Moomin Museum is one of the most famous international tourist attractions in Tampere. (Photo: Laura Vanzo)

Six Points on the European Capital of Culture and Internationality

Wouldn’t it be great if Tampere and the 19 other municipalities in the Tampere Region were to be named as the European Capital of Culture 2026? We certainly think so.

But has it crossed our minds that the European Capital of Culture is an entirely international project? A project that might require us to change our traditional way of thinking which can be characterised by the phrase “Let’s not make a big deal out of this”.

Here are six challenging points on what “international” means.

1) Being genuinely international is a prerequisite for applying

When discussing the application to become a European Capital of Culture, I sometimes detect a slightly self-sufficient attitude in the room. The whole project is perceived as being some kind of export opportunity for culture in Tampere which will showcase our outstanding skills. In this concept, Europe is left with a vague role as a spectator and financier. But that is not how it is.

Even in the basic guide for cities preparing to bid, it says that: “This is a European project. Programmes must highlight both the common features and the diversity of cultures in Europe. The overall vision of the event must be European and the programme must have an appeal at European – and international – level.”Quality by Equality is the headline of Tampere’s bid for the European Capital of Culture 2026.

2) Internationality is part of the application criteria

The EU application criteria for cities wanting to become a European Capital of Culture highlight the importance of European and international aspects at every turn. The applicant’s eligibility to become a Capital of Culture is assessed with the help of six pillars. The content of the cultural programme is one of the six pillars and the “European dimension” is another – so it plays a significant role in the application process.

The Ministry of Education’s application guidelines state that: “The European dimension ensures that an ECOC is an international programme and not exclusively a domestic event. That a city is in Europe, has a vibrant and international existing cultural offer or has a multi-cultural population is not in itself a strong interpretation of the European dimension. The overall vision of the whole programme must be European, and the European dimension must therefore be reflected in the cultural and artistic content.”

3) Internationality is a two-way street

In the Capital of Culture project, internationality does not mean that we can tick that box by inviting a high-profile group of international artists to Tampere. Nor does it mean only cultural exports from Tampere.

Internationalisation should happen in both directions, and most importantly, at the level of ordinary citizens. “The ambition of an ECOC must be to broaden the understanding and awareness of the city’s own citizens on the richness and diversity of cultures in Europe as well as on the commonalities between these cultures. There must be a focus on linking the city and its citizens with cities and citizens in other countries through cultural and other projects.”

4) Internationality requires an active approach

This is how one operator in the events business described the international reputation of Tampere: Tampere is cold, expensive and far away. Additionally, we here in Tampere tend to be quite satisfied to stay here amongst ourselves. Maybe it would be better if no one came here to disturb us? Let’s not make a big deal out of this…

The Capital of Culture project requires a change in that attitude. The people of Tampere are proud of their city and their own culture. Now that pride must be boldly displayed to international audiences as well.

5) International is not the opposite of local

What happens to local, distinctive culture if it is threatened by international influences? Who will remember our local cultural operators and artists in this type of a project where European and international aspects are at the core? It is understandable to be worried about that but actually, you should view it from the opposite angle: “Richness and diversity of cultures in Europe” are at the heart of the European Capital of Culture project. Often, what is the most local will be of the greatest international interest. Aki Kaurismäki, an extremely Finnish film director, is one of the internationally most well-known Finnish directors. To all things local, the Capital of Culture project is more of an opportunity than a threat.

6) Tampere is already an international city

We here in Tampere are known to be great lovers of our own city. In certain circles, you hear people saying how Tampere is the only place in the world.

Love for one’s own city and region is great but it sometimes tends to reflect on the past a little too much. There is no point harking back to the days when everyone was what you could call “basic Tampere folk”. Even in those days, we were international – there was Mr. Finlayson, for example, a truly international newcomer to Tampere.

And today, people in Tampere speak 76 different languages as their mother tongue! (Source: Aamulehti, 1 October 2019) Among those languages are Igbo, Punjabi and Pilipino, for example.

So let’s not forget the truth here: Tampere has always been an international city and will be even more so in the future. Now we just have to show that to the whole of Europe. We don’t have a long way to go to become European and international in the way required by the Capital of Culture project. Tampere has what it takes to win the title.

Seppo Roth

(This article was originally published on Tampere City’s International affairs web page as a part of article series concerning internationality in Tampere.)