Cities with thriving cultural and creative arts sectors are key to achieving the "smart, sustainable and inclusive growth" called for by the 'Europe 2020' strategy, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said yesterday (23 March).
Speaking at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the European Capital of Culture project in Brussels, Barroso urged national and local authority leaders to "make sure that culture is firmly anchored in your long-term development strategies".
"We have entered a new era" in which "we must move more resolutely towards an economy based on creativity, knowledge and innovation," Barroso said.
Yesterday's event gathered over 400 officials, stakeholders and representatives of EU cultural capitals past, present and future.
Creativity is an important "new source of growth, jobs and sustainable development for the future," President Barroso said, and as such boosting the creative industries in Europe's cities is "a key element of the Europe 2020 strategy" for growth and jobs, which replaces the Lisbon Agenda.
The Capitals of Culture project, inaugurated in 1985, seeks to highlight "the wealth and diversity of European cultures," promote "mutual understanding between European citizens," and "encourage a sense of belonging to the same European family by making us aware of our common European roots and our shared ambitions for the future," according to the European Commission.
Holding the title of European Capital of Culture represents a "unique opportunity to regenerate cities in the long-term, by giving new vitality to their cultural life, their creative industries and transforming their image," the EU executive further claims.
Amounts invested in putting cultural programmes in place have ranged from €6m to 100m over the years, 77% of which comes from national, regional or local public funds. But the Commission estimates that every euro invested generates another 8-10 euros in economic gains.
"Certain cities have been literally transformed by their experience as European capitals of culture," Barroso said, hailing the "direct impact" that being designated has on economic growth, job creation, cultural activity, tourism and improving a city's public image.
According to Commission figures, European capitals of culture experience a 12% average increase in the number of overnight stays during the course of their year in the limelight. Liverpool recorded a 25% increase in tourism during its stint as cultural capital in 2008, with 15 million people attending cultural events in the city that year.
This year's Capitals of Culture are Essen for the Ruhr (Germany), Pécs (Hungary), and Istanbul (Turkey).