What does being designated the European Capital of Culture really mean?

The designation ‘European Capital of Culture’ was conceived in 1985 by the actress turned Greek Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri, and her French counterpart, Jack Lang, its purpose being unabashedly promotional, reports the New York Times. It can be a huge boost for a city, highlighting its cultural achievements, putting it on the map and generating tourism and urban renewal.

Dennis Abbott, the education and cultural spokesman for the European Commission, cited Glasgow (the 1990 winner), Lille (a co-winner, with Genoa, in 2004) and Liverpool (2008) as three cities that experienced long-term economic benefits from being chosen. Designated cities use a combination of government funds, European Union money, corporate sponsorships and entrance fees to spruce up their old buildings, construct new ones and put on cultural events throughout the year. Everyone is a winner.

Finnish city Turku, EU Capital of Culture for 2011 together with Tallinn, will be spending $50 million on cultural events for and during 2011, but organizers say that they hope to receive about $200 million in additional revenue, with two million people from across Europe visiting the city.

Chief executive of the Turku 2011 Foundation, Cay Sevon, hopes the designation will ‘change the city in a profound way’. ‘We’d be a failure if this lasts for only one year’, she said.

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