Dec 29, 2013

And beyond 2014?

I sometimes wonder if there will be a 2015. For close to a decade now the focus here in Umeå has been set on 2014. First it was a fantasy, then a vision, then an application, then The Win, and after that years of planning for taking on the incredible and challenging assignment being The European Capital of Culture 2014.

It is incredible indeed. Every year, within the European Union, cities are carefully chosen to be the Capital of Culture. To start with it was one city (1985, Athens) 1999-2000, at the Millennium there were multiple cities, and after that mostly two a year. Sweden has carried the title once before, Stockholm 1998. 2014 Sweden was on the schedule for the second time, in pair with Latvia. And in competition with three bigger cities in Sweden, teeny-weeny Umeå way up north in our skinny country grabbed the title!

I once heard Fredrik Lindegren, artistic director of the year, bending his head, covering his face in his hands, saying: I wish it was 2016.
I can easily understand that. Putting together a cultural year by rank, all Europe watching, would make anyone sweat. Then organizing it.

The title has affected Umeå in major ways even though it hasn’t yet started. I think we are experiencing something along the lines of what happens in a place which is getting ready for The Olympics: gosh, this is going to be a big party, we have invited a ton of guests and we need to make room for them (nice rooms!) clean everything up and make our city a show case!

A bit like when you are having a party at your house; you suddenly have a deadline to change the towels in the bathroom and maybe you get to finally hanging that painting that’s been sitting on the floor leaning against the wall for months. And yeah, a new bulb over the front porch so they can find their way in!

The front porch in Umeå is what used to be the downtown port at the Umeå River many decades ago. Since then, it’s basically been a big parking lot. Not anymore though. The new building for cultural arts, Väven, has been under construction for a couple of years now. The Norwegian firm Snöhetta (the Alexandria Library, the Oslo opera house) is the architect and the exterior (the lower part of the building will be for the arts, the tall part a hotel) glass plates inspired by the black and white graphics of the birch stem.

Big changes always cause concerns among people, and this building creates a lot of change. First, it’s the building itself. Some perceive it as big and loud and out of proportion compared to the city center. It changes the skyline (we still have a very modest skyline though). Then it’s the content. The city library is going to move in to the building and this is making people very emotional. Its’ current location is optimal to many, and why change a winning team?

Cultural arts are also theater, dance, photo, music, film and crossovers from most anything you can think of, now spread all over town. Will they afford the rent in this new flashy city front porch?

During this fall it turned out that the City’s budget for the building only will cover the costs for running the place, there will be no money over for the different art scenes in the facility. This might sound like an incomprehensible problem to an American. But you see, in Sweden cultural arts are to some degree sponsored by the government, and we are relying on that subsidy for our operation. For example, my choir Kammarkören Sångkraft (Sångkraft Chamber Choir) is sponsored with 100 000 Skr (today about 15 000 dollars) a year by the City of Umeå. No strings attached. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.

So, there is no wonder people are concerned about the future of the culture in the European Capital of Culture 2014. Also, the City has failed spectacularly when it comes to digging up private sponsors for the year, which leaves the question: what will happen 2015? Without a doubt 2014 has to deliver, so will there be any money at all left for the different art scenes in the future? And that’s how we are entering this big year of events. This New Year.

Hey, will there be a 2015 whatsoever? I feel a lot like I did before the Millennium. It was such an event. Nobody talked about an after in other terms than all the computers would be crashing and it might even be the end of the world for all that we knew. I was in Seattle (people over here were concerned; if something bad would happen, wouldn’t it be safer for me entering the Millennium here in the woods than in a big American city?) since I imagined that would be really cool.

Well, what happened? Some guy with explosives in his car was caught at the Canadian border heading south, and the big celebration at Seattle Center was cancelled for security reasons. Roomer had it that there was no money left after The Battle in Seattle. At 00.00 I was standing at a roof in Wallingford with family and friends watching a pretty lame fire works at the Space Needle, ousted by Bill Gates’ at the Gates residence on the other side of lake Washington. I would say it was an anti climax, and then the world continued with no fuzz.

2014. In only two days. Umeå European Capital of Culture. Will it be an anti climax? And will time go on beyond that like nothing happened? Will there be a 2015?

No comments:

Post a Comment