Istanbul is Ready For The Onslaught

The days are numbered until Istanbul becomes a 2010 European Capital of Culture. The city is ready for a year-long onslaught of culture and the arts.

Earing a strange excitement, a sweet sort of flurry.... With gleaming eyes she is waiting to be appointed to her duties after joining ‘Young Volunteers of Istanbul: 18-70’ and having gone through training sessions by attending the meetings at the Atlas Passage. Perhaps she’ll work at organising the U2 concert. She is going through the process of Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture with the overwhelming energy of an 18 year old. Her only worry is to be able to tell her tired mother who got back from the office all tired that the year 2010 has a lot to offer to Istanbul. Okay, well, alright...If she wants she has been granted the permission to go to the Historical Peninsula with other volunteers on December 13. Isn’t this what is expected of a city that is the capital of culture? Young people who gather around cultural activities and their glaring eyes.

There are only a handful of days until we celebrate 2010 with fireworks. As time passes by there are more people who are happy, sad, enthused and angry. 15 million people being happy in correlation is just like the sunrise being visible in all 40 districts of the city at the same time, which is rather impossible in Istanbul. However, there is no reason to worry. According to the famous Palmer Report prepared by the European Commission’s Director of Culture, Education and Sports Robert Palmer, everything is under control. As each city actualises initiatives it goes through variable difficulties, stresses and discontent. According to the report, it’s now time for communication. As a result, the most important duty of volunteers is to explain what it means to be a capital of culture for a city to everyone who they come across.

For us to be able to say ‘Istanbul was a successful city as a European Capital of Culture (ECC)’ in 10 years time, the sentence needs to continue as such: ‘because such and such implementation started in 2010’. That ‘such and such’ implementation is directly related to the rate of success. Since we need another ten years to assess the success rate, let’s leave expectations to one side and have a look at the gains at hand.

First of all, even if nothing else succeeds, Istanbul has earned stubborn individuals who have the ambition to mount projects.  Civil society, the government, the public sector thought out plans, wrote them down and produced ideas thanks to the Capital of Culture project. As a result, they learned to prepare and present projects, and to find sponsors for their projects regardless of the outcome. The arts and culture actors that have been right at the center of this process have been in the public eye since November 13, 2006 (The day on which Istanbul was announced as a 2010 ECC).  As a result, they are more alert and better organized, because they are also amenable to similar controls that Turkey is going through with regard to its European Union (EU) membership debate.

One of the inevitable advantages of being a capital of culture is the increase of communication between artists. Many arts and culture people from different countries of the world will be visiting Istanbul during 2010. Don’t be alarmed as there are plenty of exhibitions, concerts, shows, panels and symposiums on the schedule to aid the circulation of events. However, more importantly Istanbul is expected to host seven to ten million tourists in 2010. In fact, even if nothing was taking place in the city organisers will still be selling millions of tickets by utilizing the ‘European Capital of Culture’ label. For example, as a 2004 European Capital of Culture, Lille hosted nine million visitors and experienced 20 percent economic growth. During its run as a 2002 European Capital of Culture, Bruges hosted a recorded 9, 5 percent of the Belgian population.

Naturally, the greatest customers of all the activities taking place are the inhabitants of the city. Projects that draw the attention of most of these people are projects that include social and environmental aspects, urban transformation and city planning. What we have in our palm currently is the completed Istanbul Center for Congress, a refurbished Muhsin Ertuğrul Arena and Sur-i Sultani that is still under construction.

City Marketing Model
It is a fact that being a European Capital for Culture has become a city marketing model since the 1990s, just like the biennials .The first city to realize this situation and to turn it into an advantage was the European Capital of Culture Glasgow in 1990. Three concerts that are still proudly talked about took place in Glasgow at the time. These were Pavarotti, Paul McCartney and Wings with Frank Sinatra. Everybody remembers these three concerts as the most striking experience in the year 1990. However, according to the art director of the event, Palmer, these concerts weren’t even organised as a part of the program. What was important was that the event in the city would stray away from an elitist outlook and would indwell everyone. Palmer’s most crucial advice is that ‘you have to manage the myth’.

The situation is as such according to the Palmer Report: The most important common characteristic of successful European Capitals of Culture is that they have managed to deliver activities to all the inhabitants of the city. We now have at hand ‘Portable Art’ that travels through the districts of the city one by one as an example of this, but it’s yet early to talk of its success.

(1987 ECC Amsterdam)
We invested in new corporations, networks, activities and progressing civil society organizations that have promising futures and relationships that focus on the future rather than big events. These experiences lead to projects that still exist; one of which is the Felix Meritis Foundation.

(2002 ECC BRUGes)
2002 was seen as a start for future years. That year was a wonderful year but what’s important is the forward-facing aspect of the ECC. Our independent organization that had been established by city management was protected and it continues to organize events in the city every 5 years.

We tried to go to venues that weren’t at the city centre and make West Berlin a laboratory for developing modern art projects. Our collaborations are still intact. It is very important to create networks.  ‘One person is no person at all, two is better than one, three people has everybody’s backing’.

In early 1990’s Stockholm wasn’t famous for its cultural events. After 1998 the city became famous in an international level. We worked very hard to host more tourists and to be located on Europe’s map of culture but fame arrived as a bonus.