Towards an annual, rotating African Capital of Culture?
The Europeans have had it since 1985. Cairo was the first annual Arab Capital of Culture in 1996. The Americas started theirs in 2000. So why not an annual Capital of Culture in Asia? And of course, Africa?
Wikipedia states that “The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the European Union for a period of one calendar year during which it is given a chance to showcase its cultural life and cultural development. A number of European cities have used the City of Culture year to transform their cultural base and, in doing so, the way they are viewed internationally….A 2004 study by the European Culture Commission demonstrated that the choice of European Capital of Culture served as a catalyst for the cultural development and the transformation of the city. Consequently, the beneficial socio-economic development and impact for the chosen city are now also considered in determining the chosen cities.”
The first city selected as the European Capital of Culture was Athens in 1985 (then labelled the European City of Culture), with Melina Mercouri, Greece’s Minister of Culture credited with having initiated the idea. It was in 1999 that the EU renamed the programme the European Capital of Culture.
The benefits of being selected as the cultural capital have been so enormous in terms of tourism, cultural development, image-building, infrastructural growth, the attraction of skilled citizens to the city and sparking new enterprises, that many cities have bid for this prestigious appellation.
In 2000, a number of European cities – 9 – were made “Cultural Capitals” and since then, it has not been uncommon for there to be at least two “European Capitals of Culture” each year. Currently, the countries that will host the cultural capital have been chosen for the period 2014-2019 on a rotational basis so that cities within those countries are now competing and submitting bids to be selected as the cultural capital. So, for example, the cultural capitals in 2014 will be in Sweden and Latvia, in 2015, Belgium and the Czech Republic and in Spain and Poland in 2016.
While the European Union decides on the annual cultural capital/s, the Arab ministers responsible for arts and culture annually make this award to a city in the region. Initiated by UNESCO with Cairo as the first Arab Cultural Capital in 1996, other capitals have included Tunis, Beirut, Amman, Khartoum and Damascus, the aim being to promote and celebrate Arab culture and encourage regional cooperation.
In the Americas (North, Central and South), an NGO – American Capital of Culture Organisation” – annually chooses a city to be the American Capital of Culture for a year. It co-operates with the Organisation of American States (OAS), but the OAS is not directly involved in the selection process.
The aims of the American Capital Culture initiative – launched in 1997 with Merida in Mexico being the first designated capital in 2000 – are to facilitate regional integration and cooperation, to enable people in the region to get to know and respect each other and each other’s heritage and to promote American cities internationally.
Clearly, it is a model that works across the globe in facilitating development of the arts, in boosting the local economy, in building a city’s image and in leaving a legacy far beyond the year in which the city enjoys its “cultural capital” status.
Given the Millennium Development Goals and the Nairobi Plan of Action of Cultural Industries adopted by African Ministers of Culture in Algiers in October 2008, is it not highly appropriate and timeous to institute an annual, rotating African Capital of Culture? The models that exist indicate that it could be run by the African Union, the African Ministers of Culture or by a civil society organisation working in collaboration with the multilateral political bodies.
Such an annual capital will facilitate networking on the continent, develop local markets for African goods and services, build expertise and cultural infrastructure, boost tourism and generally profile African cities internationally.
One of the roundtable discussions at the World Summit will engage with this as a theme. Perhaps – hopefully – it will be at least one tangible legacy of the World Summit for Africa and its creative sector.