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Researchers on Aarhus 2017: Let’s continue to build on the European Capital of Culture year

Aarhus as European Capital of Culture has created and strengthened a wide range of collaborations and shown how culture can create a sense of community, bring about change and enhance quality of life. But the cultural consumption of the citizens of Aarhus remained unchanged in 2017. These are some of the results of the research-based evaluation of Aarhus 2017. The researchers behind the study encourage the city to take advantage of the momentum created by Aarhus 2017.

2018.12.13 | Ida Hammerich Nielson

Researchers from Aarhus University have been following the European Capital of Culture project since 2013, and have now published a research-based evaluation of Aarhus 2017. The evaluation indicates that Aarhus 2017 created and strengthened a large number of collaborations. Perhaps most significantly, all municipalities in the Central Denmark Region involved themselves in close collaboration on the European Capital of Culture project. 

“Previously, the municipalities may have considered each other as competitors, but in connection with Aarhus 2017, they helped strengthen each other instead. One example of this is how seven of the art museums in the region collaborated on the exhibition “Seven Deadly Sins”. The exhibition showed that it was possible to inspire the audience to experience several exhibitions across museums and municipal boundaries,” says evaluation leader Hans-Peter Degn from the research group rethinkIMPACTS 2017,which conducted the evaluation based on extensive data that included interviews and questionnaires.

The evaluation shows that cooperation internally within the municipalities between the culture departments and other administrative areas has been strengthened, and that culture is now more likely to be involved in the solution to municipal challenges, for example in relation to employment or healthcare. 

“In relation to the stimulation of collaborations, the European Capital of Culture project has been a great success. The different collaborations create more dynamism in the region and will hopefully result in more exciting cultural experiences for the citizens in the future,” says Hans-Peter Degn. 

Unchanged cultural consumption in 2017

The European Capital of Culture year was both visible and accessible for local citizens. Lots of citizens and tourists took part in the many cultural events throughout the year, and especially the big events, such as the opening ceremony in Aarhus, attracted a large audience. In spite of this, there is no indication that Aarhus 2017 has produced a change in the citizens’ cultural consumption. 

“The big European Capital of Culture project reached many citizens who are already active cultural consumers in the area. One of the reasons for this is that the programme was based on the traditional forms of culture – but with more events and of a higher quality than usual. But it is also related to the fact that it is not easy to get citizens who do not normally participate in cultural activities to engage with culture, even if you create massive attention, support and momentum, as with a large project such as Aarhus 2017,” says Hans-Peter Degn. 

Other European Capitals of Culture have focused more intensively on reaching new cultural consumers through outreach events that get residents involved, for example in underprivileged areas. According to researchers, this type of outreach culture contributes to a development in the composition of the audience for culture. Aarhus 2017 included a few of such initiatives, for example EUTOPIA in Gellerup – an artistic meeting point for locals, visitors and artists from across the world – and other events that reached out to the citizens. 

“If you want to reach a broader segment of the population, you need a long-term and strategic effort based on elements such as these,” says Hans-Peter Degn. 

We need to sustain the momentum of Aarhus 2017

The researchers’ studies show that Aarhus 2017 has changed the mindset of both politicians, cultural institutions and the population. Culture is no longer seen as something peripheral, but as something that can create a sense of community, bring about change and enhance quality of life. 

“But these kinds of intangible effects of the big European Capital of Culture project must be nurtured if they are to have an impact for Aarhus and the region in the future. In European Capitals of Culture projects that have had a more material focus, for example building impressive new cultural institutions, there is an obvious need to take care of them after the European Capital of Culture year ends. But it is just as important that we in Aarhus and in the region continue to take care of the intangible effects of Aarhus 2017.

“And so we need to take steps to sustain the momentum that has been created – and do it now! To do this we need a clear strategy (and division of responsibilities) for how we plan to sustain and develop the achieved effects. This includes a framework for how to continue and nurture the different collaborations, but we also need to focus on how to respond to the unfulfilled potential of the European Capital of Culture that has been revealed. The evaluation lays the groundwork for this work by documenting the short-term effects of the European Capital of Culture project. In the long term, it will be important to continue building on this large evaluation and the comprehensive analyses with follow-up analyses, and, in this context, the strategic collaboration between Aarhus University, the city and the region should be further developed.”

Research, Public/Media, External target group, Aarhus University