Message from Tartu: “This is definitely not a beauty pageant!”
Erni Kask from the Estonian city of Tartu is the latest guru in bidding for the title of European Capital of Culture. He led the Tartu application project, which ended last week with Tartu being designated the European Capital of Culture 2024.
When we asked Kask’s advice on how to bring the title home to Tampere, he lists surprising, even outrageous pieces of advice.
He stresses that the bid process is not a city marketing project, designed to present only the best aspects:
“Whenever you see a perfect family photo, you start to wonder about the dark side of that family. As we know, everybody has a dark side; something that needs to be confessed. An issue that needs to be openly expressed and through that, hopefully also fixed.”
“Tartu had the courage to admit its weaknesses beyond the facade, and that brought us success. I believe that Tampere can do the same and, in doing so, become an even better city.”
Don’t Sugar-coat the Bid-book
Kask and two fellow members of the Tartu bid team, Kalle Paas and Triin Pikk, visited Tampere this week to host an intensive workshop on the bidding process.
The Tampere bid team sat with the Tartu visitors for a total of more than ten hours. According to Erni Kask, this exhaustive session served as a form of therapy for the Tartu trio. After bringing the bid to its successful finish last week, this was a good time for debriefing the process to colleagues of a twin city.
The sessions recapped practically the whole application process. One by one, the 40+ questions that the EU requires to be answered in the bid-book were discussed. The bid-book is that magical document of approximately 60 pages, which the European panel of experts uses to select the Capital of Culture.
Kask put almost a surprising amount of emphasis on being open in the bid-book, as opposed to trying to hide anything.
“The residents and politicians need to realize that in this process, things may come up that might be hard to accept, even painful. This is definitely not a ‘beauty pageant’.”
We Might Not Like the Bid-book
Earlier this autumn, international consultant Ulrich Fuchs brought up the case of Linz in Austria. When Linz decided to apply for the title of European Capital of Culture, their first impulse was to ‘forget’ the fact that, during World War II, Linz was a Führerstadt, one of Hitler’s favourite cities, with a weapons industry to serve Nazi Germany.
Eventually, the city decided to account for its painful past, putting forth its Nazi history as a visible element in the bid-book. The result: Linz was designated the European Capital of Culture for 2009.
According to Kask, the bid-book encapsulates all the work in the application process. Those who haven’t been part of that process might find it hard to even assess the contents of the bid-book.
“The bid-book is a very specific document, where you answer very specific questions in a very specific competition. It needs to be written for the selection panel and not the Tampere City Council. It may well be that Tampere residents will not like the contents of the bid-book, as it’s not a marketing book,” Kask states.
Trust the Experts
To date, Tampere’s bid includes 17 municipalities. Tartu’s bid included a couple more.
What does Kask think the political steering of the process should be like? In Tartu, all the decision-makers must have had an opinion on the matter.
“We reported each important step of the process to the politicians and residents, but it was also clear to us that our team members alone were the best experts in this matter. The team members spent 24 hours a day stewing in this, and they had to be trusted to produce the best bid-book possible.”
“Because all this is done for the purpose of getting the message through in the bid-book to the panel selecting the Capital of Culture. The panel is those twelve people who make the final decision on the title.”
According to Kask, the project proved truly laborious towards the end. At times, the bid team was at the end of their ropes, but “good sense of humour helped the Tartu team through the tough spots.” Kask instructed his colleagues in Tampere to remember that the project is also fun. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Good for Everyone
A fair question is: Why go through all this trouble? What would Pirkkala, Virrat or Valkeakoski, for example, benefit from the ECoC bid?
“This process is good for any municipality. It is a sort of self-analysis on a European level. It gives people the chance to think about which values truly matter in their communities or villages, and which places and activities are unique on the European scale. It gives them the chance to think about their needs and dreams for the future,” Kask explains.
Enthusiastically, he proclaims: “Tartu’s bid included 19 municipalities in the region. I have seen the light in hundreds of South-Estonians’ eyes! These are truly unique projects for them.”
Many might also ask: Why bother, as nobody remembers the names of even current Capitals of Culture? Kalle Paas from Tartu’s team answers with an analogy.
“You might as well ask where the last Olympic Games were held? And where before that? Where will they be held next? Not many might remember them, even though they were billion-euro projects and truly useful for the host cities.”
No Bets Made
Kask refuses to speculate how Tampere will fare against Oulu and Savonlinna, as he has never visited our competitor cities.
Tampere on the other hand is very familiar to him. Kask is a professional actor and has even played the Kalevala character Kullervo at Theatre Telakka.
“Tampere is my favourite city in Finland. During the last five years, I have seen rapid progress here. Tampere has become a modern and vigorous city.”
“I have enjoyed working with my colleagues at Theatre Telakka and the Tampere Theatre Festival as well as listening to local bands such as Eppu Normaali. Those are all proof of Tampere’s versatility.”
“Just like Tartu in Estonia, Tampere definitely has the capacity to carry out the largest culture project in Europe. As Tampere’s twin city, Tartu is standing by you, supporting your project,” Kask declares.