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October 21, 2017
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The Seafront Factory in the J1 Complex contains various facilities committed to displaying art projects, in Marseille. Source: mp2013.fr.

"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there." - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Melina Mercouri was a Greek actress, singer and politician who died almost 19 years ago. She was nominated for several Golden Globes and won Best Actress at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, but it was through her political work that she left her legacy. During her lifetime she changed the European cultural landscape in more ways than most EU citizens know.

It's a title, but more importantly, [the European Capital of Culture award] is a unique opportunity.

Mercouri served as a Greece's first female Minister of Culture, from 1981 until 1989. Using her earned fame from show business, Mercouri fostered relationships with prominent European leaders to promote Greece as a cultural leader. In November 1983, Mercouri invited all Culture Ministers of the European Communities to Athens to discuss the importance of culture: "How is it possible for a Community which is deprived of its cultural dimension to grow?" she asked and continued, "…Culture is the soul of Society…[the] determining factor of a European identity lies precisely in respecting these diversities with the aim of creating a dialogue between the cultures of Europe." Mercouri then concluded, "Culture, art and creativity are not less important than technology, commerce and the economy."

Mercouri's respect and belief in the importance of nurturing culture, as well as the communication between cultures, led her form the European Capital of Culture initiative, together with French Minister for Culture, and friend, Jacques Lang.

Since 1985, the Council of the European Union has bestowed one city the prestigious title of "European Capital of Culture" and monetary funding. Athens was the first and since then, more than 40 cities - including Dublin, Weimar, Graz and Genoa - have had the opportunity to showcase their talents through artistic exhibitions and performances in various creative mediums. In 2011, the Council of the European Union increased the number of awards to two cities, from two different EU countries. The procedure involves the submission of proposals to the Council where a panel of, "independent experts in the cultural field," assesses the submitted proposals.

In 2012, the cultural spotlight was on Guimaraes, Portugal, and Maribor, Slovenia. The events hosted by winning cities can be quite niche - from an International Festival of Computer Arts in Maribor, to a huge orchestra playing in a Guimaraes park - there is no shortage of passion injected into the cities' artistic efforts. Being named the European Capital of Culture is both an honour and an opportunity to unite citizens and drive tourism from other European cities and countries. 

The year 2013 will bring two new European Capitals of Culture: Marseille, France and Košice, Slovakia. Jacques Pfister, President of Marseille-Provence 2013 (the official culture organisation on behalf of Marseille), expressed the significance of being chosen as a European Capital of Culture: "It's a title, but more importantly, it's a unique opportunity. The aim of the European Capital of Culture programme is to make high-quality artistic projects accessible to the widest possible audience." 

USE THE CITY Festival encourages artists
to use public spaces to create art, in Košice.
Source: Košice2013.sk.

Besides fostering a stronger community through the arts and attracting more tourists, the European Capital of Culture creates an ideal situation for healthy economic growth. Pfister outlines corporate participation in the financing and organising of cultural events: "With the Euro-Mediterranean Ateliers, dozens of companies are organising artist residencies. They also make major contributions to the project in terms of hosting events, developing infrastructure and expanding the hotel industry." Pfister is quick to point out that sponsors and partners know the opportunities brought on by the appointment of European Capital of Culture won't be an, "advertising free-for-all."

Besides the hundreds of region-specific artistic and cultural events and celebrations, for Marseille, the honourable title has brought the opportunity to develop a new cultural area in the Grand Port Maritime de Marseille, bringing together three major organisations - Euroméditerranée, the Ville de Marseille and the Architecte des Bâtiments de France. 

In Košice, great efforts have been directed towards the Creative Economy project that focuses on transforming Košice into, "An economically more active and more attractive place to live." This includes establishing the Centre for Supporting Culture and Creativity (CSCC) in the city's culture park, as well as organising conferences that feature discussion topics on the elements of branding a city, and creative tourism, to name a few. Košice is also encouraging the collaboration of international artists with local artists through the KA.I.R. program in hopes of encouraging the co-existence of European culture spaces.

Through the status and funding of Europe Capitals of Culture, Marseille is given the opportunity to sew its artistic patches into one cultural blanket, whilst Košice takes this opportunity to embark on a promising journey of artistic and creative discovery. Besides encouraging further growth of cultural practices throughout the EU, the European Capitals of Culture initiative provides the opportunity for cities who are not globally recognised as "creative" or "culture hubs" to explore and reach their true potential - giving their artists, designers and citizens a chance to leave their own legacies. 

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