Maribor (Slovenia) and Guimarães (Portugal) took over the title of European Capitals of Culture 2012 on 1 January. Both cities have a busy calendar of events planned for the year, with the aim of showcasing themselves to the world and building a lasting legacy for their citizens. The official launch of Maribor 2012 was this weekend, with music, theatre and dance performances. Numerous and varied cultural events, combining traditional and innovative approaches, from carnival to contemporary dance, are planned throughout the year. Young audiences will be a particular focus of the events. Guimarães 2012 will open its festivities on Saturday 21 January with a theatre and multimedia open-air show. Its programme for the year focuses on four themes: City, Community, Thought and Arts.
Organisation and funding of the European Capitals of Culture are principally the responsibility of the cities and Member States concerned. The European Commission has contributed with a €1.5 million grant to each city. Known as the Melina Mercouri Prize after the Greek Culture Minister who inspired the initiative, the grant is awarded on the basis that the city’s cultural programme meets three criteria: it highlights the European dimension, fosters the participation of the public, and is an integral part of the long-term cultural and social development of the city.
The European Capital of Culture title is an excellent opportunity for cities to improve or even transform their image, to put themselves on the world map, and rethink their development through culture. The title has a long-term impact, not only on culture but also in social and economic terms, both for the city and for the surrounding region. For example, a study has shown that the number of tourists staying for at least one night increased by 12% on average compared with the year before the city held the title; this figure was as high as 25% for Liverpool in 2008 and Sibiu (Romania) in 2007.