Timisoara waiting for its moment to shine as European Capital of Culture

Oana Vasiliu 16/06/2019 | 09:00

In the official bid book for the title European Capital of Culture, Timisoara is described as “a place that shows courage when standing up for values. Mutual recognition and respect are the core of the city’s intercultural, multi-confessional and entrepreneurial community. Over 30 different cultures have lived here side by side for centuries (…). Here, ‘tolerance’ has come to mean community.” But is this community ready for such a challenge as being European Capital of Culture?

The concept for Timisoara’s tenure as cultural capital is inspired by the metaphor of light – Shine your light – Light up your city! – which alludes to the fact that this was the first place in mainland Europe to have electric street lighting. This is why the Timisoara 2021 European Capital of Culture Association (TM2021) is extending an invitation to join a journey through light and dark spaces, with three boundaries: people, places and connections.

The team behind the project

While the executive team of TM2021 retains Simona Neumann as executive director and Chris Torch as artistic consultant, new names have been brought on board. Since December, local businessman Horatiu Rada has been president of the association, while in March, Simion Giurca, Romania’s former tourism chief officer in Vienna, was tasked with drawing up the touristic strategy for TM2021. New faces mean new approaches. “From 2016-2018 it was a startup period, as mentioned in the bid book, but now, in 2019, TM2021 is starting its engines, funneling directions, and forming teams to develop cultural projects locally and internationally, cultural strategies and also touristic objectives,” Rada told Business Review.

Money, money, money

Ask anyone outside Timisoara what’s the deal with this European Capital of Culture thing, and probably the only news which they’ve head from the national press will be about the lack of money or the huge reimbursement delays the association has faced for the pre-2021 projects. In 2016, when the team was working on the candidature, the local authorities re-approved the city’s cultural strategy and final bid book, including the financial commitment of EUR 20 million to the operational budget. Some money should come from the Ministry of Culture, too, and, of course, EU and private sponsors. How much has been implemented up until now and at what cost? In 2017, for example, in an interview that Neumann gave to Adevarul newspaper, she mentioned that only 24 percent of the sum approved for TM2021 was being covered. And yet only recently, on May 24, the Government was due to pronounce the Timisoara 2021 European Capital of Culture Association as being of official public interest, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila announced.

Costly centerpiece: Multiplexity

Multiplexity, the city’s planned Art Technology Experiment Center, is due to cost about EUR 12 million. According to the latest local news, the City Hall has decided to offer the space of the old public transportation center, on Take Ionescu Blvd – the most important inheritance after the title European Capital of Culture, as any cultural commentator will argue. With this strong boost from the municipality to build up the center, projects are now awaited. And, hopefully, a grand opening in 2021. Fingers crossed.

Kunsthalle Bega, a space where contemporary art can be seen in a very alternative and unusual old building. Photo: Adrian Catu

Long promised: Museum of the Romanian Revolution

Some 30 years since 1989 and after countless promises, the first state museum of the Romanian Revolution looks set to come into being. It will be hosted in the former military garrison in the city’s Liberty Square, which was transferred from the Defense Ministry to the Culture Ministry, News.ro reported. The museum will be established with financial support from the Council of Europe Development Bank. Currently, the project is in the feasibility stage.

Beds and heads

According to the National Statistics Institute, in 2018, Timisoara had a capacity of 44 hotels and 12 hostels, with the number of beds reaching 5,354. The same statistics indicate 378,000 tourists came in 2018, of whom 117,000 were foreigners. The numbers are encouraging, given that in 2015, only 279,300 tourists visited Timisoara.

In 2018, the first five-star hotel opened up in Timisoara. Tresor Le Palais was a private Romanian investment by local businessman Liviu Peter, worth EUR 6 million. The other five-star resort is going to be part of the international chain the Rezidor Hotel Group, one of the fastest-growing hotel companies in the world, which will open a new Radisson Blu in the city. The five-star property will be located within the ISHO mixed real estate project developed by Romanian investor Ovidiu Sandor, through his company Mulberry Development. And there are high hopes from the newly elected tourism strategist, Giurca.

Unirii Square, one of the landmarks of Timisoara. Photo: Bogdan Dinca

The alternatives

As noted in the bid book, Timisoara has 55 public cultural institutes which will support TM2021. But when it comes to spaces, the city suffers, although its poly-centered architecture can help the independent sector – and it’s already happening: some of the coolest and most interesting cultural spaces in Timisoara are in former industrial buildings. Two examples are Kunsthalle Bega and Ambasada.  Worth mentioning are the cultural projects happening outside the hip places – Prin Banat Association offers a good example of understanding the recent history of Timis through Moving Fireplaces, while the Simultan Association has put the art of theater right in the middle of ten neighborhoods, bringing new local audiences to the cultural scene. And maybe, just maybe, there is hope for the cinema halls which recently returned to City Hall management.

Conclusions?  

Believe it or not, it’s on: Timisoara must be presentable by 2021 to the locals, nationals and internationals. Good changes are happening – but too few and too slowly, say commentators. And 2021 is just around the corner. Maybe a good national communication campaign will help the local situation slightly and maybe outsiders should encourage the cultural Timisoara scene by attending some of the events – low-cost flights are available, half of the way there by car is on highway(s) and modern trains connect the capital city and Timisoara. So from the actual capital, the cultural capital is within our reach.

 

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