Tips for a successful application
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.
- 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.
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.
The event should be innovative, emphasising contemporary cultural forms and the capacity to foster creativity by involving local and European artists.
This challenge is included in the "European Dimension" and "City and Citizens" criteria.
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.
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:
- success factors for host cities: the context of the event, local involvement, partnership, the need for clear objectives, sufficient resources and strong leadership coupled with political will (pages 138-40).
- the importance of monitoring and evaluating the systems in place for organising the event (pages 130-31).