There Is No 2011!

Istanbul’s 2010 European Capital of Culture year is drawing to a close, and people are starting to ask about 2011 and 2012 and the year after that.

But the answer is clear: There is no 2011 and after.
Finally or unfortunately... 2010 is ending.  Along with Istanbul’s year as 2010 European Capital of Culture, which kicked off with a spectacular fireworks display on the Golden Horn. Şekip Avdagiç, Chairman of the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency, answered our questions as the year winds down.

What was the most outstanding and impressive project of all?
Categorizing is something we prefer not to do. All our projects were important in their own right.

Which of our projects are sustainable? In other words, what are we going to remember in 2020 as something that started in 2010?
We converted an old entrepôt at Salı Pazarı into a public art venue called ‘Sanat Limanı’ (Art Port). It has become a very impressive exhibition area. Several of our younger colleagues were the go-betweens for that initiative. We supplied the infrastructure. The rest is up to our young artists.

Might we say the same of the festivals?
Of course. We pioneered in launching festivals like the opera, dance and poetry festivals. We laid the groundwork and developed the infrastructure. Those festivals will continue with the backing of sponsors from here on out.

What were some events you personally enjoyed?
I liked them all. I tried to follow all the genres and disciplines closely. I wouldn’t single out any particular one of them.

Let me put it this way: What did I miss?
If you missed the ‘Ten Thousand Years of Iran’s Civilization and Two Thousand Years of Joint Heritage’ exhibition at Topkapı Palace and the ‘Moscow Kremlin Palace Treasures at Topkapı Palace’ that would be a shame.  It’s unfortunate too if you missed ‘Legendary Istanbul: From Byzantion to Istanbul - 8,000 Years of a Capital’ at Sakıp Sabancı Museum. And if you didn’t see the ‘Istanbul 1910-2010 City, Built Environment and Architectural Culture’ exhibition at Santralistanbul, then again you certainly missed out on something important.

On what projects were most of the funds spent?
The budgets for the construction of restoration projects were very large. We spent our major resources on restorations at the Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace.

What’s going to happen as of January 2011?
There is no 2011, 2012, 2013 for us. We are an organization confined to 2010. Our activities will be finished at the end of this year. The events will come to an end. Following a six-month wrap-up of reports and bureaucratic procedures, our work will be concluded in June 2011.

The 2002 European Capital of Culture in Bruges (Belgium) took 2002 as a start and preserved the organization and went on with the events independently. Wouldn’t this be possible in Istanbul as well?
Many cities that have been European Capital of Culture have turned the project into a long-term proposition.  Bruges and Lille, for example. In Istanbul, the European Capital of Culture was executed in the allotted period and completed. There is no 2011. That’s the way things stand as of now.

Do you have any regrets? Like, we were late in doing this, or we didn’t think of that, or if only we’d done such and such?
Our biggest regret is the Ataturk Culture Center. We expended enormous effort to complete the renovation of the building. But we encountered obstacles in the preparation of the projects, in the contracts… We brought the parties together to try to surmount those obstacles - it was a prolonged process - but unfortunately the parties were unable to reach agreement. For reasons beyond our control, we were unable to renovate Ataturk Culture Center, and it remains a big problem for Istanbul.

What else?
We don’t have a lot of regrets. There weren’t that many projects that didn’t come off. Anyway, we didn’t take on projects we couldn’t carry through on.

There was a lot of criticism. Especially about ineffectiveness, superficiality. What do you say to that?
It’s extremely unrealistic to assess a situation while sitting in a cafe drinking coffee or tea. We brought 600 projects to life in a year and a half. Istanbul has a number of prestigious organizations. How many of them have ever realized so many projects in such a short space of time, and in so many different areas to boot? None!  It’s not a possibility either. I don’t find those criticisms deserved, realistic or nice.

Is there anything that was deserving of criticism? Anything of which you would say people were right to criticize it?
We are our own worst critics. There was this, for example: We were wrong to create a mechanism in which we were bombarded by so many project applications. Having to process such a large number of applications slowed down our operations. The agency would have worked far more efficiently if we had limited the application process from the start.

Finally, and briefly, what has Istanbul’s being 2010 European Capital of Culture contributed to the city and its people?
Over a hundred restoration projects were carried out in the city. It also gained a number of new venues such as the ‘Museum of the Princes’ Islands’ and ‘Sanat Limanı’. This is a project that embraced all of Istanbul for the first time, from Tuzla to Küçükçekmece, from Beykoz to Şile. In one way or another we came together with the whole city and all its residents. Students, artists and culture managers all worked together. We afforded everyone an opportunity to create a project. A serious approach to preparing and presenting projects has developed as a result. Some 75 young people worked at the agency, and they will continue to play an active role in Istanbul’s art and culture.