European Capital of Culture Ireland 2020 – how the 4 Irish bids are shaping up

The open call for Irish submissions was made on December 17th and according to this the deadline for submitting applications to host the European Capital of Culture 2020 has been set for October 17th 2015.  That’s late – the winner for 2019 was announced in October 2014 – but for once it isn’t Ireland’s fault, the delay has been due to a delay in the Council of Europe and European Parliament decision for the 2020 to 2033 Capital of Culture Programme.

4 cities/regions have declared their intention to bid and we’re not expecting any more.

Galway was first out of the traps over 12 months ago now, tendering on February 20th 2014, for consultants to prepare the bid, even before the EU decision was published and the timeline set.  The tender anticipated a call for submissions in the first quarter of 2014 and a deadline in the last quarter of 2014, followed by short-listing and final selection in 2015, with an announcement in early 2016.  The contract was awarded, on that basis, up to the end of December 2014.  Having overshot the mark, we presume the timeline was adjusted and extended.

To date a website has been set up but the real action is taking place on social media.  Individuals are being consulted on a one on one basis and initiatives like this from Baboro and the theming of the St Patrick’s Day parade are taking place.  There’s also talk of infrastructure development being as how an infrastructure deficit was promoted as the main cause of Galway’s failure in 2000 for 2005.  The main activity however appears to be a number of what’s referred to as ‘Speak Outs’.  these are open consultation calls to which anyone may present their vision for Galway 2020 in 3 minutes and 3 slides.  There is evidence of a drive to recruit champions for Galway’s cause as seen by this video from actor John Mahoney.  It has been proposed to bring the Fleadh to Galway in 2020, although, no doubt, that will go wherever Capital of Culture lands.

Next off the starting blocks, on August 26th, came a tender for a cultural expert to devise, support and lead a bid team for what is known as the South East bid but will be officially known as the Waterford bid (because only cities and not regions may apply).  The winning bid was from a Consortium led by Dr Tom Fleming who was also the consultant appointed to conduct the pre-bid feasibility analysis, which led to the ultimate decision to proceed on a regional basis, with Waterford in the lead.  Some further details were announced on December 22nd, 2014 and there is evidence of activity commencing in the form of a website under development, social media activity including a very informative set of “key factors” tackling the obvious questions that arise.  There are also calls to attend a series of consultation meetings throughout the 3 counties.

Third to declare was Limerick on November 5th and a tender was also published on this date for consultants to prepare the bid.  It is not clear however if this contract was ever formally awarded.  An article on January 16th about the complexities of the bid  and an article on January 26th states that Mike Fitzpatrick, who was the director of the 2014 Limerick National City of Culture Programme was appointed as the director of the bid.  A further report on January 30th stated that “Mr Fitzpatrick will now be employed directly by the local authority – on secondment from LIT – with the City of Culture company shortly to be wound up. The local authority is also finalising a tender process to secure consultancy services to complement the bid team, while a stakeholder group will be appointed to aid in the process.”  It is now 2 months later and there is no report that the tender has been awarded.  We await developments.

At the early stages is was believed that any city which had previously hosted European Capital of Culture, as Dublin did in 1991, would not be eligible to apply again.  This is not correct – Dublin can apply and on December 9th 2014, while announcing their Arts Plan, they also announced that that plan was the first step in their 2020 bid.  A piece in the Dublin City Arts office Jan-Feb bulletin told us that “At present Dublin is drawing together a bid team and will be announcing more details as plans progress. Dublin City Council is also pleased to announce that Jim Doyle from the Arts Office, has been appointed to act as the coordinator for the bid process”.  Otherwise it is all quiet on the Eastern front – for now.

So the extent of progress in the bids is in direct correlation to the length of time each one has been active.  No doubt we’ll see convergence in the coming months.  What we’ll really be on the look out for however, will be the really inspiring initiatives to build ownership and participation, to make cultural mischief and to harness local pride and passion.  Without doubt, may the best team win, but perhaps already 4 cities and regions are winning, by virtue of the fact that cultural vision and strategy is being discussed in such open and inclusive ways.  That can only be good.