, and so on. Without this, the city doesn´t even exist. The middle contains the city content: the theaters, public places, historical buildings, industrial activity, and educational institutions. The things that give a city its characteristic flavor. At the top, there were three areas of excellence: in our city, these were described as technology, knowledge, and design.
To get an idea of how the cultural field in our city portrays itself, a little experiment was done. The pyramid was tilted, and the middle part was divided in sections from one to ten. Then they asked the following question: Where do you place your organization? The first four representatives all presented arguments intended to secure them a high number, close to being excellent. Now, having learned to play music, I know that perfect does not exist, and you can be really good without excellence. Also, in order to add some nuance to what I saw happening, I indicated my little organization (the Inkijkmuseum I run is truly one of the smallest museums ever) close to bottom, in sections 1 or 2: I wanted to be close to the basic infrastructure of the town, the most basic of needs for existing at all. And I do not have the ambition of wanting this little organization to be excellent in the field of excellence. Every man to his trade. The museum is no more than public storage for a much larger program.
Someone mentioned that while my arguments might be correct, they would qualify me as being less important, less interesting for this city branding organization. He was right, of course. But I could not say this myself, so I was really glad he was there and said what needed to be said. Making yourself more basic is unpopular and less important. “My ass,” my friend would have said, but he is not here right now. Rotterdam started its stint as the 2001 European Capital of Culture with an event for the homeless on January 1. I am curious to see if our city takes up such a social issue if, in fact, they do become a European Capital of Culture for 2018. On his Facebook page, the local Van Abbe Museum director, Charles Esche, mentioned the painful consequences of what I consider an example of “national collective inside thinking”: the national council of the arts ”limited itself and did not think about international collaborations…” I hope they have not been speaking about the long term, because it is OK to focus on ourselves, for a day or a week, since it is a natural behavior to look inward and reflect that toward others. So, the problem is not my city.
Meanwhile, in Slovenia, being the European Capital of Culture was one of the motivations that prompted people to start demonstrations that are still ongoing and have led to the ouster of the corrupt “democratic” government of Janez Jansa. “Since we are part of the EU, we did not inherit the good of East and West, but the bad of Eastern and Western Europe: bureaucracy, capitalism, competition, and corruption.”

There is enough time to change the way we are doing things into a better way of doing them, as long as we start doing it right away. So, I do hope our town will win this competition, and I hope it will be used for the best and not for the best for some only. Sorry, one does not come without the other. Then, anyone can brand our city as you want, because so do I.

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