There is no single key to success but the following elements have been highlighted by previous organisers, evaluation-panel members and and experts in the field.
Be thorough in your advance planning – based on the events' goals and criteria and with very clear ideas on intended actions.The application must present a clear, coherent vision for the year, based on the "philosophy" behind the award and the criteria set out in the award decision – not simply a list of events or projects.
Plan your budget well – this is closely scrutinised during the selection and monitoring phases.
Because level of funding and efficiency of allocation are essential for the success of the event, the panel expects to see the sources of funding and main expenditures clearly identified as early as possible.
When preparing your budget, don't forget that most expenses occur the year before the event.
Don't rely too much on ticket income, especially if you want to widen access to events by keeping access to events cheap or even free.
And selling high-quality derived products is a successful alternative source of funding.
Ensure public commitment to programme and budget – this must be constant throughout the preparatory phase. From 1995-2004, 77% of host cities' operational budgets came from public funds.
- Ensure the body that will plan and run the event has sufficient financial and administrative capacity, and good contacts/networks with civil society.
Select partners and projects carefully – particularly given the event's required "European Dimension".
- carefully select partners from other European countries. Start with existing links and contacts and initiate the process early, to establish contacts and plans well in advance.
- focus on the quality and characteristics of the projects, not the political dimension of the contacts. Objectively evaluate the event's European dimension.
- the most ambitious or apparently controversial European projects are those which are likely to have the greatest impact. Don't hesitate when faced with difficulties in establishing such projects.
- insist partners commit real funds and resources to projects to ensure they are fully engaged.
- anticipate possible language barriers which could impede your projects and share information for all events in more than one European language.
Strike a balance between money, timing and programme – partnership is fundamental to each, for sponsorship, working with artists and putting together an exciting but realistic timetable:
- think big
- devise a list of activities
- calculate their cost
- start raising money (public and private)
- lobby politicians.
At the selection stage, it is essential to be realistic, credible and able to meet commitments. As many host cities have seen, financial problems come more from sponsorship being withheld than from uncontrolled expenses. Placing the budget under the centralised control of a management body can reduce the likelihood of such failures.
Involve cultural and socio-economic stakeholders and local people .
Consult cultural operators in the field – i.e. design the event using a "bottom-up" approach, to unite cultural and socio-economic stakeholders in a common project.
For example, in 2004, Lille (France) mobilised socio-economic partners with the active participation of sponsors (according to the Capitals of Culture study (1995-2004), sponsors contribute on average 13% to the budget) and the French national railway ran special cheap services between Lille and cities in France and abroad.
Highlight your city's special features – previous host cities found it useful to start with local culture and then work outwards to include other cultures. In other words, build the event from the city's own roots.
Have a forward-looking programme (though not, of course, neglecting the city's history).
The event should be innovative, emphasising contemporary cultural forms and the capacity to foster creativity by involving local and European artists.
Have a lasting impact integrated into the project during the design phase – think about what comes after the year.
This challenge is included in the "European Dimension" and "City and Citizens" criteria.
Effective communication – promote the event in the city, region and beyond far in advance.
In the years leading up to event, establish an open-access, interactive communications system and hold a call for ideas on a website.
This can be used to keep debate going throughout the process and connect/extend the network of artists, thinkers, organisers, producers, cultural institutions and community organisations engaging with each other in the lead-up.
Independence from political authorities (this applies to the artistic director and implementing body).
Some host cities suffered considerably from the direct involvement and omnipresence of political authorities in the implementing body. Remember too that a city's preparations for the title take at least 6 years and policymakers may change over this period.
The European Capitals of Culture study (1995-2004) provides also information on: