For two day on Friday and Saturday (22nd and 23rd November) Plovdiv was host to “Looking Back, Thinking Forward,” a meeting of ECC experts who gathered to make an analysis, draw conclusions and formulate key takeaways of the Plovdiv European Capital of Culture project as it is nearing its end. The event, organized by the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation and Goethe-Institut Bulgaria, involved local cultural operators and international cultural professionals as well as representatives of former Capitals of Culture, including Liverpool, Pilsen, Paphos and Matera.
Before starting the working sessions, the team of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation and some of the guests – Neil Peterson (Liverpool 2008) and Jiri Suchanek (Pilsen 2015) – met with Zdravko Dimitrov, Plovdiv’s recently elected mayor. The two experts presented the experience they have gained following their respective ECC years, and discussed possibilities about how cultural capital amassed as a result of an ECC year can be channeled and put to use in the period beyond the title year.
The event’s introductory panel took place in Gallery 2019, the newest exhibition space in Plovdiv. Deputy Mayors Stefan Stoyanov and Plamen Panov delivered congratulatory addresses.
In a lecture, Mr Suchanek, the director of Pilsen 2015, referred to good practices a Capital of Culture could use to nurture sustainable heritage after the title year has expired. He cited successful examples that grouped infrastructure, urban interferences, economic growth, continuing festivals and events, new international partnerships and networks. Equally significant, he said, was the intangible heritage that an ECC project leaves – change in the city image and citizen identification, the involvement of citizens, emotional charge and feel.
At a closed workshop, participants and local cultural operators discussed the roles of cultural institutions and interaction with communities. The results of this discussion were later presented at a public panel. The experts and the organisations they represented focused on the close connection they have with each other as well as on efforts to further institutional transformations such as the so-called creative bureaucracy. Representatives of former ECCs recommended that Plovdiv retain both its motto and logo. According to Neil Peterson, a leading expert and director of Liverpool 2008, future promotional campaigns should emphasise on the “Staying Together” motto; he went on to suggest also that the team and the capacity of the volunteer community should be preserved.
Data was presented about the tourist numbers the ECC title has helped generate. Snejana Kostadinova, from a local polling agency, has monitored cultural events for three years. She showed persuasively that the ECC has boosted the number of tourists’ visits and has contributed to an increase in citizens’ sense of belonging and pride in their city. An interesting fact is that 92% of the respondents said they were proud with their city, and 40% attributed this sense of pride to its history and culture. A share of 40.7% of the respondents said they had visited cultural events in 2018 against 28.3% a year earlier.
Closing the meeting, Rossella Tarantino and Svetlana Kuyumdzhieva, the artistic directors of Matera and Plovdiv, the two European Capitals of Culture in 2019, expressed the exceptionally successful collaboration between Matera and Plovdiv. Joined by the programme director Gina Kafedzhiyan, Ms Tarantino and Ms Kuyumdzhieva announced that the two cities would continue their partnership under the motto “Together for an Open Future.” They confirmed also that the initiative’s heritage would be the leading factor in the work of both cities in the years to come.