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Last Updated: Friday, 11 January 2008, 03:18 GMT
'Still making a difference'
By Anna Browning
BBC News

Peter Brook's 1988 production of the Mahabharata in Glasgow
Glasgow turned a former tram depot into world-class arts venue

As Liverpool takes up the mantle of European Capital of Culture, can the old port city look forward to a new lease of life?

It is 23 years since Athens was made the first European City of Culture - now known as the Capital of Culture - with 37 EU cities following its lead.

The brainchild of Greek culture minister and former actress and singer Melina Mercouri, the programme is today widely seen as an increasing success story.

So will the benefits live up to Liverpool's expectations?

The City of Cork in the Irish Republic was granted the title for 2005.

Not only did the title attract overseas attention to the city (a 25% increase in tourism in the first three months alone) but it was the catalyst for bringing in investment, and for the updating and expansion of its airport.

It also led to a massive facelift, most notably the redevelopment of its main shopping street by the notable Barcelona architect Beth Gali.

And the momentum continues, according to Fiona Buckley, general manager of tourism development agency Failte Ireland South West.

Cork city - copyright Failte Ireland South West
Capital of Culture 2005, Cork, benefited from a major face lift

"It's still making a difference, because research would still indicate that the main reason people come to holiday in Ireland is for its heritage and culture," she said.

"It raised the profile of Cork, particularly in the overseas market and that effect is still resounding today."

How then do you get to be a culture capital and how much is it worth to winners?

First of all there's a list, detailing each EU member state and which year will be their turn.

We know, for example, that 2019 will see an Italian and Bulgarian city as culture capitals.

Cities interested in taking part must submit their applications to their own governments and, since 2005, the winner is decided by a 13-strong panel - seven nominated by the European institutions and the remaining six nominated by the nation itself.

Since 2007, the selected city receives a minimum of 1.5 million euros (1.12 million) in EU funding and can apply for other grant-aid.

Some studies suggest that tourism numbers typically increase on average by 12% in the first year.

It totally changed the perception of the city internationally
Charles Bell
Culture and Sport Glasgow

Widely considered to be the scheme's biggest success story, Glasgow set the mould by using culture as a way to regenerate itself after its decline in industry - an example followed by Lille in 2004 and perhaps Liverpool this year.

The Scottish city saw off contenders such as Bath and Edinburgh to be announced 1990 European City of Culture.

Scooping the title was a "coup" for the city, says Charles Bell, arts development manager for Culture and Sport Glasgow.

"It totally changed the perception of the city internationally," he said.

Of a year-round programme, highlights included performances from Frank Sinatra and Luciano Pavarotti, a play staged at Harland and Wolff ship yard, and the world-famous Bolshoi Opera debuting in Britain, at a specially-built theatre made big enough to house it.

The Acum Ballet performing in Sibiu, 2007 Capital of Culture
The Transylvanian city of Sibiu held the title last year

There were 3,439 events, performers and artists from 23 countries, 656 theatrical productions, 3,122 musical performances, 1,091 exhibitions and 157 sporting events.

As part of the preparations, a concert hall was built and railway arches and a former transport museum turned into permanent venues.

To many it was a surprise that the city firstly went for it, and secondly got it, says Mr Bell.

"But Glasgow has always been good at taking bold initiatives and being opportunistic and ambitious."

Steve Slater, a senior producer at Tramway - the former transport museum turned arts venue - said the year was "perfect timing".

The city had begun regenerating itself, getting rid of the industrial grime and its "hard man" image.

'Natural erosion'

"The very positive benefit of that was a huge influx of artists and creative industries which gave the city a huge boost," he said.

New buildings do not equal mass prosperity
Dave, Cheltenham

But what of its legacy? After all these years, is the success of 1990 still being felt?

According to Mr Slater, it is, with the Tramway "one of the few concrete" examples remaining.

His one slight criticism is that he would have liked to have seen a "five or 10 year vision" for arts in the city off the back of 1990 but instead there has been a "natural erosion" of the city's focus on the arts.

"But I still think there have been huge gains made by the artistic community in Glasgow because of 1990.

"I came to this city in 1988, and because of 1990 and the energy here I stayed. I couldn't imagine working anywhere else because there is so much opportunity here."


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