Who will win the European Capital of Culture?

As the judges arrive in Ireland, before making a decision on Friday, we look at the best bits from our European Capital of Culture proposals from Limerick, Galway and the Three Sisters

Since Dublin got knocked out of contention, at the end of last year, Galway, Limerick and the Three Sisters cities of Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford have been hard at work putting together their bid books to be European Capital of Culture 2020. The judges arrive this weekend, so what’s being planned, and how is the winner chosen?

The judges are looking for a programme that will have a legacy beyond the year; they will also assess how each city would benefit from the designation. (Two cities are being chosen; one from Ireland and one from Croatia.) They’re asking for projects and events that contribute to the cultural diversity of Europe, and promote understanding and co-operation, while also involving the local community. The programme must have significant cultural and artistic content, and be well managed and fully resourced.

The bid books, as the submissions are known, are couched in Eurospeak, so there’s collaboration, diversity, dialogue, community, cultural regeneration and synergies in almost every sentence. But there are also some fascinating projects being proposed, including the highlights that follow. As considerable time and effort have been put into each bid, and because the bid books contain so many great ideas, we also asked the teams which projects might go ahead should their bid be unsuccessful.



Theme: Making Waves – Landscape,  Language and Migration

Total budget: €45.75 million Online: galway2020.ie

Wires Crossed: a Balancing Act for Europe Highlighting the importance of mental health while promoting risk-taking and adventure, the project partners, Galway Community Circus and members of Caravan, the European network of youth and social circus schools, will train more than 40 people from across Europe to learn funambulism (tightrope walking) in the run-up to 2020. This will lead to a dramatic gathering and tightrope crossings of the River Corrib, one of the shortest yet fastest rivers in Europe. [CF413]Galway Ghost Train: The Speed of Light[/CF413] Working with the Glasgow public-art supremos NVA, to celebrate the Galway-Clifden railway line, which is now being developed as a 75km cycle greenway, the project will involve hundreds of runners and cyclists wearing wireless-controlled LED light suits. These are choreographed to create a series of live performances of sound, movement and light on the route, interacting with the cityscape, local landmarks and the coastline. Judging from similar Speed of Light events that NVA have created for Edinburgh, Yokohama and the Ruhr, it promises to be extraordinary and wonderful.

Project Baa Baa! A mini-festival in June, this one celebrates sheep. Looking at the shared cultural heritage of Europe and North Africa, and with a street feast, exploration of fabric, weaving and knitting, fashion, poetry, folklore, myth and religion, plus the chance to help with the lambing season, it should be lots of fun. The project is produced by the Galway cheesemonger Seamus Sheridan, in association with European Collective of Sheep Farmers and Shepherds.

Hy Brasil In the run-up to 2020 the children of Galway will imagine Hy Brasil, the mythical island seen off the west coast every seven years, into being. Aided by storytellers, writers and artists, they will look at questions around philosophy, governance, social inclusion and justice, environment, art, culture and legacy. Aimed to showcase the power of teaching through the arts, the results will be facilitated by a team from Poetry Ireland, alongside Danish theatremakers and UK-based environmental artists, but what happens in the end will be entirely up to the children.

Bid legacyThe Galway bid book presents more than 50 projects, including special events from the city stalwarts Macnas, Druid, Galway International Arts Festival, Galway Film Fleadh, Branar and Music for Galway. With more than 500 active volunteers already in place, the project manager for Galway 2020, Patricia Philbin, says: "Having witnessed the enthusiasm and commitment that the people of Galway have placed in this process, we felt it was important to honour their involvement with a concrete commitment to deliver these cultural projects within these communities."

As a result Galway 2020 has already committed funds to a range of cultural projects, some of which have already begun, that will take place regardless of their success in the judging process. One of these is Hope it Rains, led by Ríonnach Ní Néill, which will create weather-interactive instruments, and words that appear only in wet weather.


Bands Beyond Borders Described as the tearaway progeny of a military tattoo – passionate about music and highly trained, but rebellious and unruly – this project invests in the musical development of the city and its environs. Working with bands and individuals – some over three years and some for just three minutes – Bands Beyond Borders is inspired by Limerick's existing annual International Band Championship.

World Recipe Exchange The arriving jury will get a taste of this project when they visit Limerick on Tuesday. We all know that eating and celebrating over food is a great way to bring people together, so pop-up restaurants, invite-your-neighbour dinners, tours of ethnic food stores, and workshops run by migrants and locals will turbocharge the congeniality. The exchange culminates with a mega edition of Culture & Chips (cultureandchips.com), the quirky food carnival that is one of the legacies of Limerick 2014.

Limerick Sings Since 2013 choirs from around the world have gathered at University Concert Hall and other venues around the city for Limerick Choral Festival. In 2020 this will be expanded to include additions such as the Limerick 2020 Youth Choir, with members  from each of the 28 (still!) EU member countries. There'll also be Big Sings at the Limerick 2020 Proms, in Thomond Park, and a new choral trail taking in unexpected and interesting spaces and venues.

Global Young Film-makers' Day Founded in 1997, the Fresh Film Festival (freshfilmfestival.net) showcases young cinema talent, spanning primary- and secondary-school ages. Digital and smartphone technology has enabled film-makers of all ages to make and share their work, opinions and stories, so it's an exciting time. For Limerick 2020 the festival will partner with the Young Creatives Network to establish an annual Global Young Film-makers' Day, to celebrate and raise the profile of young film-makers all over the world, with screenings and events online and in venues.

Bid legacy Limerick had a running start, as Ireland's first national city of culture, in 2014, and work has already begun on [/CF413]Lifting the Siege. The bid's director, Mike Fitzpatrick, says that, if their submission is unsuccessful, the team hopes to complete that project, a big street-theatre production that will bring a cast of hundreds to an audience of thousands. Referring to the many sieges that the city has survived, Lifting the Siege celebrates the countless decisions we all take each day not to give in or accept defeat. The ultimate performance across Limerick will have been built up through work with drama groups, men's sheds, women's groups, youth groups, migrant groups, knitting groups, youth-justice programmes and people living in direct provision. Producers and partners are Walk the Plank (UK), and Fidget Feet and Northside Misfits (Ireland). [CROSSHDBIG]T

Three Sisters

Theme: Reimagining the European Region – Culture, Community and Sustainability Beyond the Urban

Station to Station There are 18 abandoned or derelict railway stations across the Three Sisters region, most of them closed between 1945 and 1970, cutting off many rural communities from public transport. Working with Irish Rail, Lismore Castle Arts, the public-art curator Gaynor Seville (who worked on a similar project, Changing Tracks, on Mayo's Greenway in 2014) and Galeria Lorcan O'Neill, from Italy, this project will reimagine the stations as artworks: some as temporary cultural adventures, some as a permanent legacy. Eighteen artists, half from Ireland and half from across the EU, will be chosen to work with local communities to realise projects for each site.

Sisters x Three Sisters The Three Sisters rivers – the Barrow, the Nore and the Suir – are the backdrop for this music project, which teams three sets of sisters from Ireland (Henry Girls), UK (The Staves) and France/Cuba (Ibeyi). They'll take up residency in 2019, alongside musicians from Stargaze, the network of classically trained European musicians founded by the Berlin-based conductor André de Ridder. With de Ridder they'll develop new interpretations of the sisters' repertoires. A series of public performances in each of the Three Sisters counties will culminate in a showcase concert.

Translating on the Slaney  On the banks of the River Slaney, Enniscorthy town will host a new festival celebrating contemporary European fiction in translation. The recent success of Jenny Erpenbeck's The End of Days, originally written in German, and Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, originally in Italian, show the richness in, and appetite for, this vein of literature. With the Enniscorthy native Colm Tóibín and Wexford's John Banville as patrons, it will showcase the best of European fiction in translation and host readings, talks and events supported by Literature Ireland. There will also be strong community participation, with local schools involved in the selection of European novels in translation to be read as books at bedtime on local radio. Writers and spoken-word artists from across Europe will also be commissioned, and live pitches from writers will feature.

Cultural Prescription for the Three Sisters Led by Waterford Healing Arts Trust, Wexford's Arts Ability and Kilkenny Collective for Arts Talent (K-Cat), this project invites artists from across Europe to create cultural prescriptions. In a model used in 2011, when Turku, in Finland, was European capital of culture, they'll partner with nine GP practices across three counties in 2017, growing to 21 partnerships in 2020. Where appropriate the GPs "prescribe" tickets to cultural events, as well as prescribing art therapy. With international collaborators and mentoring, the aim is to create a programme that could be developed and rolled out nationally and internationally.

Bid legacy The Three Sisters cities have the successes of Kilkenny Arts Festival, Wexford Festival Opera and Waterford Spraoi to draw on; their bid book also includes projects exploring science and design, and a series of dance-based events with Fearghus Ó Conchúir across the region. As part of its preparation Three Sisters 2020 has hosted an international regeneration conference, Your Move, exploring options for sustainable, culture-led development and regeneration in rural and semi-rural areas. The bid's director, Michael Quinn, says: "Collaboration is vital to build a strong proposition for Ireland. We have had a history of working competitively against each other, but we recognise the need to work with each other to redefine our region so that we can contribute to Ireland's future and to enable us to be a dynamic contributor to the European project."

If unsuccessful, the board will review the various projects under proposal, and “hope to progress a number of projects on a smaller scale”. The Three Sisters bid is the first time three partner cities have come together on an equal basis to bid to be European Capital of Culture.

Tricky decision: The judging and the winner

– The 10 judges, all with arts, cultural or European-affairs backgrounds, arrive in Ireland this weekend. They’ll visit the contenders in groups before meeting in Dublin on Thursday and Friday to consider which city (or cities) will become European Capital of Culture 2020.

– The judges are Steve Green (United Kingdom), Jordi Pardo (Spain), Suzana Zilic Fiser (Slovenia), Ulrich Fuchs (Germany), Aiva Rozenberga (Latvia), Pauli Sivonen (Finland), Sylvia Amann (Austria), Cristina Farinha (Portugal), Agnieszka Wlazel (Poland) and Alain Hutchinson (Belgium).

– Ireland’s European Capital of Culture for 2020 will be announced on Friday.