Lessons for Liverpool: Cork 2005 Demonstrated How the Capital of Culture Accolade Can Become a Curse, Writes Brian O'Connell
O'Connell, Brian, New Statesman (1996)
Across the road from Kent Station in Cork, last year's European Capital of Culture, a ragged advertising billboard sums it up neatly: "Culture--it's purely a matter of taste."
As you travel through the city barely six months after the cultural year ended, there is little sign that Cork is the new Milan, or even Cologne, for that matter. Two of the main arts venues are promoting reruns; the only cinema in the city centre has been sold for apartments; and an independent art gallery on the city's north side has been forced to close its doors due to lack of business. It seems Cork is suffering from something of a cultural hangover. "The only culture round here is compensation culture," observes a local taxi driver wryly.
Cork's experiences should have been a warning to Liverpool, where the preparations to transform the city into the Capital of Culture 2008 have already become mired in chaos. Following the resignation of their Australian artistic director, Robyn Archer, the Liverpool organisers have been locked in crisis talks. Important projects, such as the plans for a new building at Pier Head, have been scrapped. The whole business has earned the ire of local artists, including the playwright Willy Russell, who said that he had "no sense of Capital of Culture being under any effective control".
Exactly the same problems were abundantly evident in Cork. The Cork School of Music, a major project planned for 2005, has yet to open its doors. The opening of the Capital of Culture information centre was delayed until half the year had already expired. Disaffected residents set up a local pressure group, "Where's Me Culture?".
"The general mood among the people creating culture in this city was one of non-involvement," says the Cork artist John Adams, a vociferous critic of the city's tenure of the title last year. "There was a lack of trust among working artists like myself. I would say to any other country that gets the chance to host the European Capital of Culture: please make it for the people. Let the politicians and administrators take a back seat for once--it is the people themselves who are the culture of a city."
This year's Capital of Culture, Patras in Greece, has fared little better. Barely two days into the year, the director resigned, accusing the organising committee of delays and errors. "Its structure and provisions do not befit a contemporary cultural institution, especially at a European level," he said.
So why does this supposed accolade seem to be less a blessing than a curse? The Capital of Culture project has inherent tensions. The official line from Brussels is that culture consists of "arts, tourism, architecture, the built and natural environment, parks and open spaces, media and sport". …