European Cultural Capitals of 2018: two cities, two concepts

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Art and culture for an open society

With a program of performances and workshops, Leeuwarden, the 2018 European Capital of Culture, seeks to initiate social change towards more openness and sustainability. In addition to exhibitions, the city offers numerous interactional projects such as weekly discussion events.

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Sustainable art

Is it possible to create an event in a sustainable manner? This question occupied the minds of the organizers of the Leeuwarden-Fryslân 2018 festival from the beginning. The Year of Culture is designed not just to be environmentally friendly but also to bring long-term solutions for multicultural co-existence, sustainable innovation and poverty reduction.

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Friesland's agricultural heritage

Agriculture continues to be Friesland's largest source of income, and this fact is reflected in the program. A play called "Lost in the Greenhouse" about Frisian and Polish workers working together in a greenhouse in Sexbierum will premiere in April 2018.

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From the hills to the beaches

The people behind the Leeuwarden-Fryslân 2018 festival are very ambitious: "We're going to show how we, Frisians, celebrate life. Bring along your swimsuits, pack your boots, put on your hat and grab your sunglasses," they say, hinting that the Year of Culture will be celebrated not only in Leeuwarden but in the entire region.

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Romantic landscapes

While the program in Leeuwarden is contemporary and innovative, the Groningen Art Museum has dedicated its latest exhibition to Romantic landscape painting. Running until May 2018, the show features artwork by William Turner, Caspar David Friedrich and other Romantic artists from the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia and the UK.

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The woman behind the myth

The exotic dancer and artist Mata Hari was born as Margaretha Zelle in Leeuwarden in 1876. Claiming to have been born in India, she became famous in Parisian nightclubs at the turn of the 20th century. During World War I she acted as a double agent for Germany and France. Fries Museum has an exhibition about her life until April 2018.

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Hoping for a tourist boom

Besides its rich agenda of art events, the region of Friesland attracts visitors with its picturesque landscapes. The Wadden Sea surrounded by sand dunes and nearby windmills is not to be missed by anyone who decides to explore the Dutch province in 2018.

Leeuwarden in the northern Netherlands and Malta's capital Valletta are the European Cultural Capitals of 2018. Their approaches to culture, however, could hardly differ more.

In Leeuwarden, capital of the region of Frisia in the northern part of the Netherlands, the project called "European Cultural Capital" has been turned into a social experiment. The objective is to transform the city into the most open-minded community ("iepen mienskip" in the regional Frisian language) possible by means of art and culture. Themes like sustainability, diversity and social justice will be addressed in numerous exhibitions, workshops and performances. "We will dare to do something that we have never done before on a comparable scope and level," the "Leeuwarden-Fryslân 2018" website states.

Agriculture meets art in Frisia

Yet these grand endeavors are being put into practice in a down-to-earth way. The project's organizers are focusing on the rural heritage of Frisia with numerous programs revolving around agriculture, which is still the most important economic sector in the region. The project "Farm of the World," for instance, sees participants using a once abandoned farm to grow organic vegetables while producing sustainable artwork. The themes of sustainability and integration are also addressed in "Lost in the Greenhouse," a piece of musical theater about friendship between Frisian farmers and Polish migrants working together on the fields.

Leeuwarden, Niederlande Kulturhauptstadt

On the "Farm of the World," kids are being taught how to live sustainably

Located in "De Blokhuispoort," a former prison, the visitors' center is also in sync with the aims of the Leeuwarden social experiment. Local residents, visitors and artists can participate in weekly discussions about social transformation there.

In Groningen, 63 kilometers (39 miles) east of Leeuwarden, visitors can take in an exhibition entitled "Romanticism in the North — from Friedrich to Turner." 

Whereas Leeuwarden's budget for the project stands at a generous 80 million euros ($95 million), the second European Capital of Culture 2018, the Maltese capital Valletta, will have to make do with 10 million euros ($12 million).

Malta's Baroque legacy 

Leeuwarden will give the downbeat to its cultural capital year rather quietly, with a concert by a children's choir and free admission to museums. Malta, for its part, has opted for a big, week-long opening party. Organizers have announced a "festa," a traditional island festival with music, dance and street art. Not stopping at Malta's beautiful beaches, the party will continue on to the neigboring island of Gozo. The popular tourist destination is part of the state of Malta.

Malta Pfarrkirche St. Joseph

Baroque architecture and the Meditarranean are the main themes of Valletta's cultural program

Despite its relatively modest budget, the Maltese cultural calendar is full, with 140 projects and 400 events planned for the entire year in and around Valletta. The "European Year of Cultural Heritage" 2018 will also be observed in Malta, with "the unique heritage of the Maltese islands" celebrated in Valletta.

One aspect of that heritage are the ancient city's Baroque buildings shining in newfound glory, another the special role the Meditarranean plays in Maltese history. Malta's association with water will be featured in a spectacular contest, while "Valletta 2018" includes film and literature festivals and a fashion show.Valletta 2018

Brexit impedes a European Cultural Capital in Britain

With the Greek capital Athens chosen as the first "European Cultural Capital" in 1985, the institution was initiated by the former Greek cultural minister Melina Mercouri to raise awareness of the unique cultural features of various European cities. Subsidized by the EU, the project has become a catalyst for urban development and tourism.

BG Zehn Gründe für England

Liverpool,forever the city of "The Beatles," benefitted from having been a European Cultural Capital

The British city of Liverpool, a European Cultural Capital in 2008, spent some 200 million euros ($238 million) on its project — with the aim of generating a return of 900 million euros. Some British cities aspiring to become future European Capitals of Culture must have been hit hard by the EU Commission's decision not to allow applications from Britain after the country opted in favor of Brexit.

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Cities are chosen on a rotating principle, with Britain's turn coming up in 2023, by which time it will likely no longer be a EU member country. Applications are accepted from countries belonging to the European Economic Region and those applying for EU membership however. The application procedure for 2023 will have to be repeated, but the decision for 2019 is already clear, the lucky cities being Matera, Italy and Plovdiv, Bulgaria.