Presenting the European Capitals of Culture 2018: Leeuwarden (The Netherlands) and Valletta (Malta)

Each calendar year, the European Union names two cities as European Capitals of Culture, and during that year there are many cultural events in the selected places. This is a great chance for the designated cities to move into the center of attention, become bridges of communication, gain social and economic benefits, and become locations where international activities take place. With this approach, diversity of cultures and common efforts for mutual understanding can be encouraged. This year's capitals are the capital of the region of Frisia - Leeuwarden and the Maltese capital - Valletta.


European Capitals of Culture, launched in the summer of 1985, is a project that serves to promote a broader understanding of European cultures. Designation as a European Capital of Culture is meant to serve as a catalyst for transforming the cities that are honored with this title by encouraging cultural development and tourism.  Six years before the title-year, a country that is selected as a host can publish a call for applications so that individual cities can apply for this prestigious award. An important factor in developing this project is the fact that a significant boost in tourism, infrastructure, and job growth will arise out of it. More than 40 cities have been selected so far. In 2003, when Graz was chosen, there were about 100 television reports and more than 9000 articles about Graz and its celebration. The list of states that can host the European Capital of Culture title from 2020 to 2033 is already known, with countries such as Estonia and Austria having already published their calls for applications to launch their competitions for the 2024 title.


Leeuwarden is the capital of the region of Frisia in the northern part of the Netherlands. The main objective of this year’s title holder is to promote open-mindedness in the local community. The concept of iepen mienskip or ”open community” will be at the centre of Leeuwarden’s European Capital of Culture 2018 programme. Numerous exhibitions, performances, and workshops will cover themes such as social justice, sustainability, and diversity. In total, there will be more than 800 projects that involve theatre, opera, music, and sports. The main purpose of all of these projects is to raise awareness and increase understanding of cultural differences. The most important economic sector in the region of Frisia is agriculture, so organizers are mainly focusing on Frisia’s rural heritage, and numerous programmes will try to merge agriculture and art. Projects such as ”Farm of the World” and ”Lost in the Greenhouse” will try to tackle sustainability and integration, where the second one will present a piece of musical theater that shows friendship between Frisian farmers and Polish migrants who all work together in the fields. European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans attended the opening ceremony on the 26th and 27th of January. Leeuwarden’s budget for its entire project is around $95 million.

Giant Steps, event in Leeuwarden / Photo: VanPlan


Typical narrow street in Valletta, Malta / Photo: Shutterstock

The Maltese capital will have to have only $12 million in its Capital of Culture budget, but this does not mean that its program will be less interesting or of lesser quality. The opening ceremony itself was a week-long ”festa”, a traditional island festival with dance, music, and street art. The idea behind this festival is to encourage audiences and artists to re-think traditional understandings of culture. The European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, attended the opening ceremony on the 20th of January. The neighboring island of Gozo, which is part of the state of Malta, will also have a place in the programme of ECOC 2018. Around 140 projects and 400 events can be found in the Maltese cultural calendar, which once again shows that a modest budget will not prevent this country from standing proudly behind this prestigious title. Since Malta is located between Europe and North Africa, organizers aspire to bring together different points of view from different shores of the Mediterranean. The entire programme will revolve around three main themes: ”Island Stories”, ”Future Baroque” and ”Voyages”. More than 1,000 local and international performers, artists, designers, writers, workshop leaders, and film-makers will be involved in different film festivals, literature festivals, fashion shows, and other cultural events.

Photo: Valletta

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