Each year the European Capital of Culture organization names two cities to be the Culture Capitals of Europe. It is a prestigious designation that brings international recognition and thousands of additional visitors to the lucky cities. But is it the luck of the draw? Hardly; it represents years of hard work, investment and vision. The 2016 Capital of Culture cities are San Sebastian, Spain, and Wroclaw, Poland. Here’s a peek behind the curtain to see how cities become culture capitals using San Sebastian as a model.
Getting San Sebastian to apply for the honor, let alone reach a consensus before applying, and keep it together was no “walk in the park”. Working nearly a decade, different cultures, political beliefs and visions of the future had to be accommodated, enemies had to become working allies, and disparate and distrustful factions brought into the fold before a cohesive and unified goal could be reached.
It began in 2008 with the “Culture for Coexistence” project intended to bring the Basque and Spanish factions to the peace table. San Sebastian was a city associated with violence and terrorism in the front lines of the Basque Separatist Movement. At that time the Mayor of San Sebastian, Odón Elorza González, said his goal was to “demonstrate that terror and fear, sectarianism and hate, exclusion and poverty, racism and xenophobia are combated with more culture and by promoting access to culture.”
By 2011, with a Basque cease-fire in effect and negotiations for a lasting peace successfully settled, the people of San Sebastian made a presentation to the European Capital of Culture program based on the success of the coexistence theme from 2008. Using the principles of peace, coexistence, participation, respect for others, and culture as an instrument for social cohesion, they showed how they deserved the title Capital of Culture for 2016.
These five cities did not win, but were finalists for the European Capital of Culture 2016: Burgos, Cordoba, Las Palmas, Segovia and Zaragoza. San Sebastian and Wroclaw won, and have spent the last five years readying for this 12 month event which includes cultural collaborations between the two winners as well as their individual programs.
“In a world with so many values in constant crisis and with diluted, fluid societies, our city aspires out of modesty, but also out of consciousness, to be a beacon that illuminates and inspires all those who wish to share and experience our project.” Eneko Goia Laso, current Mayor of San Sebastian.
San Sebastian, a beautiful city on the Bay of Biscay, has always been a European tourist destination. It has also grown into a culinary destination that has more Michelin restaurants per square foot than anywhere in the world. Today, her leaders and citizens, using the Culture for Coexistence program they developed, have created a cultural Mecca and a shining, bright example for the rest of Europe and the world.
Congratulations to the European Capital of Culture for 2016 – San Sebastian!