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The Warsaw Voice » Polish Voice » September 2, 2011
The Wroc³aw Voice
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Key to Culture
September 2, 2011   
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In June, the southwestern Polish city of Wroc³aw was chosen as one of two European Culture Capitals for 2016 by an international selection panel. Wroc³aw will hold the title along with the Spanish city of San Sebastian.

Commenting on the city’s preparations for the presentation of its bid before the international panel of judges, Wroc³aw Mayor Rafa³ Dutkiewicz said, “We were as finely trained as Soviet figure skaters—we could dance faultlessly, even without the music.”

During the presentation, Dutkiewicz was aided by Prof. Adam Chmielewski and Roland Zarzycki from Wroc³aw 2016, a body set up to oversee the city’s application process; Anna Zubrzycka from the Pie¶n Koz³a (Song of the Goat) Theater; Karolina Bieniek, co-organizer of the Survival Art Review group; and Anna Electra malkogiorgos from the Agora Cultural Center.

After a brief introduction, which alluded to Spanish culture and the story of Poland’s Solidarity movement, Wroc³aw’s delegation presented 600 projects submitted by private people living in Wroc³aw, nongovernmental organizations and cultural institutions. Featured among these were large investment projects such as the soccer stadium being built in the city for the Euro 2012 tournament, a new state-of-the-art concert hall known as the National Music Forum, and the Museum of Modern Art. The delegates also told the selection panel that some of the neglected parts of Wroc³aw will be redeveloped, and the city’s cultural life will be revamped to embrace more citizens. A flood of expert questions followed.

The jury chose Wroc³aw unanimously. This was largely due to the city’s original “Space for Beauty” agenda, which appealed to the judges.

“The motto is an accurate reflection of the city’s goals,” the selection panel said in a final report. “It affirms the continuation of this European city’s multiethnic and multicultural traditions, and its focus on dialogue between cultures and religions, fostering the development of culture and combating social exclusion.”

The city now has 633,000 residents and boasts a 135,000-strong student population.

Before it was picked as European Capital of Culture, Wroc³aw had to beat 11 other major Polish cities in the first round of the contest. Four of these, Warsaw, Gdańsk, Lublin and Katowice, reached the finals.

Wroc³aw’s “Reclaiming Beauty” agenda struck a chord with the judges. It was an important, though not the only reason behind the jury’s decision. The selection panel was also impressed with Wroc³aw’s thrilling cultural offerings, a thorough plan of the preparations and events planned for 2016, as well as the commitment of its inhabitants, spanning various social groups including those currently excluded from cultural life.

A visit by four experts to the city and its evaluation was another crucial factor. They left with a belief there was something special about Wroc³aw’s bid—something atypical that set the city apart from other finalists.

Expanding Wroc³aw’s cultural infrastructure
Having been designated as a European Capital of Culture (ECOC) is a major accolade for Wroc³aw. The contest is the European Union’s largest cultural project. It has long singled out cities renowned for their beauty and rich cultural life. Previous winners include Antwerp, Berlin, Paris and Istanbul. For Wroc³aw, 2016 will be an opportunity to raise its profile in Europe and make its mark on the culture of the continent. Another city designated as ECOC 2016 is San Sebastian, Spain. This captivating Basque city, with its immense cultural potential, outperformed Burgos, Las Palmas, Cordoba, Segovia and Zaragoza in the race.

Dutkiewicz says Wroc³aw’s victory is a perfect opportunity to expand the city’s cultural infrastructure and include as many residents as possible in new cultural projects. The goal is to raise the percentage of those taking part regularly in cultural events in the city from 7 to 10 percent, Dutkiewicz says. The prestige that comes with the ECOC title is also hoped to boost tourist interest in the city.

Wroc³aw’s cultural agenda for 2016 is brimming with treats for culture vultures including a variety of festivals, concerts, conferences, and other artistic and social events. In connection with its designation as an ECOC, Wroc³aw now sees an opportunity to carry out projects that would otherwise have no chance to succeed, city officials say. Extensive cooperation with San Sebastian is planned, and one joint project has already been carried out. Cultural tourism is likely to flourish. The ECOC title marks the beginning of a long-term revival fostering cultural and social awareness among Wroc³aw’s inhabitants.

Promoting national culture
For Poland, Wroc³aw’s victory is a brilliant opportunity to promote national culture, expand international cultural ties, and increase the role of culture in everyday life. Fostering culture might well prove to be the solution to numerous social problems, and Wroc³aw’s title seems a perfect start. It might spark off broader interest in and commitment to cultural ventures, promoting Polish artists abroad. This is undoubtedly a major challenge facing the organizers of ECOC events. Wroc³aw’s authorities plan to spend over zl.314 million on preparing for its turn as European Capital of Culture. The city’s current annual culture budget is around zl.200 million.

Barbara Derźgowska
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