May 5, 2012

The chosen ones

It’s a big thing. It’s a really big thing. Browsing the former names of the title I’m thinking it’s kind of hard to grasp how big. Athens was first, then a line up of iconic places: Florence, Paris, Madrid, Luxembourg, Prague, Liverpool, Istanbul. To name a few. A few of the chosen ones.

 It was the Greek actress Melina Mercouri and her French counterpart Jack Lang who came up with the idea of designating an annual Capital of Culture to bring Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values. To start with, one city a year was picked out, it later changed to two and sometimes three. More then 40 cities have been designated this far. Sweden has carried the title once; Stockholm was the European Capital of Culture in 1998. Who would have thought the next Swedish city to make it to the finals and win this desirable title would be… Umeå?!

But that’s the case! Umeå, a city of about 116 000 people on the 63rd latitude is going to be the European Capital of Culture in 2014! A group of persistent politicians, officials and enthusiasts played the game well for a lot of years and Umeå was designated in September 2009. We will hold the title for the year in companion with Riga in Latvia.

So, five years to get ready for the big party. Seems like a pretty long time. But Seattle, you have done this once, right? Arranging the Worlds Fair must be something along the lines of what European cities are going through realizing the expectations being a Capital of Culture. A big thing. A very big thing.

Actually two things. It’s content, and it’s surface. A Capital of Culture has to deliver. Melina Mercouri’s intentions were high. The Commission of the European Union hasn’t lowered the bar, and the international panel of cultural experts in charge of assessing the proposals of cities for the title according to criteria specified by the European Union, is a serious bunch of people. So, when it comes to content expectations are high from the people who believed in us in 2009.

And as for any big party the hosts want their place to look nice when the guests arrive. Umeå is a young city, rebuilt after the great fire in 1888 and remodeled in the sixties and seventies, not the most exciting time for city planning and architecture. To be honest, Umeå isn’t that pretty. It isn’t special. It looks like most Swedish cities with a similar story. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a nice town. It’s a really good town to be a part of. But you need to be here some time to find out, the surface won’t make you fall in love at first sight.

So, the big party is coming up, the guests will be arriving in about 1,5 years, and we are sweeping the floors, cleaning up the kitchen and building a new front porch. Glasgow, Lisbon, Bologna, Graz, Cork, Essen, Brussels, I guess they all did the same thing, in their own way. As Seattle did at the Worlds Fair 1962. We want to do our best, be our best. We are stretching to live up the expectations, to succeed with the assignment we have been given. It is quite a responsibility being the chosen ones. And it should be.

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