Aarhus was a success. Why?

Aarhus said: Welcome Future! when the city was chosen to be Euroepan Capital of Culture 2017.

The secret of success: Why Aarhus succeeded as the European Capital of Culture?

What is the secret of a success story? Let’s have a look at Aarhus in Denmark, which was European Capital of Culture in 2017.

The official report of the title year of Aarhus (read it here) provides some amazing numbers. There was a 159 million EUR increase in turnover in the private sector in Central Denmark Region. There was 3,3 million audience visits at European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017 events. The year gave 300 % effect of the public investment and also almost 2000 new full time jobs.

An interesting reference for Tampere Region as Aarhus also made an application with 18 other municipalities. 

Let’s ask Lars Davidsen, who during the process was the Deputy head of the Cultural Department here in Aarhus. He also had a special role in ensuring that there was a connection between the political decisions and the contract with the independent foundation “Aarhus 2017”.  He was also monitoring the budgets and accounts of the foundation “Aarhus 2017”.

(At the end fo the interview Davidsen also shares his opinion of Tampere Region’s application.)

What do you think was the main reason that Aarhus got the title in the first place?

“I think there was not one, but a number of reasons for the successful candidacy in Aarhus.         A carefully well-prepared bid, which was based on an extensive consultation with more than 10,000 stakeholders across the region. A bid, that demonstrated the capacity to deliver a high-quality programme for 2017. A bid, that demonstrated a close connection to the European agenda and also would leave a substantial legacy in Aarhus and the Central Denmark Region.”

“Finally, there was a strong political backing of the bid. All 19 city councils and the regional council had made decisions to join and to fund the project even before the designation.”

Aarhus had one of the biggest budgets (66 m EUR) of the last ten tears of ECoC. How did you decide to invest that lot into this project and how did you manage to get the support to the big project?

“An investment of that size is not an easy decision. However, it was clear from the outset, that investing in 2017 was not just for the year itself. The budget was implemented from 2013-18, ja 2017 was seen as a stepping stone for the future development of the city.”

“The local politicians across the region were guaranteed their investment through local programmes, thus they were reassured that their money wouldn’t be spent elsewhere. Of course, pooling the funds turned out to be a very good investment for the municipalities, as they got out far more than they invested.”

You promised something to the municipalities for their participation and money? Please tell a little more about this?

“The guarantee of their investment was put into individual contracts between the 2017 Foundation and the municipality. The development was monitored annually, and at the end, the 18 municipalities in the region had a return from 103% to 764%. This ROI (Return Of Investment) solely looked at the distribution of the programme budget. So impacts of tourism, new jobs, capacity building etc. comes on top of this.”

How do you keep a large amount of municipalities in your project? So that everyone is heard and averyone is satisfied?

“This is not an easy task – keeping everyone satisfied. And the thing is, that this is not just a job for the team implementing the ECoC year – it is a partnership. The municipalities have a big role to play in this.”

“We gathered the heads of culture in a steering group from 2009 onwards. This group was pivotal throughout the process as interlocutor between the foundation and each municipality. They were involved in all aspects of the process: Consultation process, themes, budget structure and priorities, organization, open calls etc. The group met 4-6 times a year to discuss various aspects of the preparation, implementation and legacy. So to sum up, the critical factor is dialogue.”

Generally, was the ECoC year a success? And if it was, what were the major positive things it brought to you?

“Yes – I very much see 2017 as a success.”

“The ECoC has left a very significant mark on our city and region. The regional partnership is one positive impact. But also a higher level of ambition, an growing international mindset and an acknowledgement that culture is at the heart of what we do.”

Did it have any negative effects? 

“I am not sure you could talk about negative effects as such, but for sure, there are challenges connected to delivering such a massive programme. When 440+ projects materialize, one challenge is fundraising. The quest for private sector funding and funding from foundations naturally gets very competitive.”

“It is too soon to assess the long-term success. However, in my opinion, there is definitely a “before” and “after” 2017 – and this is a very positive change. There has been a significant mental shift in the city.”

What do you think is the strength of Tampere Region?

“It is without a doubt a strength for your bid that you have signed agreements backing your regional partnership.”

“The Capital of Equality is a strong theme, which corresponds with the EU agenda of strengthening social cohesion as well as with the UN SDGs. The ambition of setting a positive example for Europe and showing a way forward in an important matter is a strong ambition. Also the focus on democracy is both timely and important. And the sauna as an embodiment of this is a both funny and strong image. A nice take showing the global relevance of the local cultural heritage.”