Guest article: Guimarães after the European Culture Capital

by Eduardo Oliveira

The curtain has now closed on Guimarães 2012: European Capital of Culture, but what is the effect of the legacy left behind? Has the event strengthened the region position? What contributions have been made towards a potential place branding strategy for the north of Portugal?

Last May 2012 I discussed my thoughts on  the European Capital of Culture – Guimarães 2012, where I tried to define the event’s role in a potential place branding strategy (link) for the north of Portugal. One year has now passed since the start of the event, and many of the same questions still remain unanswered.

Once again, I want to emphasise that the nomination of the Portuguese city of Guimarães as one of the two European Capitals of Culture for the year 2012 (ECC-2012) created an enormous excitement among the national authorities. This buzz was felt especially strongly among the public and private city entities. Now, after the title has been handed over to Marseille-Provence (France) and Košice (Slovakia), we can pose the following questions:  What is the legacy for the city? Has the region strengthened its position at the national and European level? What were the contributions towards a potential regional brand?

European Capital of Culture: The event in flashback

In 2012, the Portuguese city of Guimarães and the Slovenian city of Maribor shared the title of the European Union event – European Capital of Culture. Guimarães, located in northern Portugal, is well known for its cultural heritage dating back to the founding of Portugal as a country.

The Fundação Cidade de Guimarães (Guimarães City Foundation), is still the institution in charge of organising and promoting Guimarães as the European Capital of Culture.

One year after a diversified set of cultural activities that took place around the cultural infrastructures of the city, plus some urban regeneration projects, the weekend between the 21st and 22nd of December 2012 was the date chosen for the closing session and title handover of the European Capital of Culture. The closing initiative was called “We are part of it. 48 hours of Guimarães 2012”. A full programme of activities occupied the city, bringing music, performances and urban interventions to public and private spaces.

I was there to experience the atmosphere in the city during the occasion. The closing session was widely covered on social media channels. Thousands of people descended upon the streets and filled the squares around the UNESCO city centre. The weather was excellent for a December evening and the Christmas lights gave the historical centre a very pleasant atmosphere.

The Catalan theatrical group founded in 1979 in Barcelona, La Fura dels Baus, gave the closing performance at one of the main squares – Toural Square, in a live televised broadcast of the initiative.

Residents enjoyed lights, colours, and music, creating a festival atmosphere in the city during those two days. The sheer amount and diversity of people taking part in the activities showed the most striking projects of Guimarães 2012. One particularly interesting activity, “My City is your Home”, had national artists and musicians playing at private homes around the city with the main goal of establishing ties between the city, the event and the citizens.

Nevertheless, was the ECC-2012 a European level event in a consistent way or was it purely a local event with the EU logo? And what was the impact on the region? I have raised some questions  to reinforce and develop my own thoughts about the links between the event, and a potential place branding strategy for the north of Portugal.

European Capital of Culture – Guimarães 2012, a critical perspective

Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture was mentioned as a national project supported by the European Union expected to be an instrument of cultural affirmation and position the country in the European scene.

The event attracted a considerable number of visitors to the city, and many residents of Guimarães viewed the ECC-2012 as a great initiative for the city’s image and its international projection. However, the extent of the legacy and particularly the regional impact remain questionable.

The local authorities, the Municipality and the Fundação Cidade de Guimarães, stated that between 2011 and 2012 the absolute number of tourists increased 100%. In addition, the occupancy rate jumped from 52.6% in 2011 to 67.2% in 2012. Even without statistical information to quantify it, we can be sure that most foreign tourists used Porto airport en route to Guimarães. This presented a good opportunity to enhance the image of the region and improve its position in the international tourism flows, if based upon a cooperation initiative between entities. Moreover, it is not clear whether a strategy based on the ECC-2012 could improve city and regional prospects as cultural tourism destinations and reinforce their image (e.g. to increase tourism flows and attract investment).

I developed another perspective related to the established networks, or should I say – the un-established networks between Braga 2012, European Capital of Youth and Guimarães as ECC 2012. Both cities, only 23km apart, organised their closing sessions during the same weekend without any interaction. Wouldn´t it be more beneficial for the region as a whole and for both cities to host their events on different days, attracting double the audience by getting the regional community involved?

What lessons have been learned?

I am far from having a complete and clear perspective about the role that the European Capital of Culture – Guimarães 2012 played at the city scale and essentially at the regional level. However, I do agree that the authorities missed the chance to take advantage of the visibility created by ECC-2012 to create a clearer strategy for development and increasing regional competitiveness.

The lack of cooperation between Braga and Guimarães, between the biggest city in the north region, Porto, and the ECC-2012 authorities suggests they may lack an open minded approach towards regional cooperation and resources integration for a common regional branding strategy.

Instead effectively attracting more tourists and increasing future investment, the ECC-2012 was used purely as a city event with minimum impact to boost the region’s international reputation. Furthermore, following my first post, the contribution for a place branding strategy demands more consistent cooperation between municipalities, communities and official entities. Integration, engagement and community participation are required to form an effective response to the contemporary challenges the region faces (e.g. weak economic confidence, unemployment). We should accept that the event was a remarkable achievement for the city and effective in involving the Guimarães citizens, but it was a wasted opportunity to enhance regional cooperation and create networks for the future. Perhaps there will be chance to apply the lessons learned from 2012, as Guimarães has been named European City of Sport for 2013. Hence, we highlight some key points for an effective contribution towards a potential place branding strategy for the north of Portugal by taking those events that take place around the cities of the region (e.g. Guimarães; Braga; Porto; Viana do Castelo):

  • Engage the regional stakeholders, including the municipalities, at least, of the main cities as Braga, Porto and private entities connected with sportive activities;
  •  Engage the community not only at the city scale but also of the region;
    • The event should reflect the local spirit (Brown, et al. 2011).
  • Cooperative event planning and coordination among key players;
  • Integration of the event planning with the Guimarães strategy for sports by thinking in the future (year 2013);
  • Fit the event strategy with the tourism position of the city as cultural destination
    • Showcases around the cultural spaces for the participants of the activities that will take place during the year (e.g.)

The event (European City of Sport for 2013) should be organised with high quality and communicated according with the all strategy for the destination. The quality of the event is essential for a higher impact on the destination, in this case in Guimarães as cultural tourism destination (Brown, et al. 2011), but is also fundamental the communication and consistent engagement of all players.



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Richards, G., and Wilson, J, The Impact of Cultural Events on City Image: Rotterdam, Cultural Capital of Europe 2001. Urban Studies, 41, 10, 1931-1951, (2004).

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3 Responses to Guest article: Guimarães after the European Culture Capital

  1. Efe says:

    Great post!

    I am still skeptical about whether high-profile events can be helpful in place promotion let alone place branding. (I even have some doubts about whether European Capital of Culture is a high profile event). But as you mentioned, places can use this opportunity to look at themselves, to try to understand what they stand for and what their contributions to the larger European culture.

  2. Pingback: Guimarães after the European Culture Capital | Toneta Project

  3. Pingback: Scoring goals, building brands | places | brands

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