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Report states that European Capitals of Culture are both learning and suffering from the corona pandemic

What were the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the European Capital of Culture projects and especially on the Finnish cities that competed for becoming the capital for 2026? This is the key question of the research that was conducted and published at the Sibelius Academy, Uniarts Helsinki’s Department for Arts Management and Entrepreneurship in 2021.

The research was initiated by Violeta Simjanovska, Head of the Arts Management degree program, and co-led with her by Franco Bianchini, a visiting professor at the Sibelius Academy. They examined the outcome of ten recent European Capitals of Culture in the pandemic: the impact of the pandemic on cultural activities in the cities, the development of their welfare programs, and cultural activities related to social exclusion and tackling mental health problems.

The regional role of the Capitals of Culture was highlighted in the midst of the pandemic

With international tourism and its impacts in a total stand-still because of the restrictions, many of the cultural capitals turned to regional and national tourism during the pandemic. Cities that have traditionally enjoyed international tourism, such as Tampere, Finland, naturally suffer from travel restrictions, but cities in scenic locations such as Savonlinna benefited from local and national tourism.

During the pandemic, digitalisation provided opportunities for Capitals of Culture to focus on issues of ecological sustainability and accessibility, to seek new audiences, to strengthen regional cooperation and to experiment. Instead, international artist collaboration, a holistic understanding of multidimensional artistic productions, and peer-to-peer networking of artists often proved impossible. However, there is still a need for a richer, more complex and humane digital cultural offer.

Instead of the number of visitors, the new goals might be innovation and creativity

In the Capitals of Culture, participatory cultural projects suffered the most from COVID impacts. For example, projects aimed at children and senior citizens proved almost impossible to implement. The pandemic highlighted the vulnerable position of the cultural sector and freelancers in particular. The need for financial support from the private cultural sector also came to the fore. A risk of digitalisation fatigue may also be percieved, which may reduce people’s interest in cultural offerings over time.

Instead, projects that present the well-being effects of the arts gained new significance. The pandemic prompted Capital of Culture organizations to discuss alternative future prospects for their cities. Significant innovations also emerged through this debate. In some Capitals of Culture, audience numbers even lost their relevance, and the goal instead was to create something new, innovative and special. It remains to be seen how the public will behave after the pandemic. The report was edited by Bianchini and Simjanovska, and co-written together with five students from Master’s degree programme Arts management, Society and Creative Entrepreneurship: Elizaveta Bomash, Miia Kivilä, Paola Nieto Paredes, Jenni Pekkarinen and Valtteri Pokela.

More information

Violeta Simjanovska

Reflections on Aspects of the Impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic on European Capitals of Culture
Including case studies of the three Finnish cities competing for the European Capital of Culture 2026 title: Oulu, Tampere and Savonlinna.

Sibelius Academy Research Report Publications 24
Edited by: Franco Bianchini & Violeta Simjanovska.
Co-writers: Elizaveta (Lisa) Bomash, Miia Kivilä, Paola Nieto Paredes, Jenni Pekkarinen and Valtteri Pokela, Violeta Simjanovska and Franco Bianchini

ISBN 978-952-329-269-7
ISSN 1798-5455