European Capital of Culture: Shine On, Timisoara
After a two-year delay, Timisoara is finally ready to call itself the European Capital of Culture in 2023. “Shine your light! Light up your city!” is the tagline that invites people to embark on a journey through light and dark spaces, as well as celebrate and rediscover the city, which aims to be a good host for experimentation and collaboration, whether we are talking about arts, technology, architecture, education or culture in general. BR talked to Corina Bucea, education & mediation expert in the Timisoara 2023 Curatorial Team.
Read also: Local and international artists to collaborate at the opening of Timișoara 2023 this weekend
How would you define the “collective consciousness” that describes the journeys which have been selected for the Timisoara 2023 programme?
The programme for Timisoara 2023 – European Capital of Culture was built around the “Timisoara spirit,” a collective consciousness rooted in civic engagement that has always made the city and its communities stand out. The role of the people of Timisoara in Romania’s civic and political change in 1989 not only generated an exceptional moment but represented a symbol of the spirit to which we all relate. This spirit occasionally needs a push to come back out, and sometimes that can be done through culture—that is what the European Capital of Culture title does.
The Timisoara 2023 European Capital of Culture (ECoC) project mostly focuses on community building through culture, using the metaphors of light and darkness. What are the keys to more active civic participation in the city’s cultural life?
The programme is built around two keywords: participation and engagement. This means building cultural programmes that are able to reach as many citizens as possible and are accessible to everyone, making everyone feel included. This of course is such an ambitious endeavour that even a programme as big as the European Capital of Culture is only one brick of that foundation. But it has the potential to bring a strong impulse, and sometimes that’s all that is needed. This impulse is generated by projects that place the spotlight on invisible communities and places, through participatory theatre, exhibitions about marginalised groups, as well as concerts and celebrations of diverse cultures—whether they are defined in a more traditional or broader sense. It is also brought about by projects that celebrate the immense heritage of Timisoara and the surrounding region through new forms of expression, such as VR, or through reinterpretations by contemporary artists.
Most international complaints regarding the ECoC refer to there being low engagement for the locals, while there’s too much for tourists. How do you deal with that, especially considering the number of voices who are currently arguing against the entire programme?
That’s an interesting observation; I feel I should match it with a recent conversation I had with someone from Romania saying that what they expected from the ECoC was for it to bring more tourists to our cities. I believe each city and each country has its special traits and needs, and it greatly depends on the eyes of the beholder as well. There are no universal needs, and in reverse, there are no universal complaints. But jokes aside, I believe the future of ECoCs depends a lot on the capacity of those cities (their administrations and cultural sectors) to make the best of the title—highlighting their people, their heritage, their future. The Timisoara 2023 programme is focused greatly on the local community—and through its empowerment and engagement, it has always stubbornly insisted on this approach, trusting that this will also create an aura of the city that inevitably also becomes attractive for tourists.
Beyond the official programme of TM2023, what do you think will be the real, day-to-day impact in citizens’ lives?
I believe in impalpable effects, as abstract as they may sound. I believe the title has already managed to re-establish a sort of pride in the hearts of the people of Timisoara—and one that puts culture at the centre. At the same time, I hope that this pride will be felt by Romanians outside the city too, and we are working on making that happen. On a more concrete level, I’m very interested in the programme’s impact on the cultural sector, and I think it’s already having an effect, in terms of generating stronger and more predictable support for culture, more powerful organisations with a greater capacity of developing brilliant artistic content, a more diverse cultural and art scene, and some highlights programmes and events that can be a compass for culture in Romania and the region. This translates into a greater and better cultural offer for locals and visitors alike, a better standard of life, and a more meaningful relationship between citizens and the city.
Is Timisoara ready to accommodate the tourists that will be flooding its streets? What’s the city’s current capacity?
Timisoara can accommodate over 10,000 tourists at a time, according to official data on accommodation units. But I want to point out that there will be something for everyone throughout the 12 months of the year, and we hope all the tourists who are going to be passing through will take their time and enjoy the many faces of the city.
What does the typical attendee of the programme look like?
The type of audience we are looking to nurture are the explorers: those who are driven by curiosity, with a broad interest in culture, looking for a variety of experiences and not necessarily favouring a particular art field. They are not afraid of going into unconventional spaces and they are interested in the city’s neighbourhoods just as much as in the more central venues.
Timisoara has received a lot of international media coverage since the beginning of the year, with well-known publications presenting the city as a great weekend getaway. What’s the most impressive description you’ve read about Timisoara in the international press?
I trust that all this media attention is part of the well-deserved reward that the city is getting for preparing its title year. I’m not sure whether this qualifies as impressive, but what I did enjoy a lot was a short statement by one of the locals quoted in a material by DW. Mimo Obradov, who I am paraphrasing, talked about Timisoara as being a city whose diversity has something to offer and a living example of how Europe itself should function. I believe he really captured the spirit of the city.
Timisoara is very close to the other capital of culture, Veszprém (Hungary). Are there any projects to encourage people to discover both cities?
I would just highlight what the two cities share in terms of collaboration. First of all, Timisoara-based DJ K-lu travelling to the neighbouring city to shake up one of their party stages celebrating the official opening of Veszprém 2023. On the other hand, for the Opening of Timisoara 2023, a parade of giant puppets from the Kabóca Theatre in Veszprém will animate the city centre.
In Veszprém, Timisoara will again be present at the INTERURBAN event (February 17 – March 13), with a showcase of cultural projects from the Timisoara 2023 Cultural Programme. INTERURBAN brings 25 cities from 25 countries to Veszprém this year, sharing music, flavours, and creators, alternating every two weeks with a new tandem of cities.
Another common initiative is Mysterious – Artists in search of hidden stories in the European Capitals, an international art project in which artists and young people from five cities in the Danube Region—including four ECoCs (Novi Sad, Veszprém, Timişoara and Bad Ischl)—are working together. In September, an event presenting the results of this collaboration will be hosted in Timisoara.
There has been some controversy about the development of the cultural programme since Timisoara won the title back in 2016, as well as some international investigations into some of the former consultants who worked on the ECoC project. How has all this affected your plans so far? Did media attention on the topic help raise awareness of the city’s cultural potential or was it all just bad PR?
The European Capital of Culture title is one of the most important and long-standing projects at the European level. It requires a lot of accountability and responsibility and, as with any programme of this scale, those values are challenged sometimes. Add to that the complexity of the Romanian context, hiccups and difficulties are bound to appear, some of which I believe to be hard to fully understand by the public outside the professional field.
What I think is specific to us, though, is the fact that we tend to lose trust easily—and Timisoara 2023 definitely had to earn its trust by making a bigger effort than that should have required. I truly hope—and feel—that this was gained back once the title year got closer, that stability was finally achieved at the local level, that cultural operators finally managed to get the support they needed to bring their projects to this stage, and that the cultural programme finally took shape in a visible manner for the general public.
What’s should one not miss this year in Timisoara?
The Opening is definitely something that should not be missed! On the weekend of February 17-19, the European Capital of Culture is officially opening with an abundance of events—some organised by the Curatorial Team for Timisoara 2023, others by local operators who are implementing the programme, and some selected from proposals coming from the local community. There will be concerts, performances, meetups, exhibitions, installations, and art interventions throughout the city. The programme can be found here: opening.timisoara2023.eu/en
For the rest of the year, I would gracefully dodge the bullet of choosing for your readers and invite them to check out these 123 highlights we have hand-picked from the programme: opening.timisoara2023.eu/en/highlights.
I will however try to roughly translate the calendar into seasons: while winter is for city-wide celebrations (Opening and Closing) and exhibitions that will stay open for visitors for the months to come, spring is for the rise of performing arts, both in conventional and non-conventional spaces around the city. In the summer there are film programmes, contemporary dance events, and festivals that will get you to stay out until late at night, celebrating jazz, traditions, heritage or food culture. Autumn will take us deeper into the city’s neighbourhoods, gathering in unconventional spaces for performances and concerts, but also exploring ideas through conferences and discourse-driven events.