European Capitals of Culture: The Art of Reimagining A special issue for the University Network of European Capitals of Culture March, 2021

The announcement that Galway was to be awarded the designation of European Capital of Culture for 2020 (together with Rijeka in Croatia) was greeted with excitement and enthusiasm in the city – and especially in its university, National University of Ireland, Galway.

The University Network of European Capitals of Culture (UNeECC) has supplied the opportunity to reflect upon the relationship between Capitals of Culture and universities – and it has also deepened that relationship, providing a forum to consider how Capitals of Culture can transform cities and the people living in them. In place of the annual University Network of European Capitals of Culture conference, we invited interdisciplinary contributions to an online special issue that would include written and audio-visual contributions from a variety of fields. This online special issue is an opportunity for us to learn more about how the Capitals of Culture in Ireland and Croatia have adapted their programmes and to understand better the pan-European responses to the impact of the pandemic on artists, cultural workers, local communities, and universities. Our aim is to define and examine how the global pandemic effected European cities, culture, and education. What future for our cities and our lives can we collectively envisage?


Introduction by the special issue editors, Patrick Lonergan & Catherine Morris.

Introduction to the University Network of Capitals of Culture by Flora Carrijn, UNeECC Director.


  • Noel Buttigieg and Dane Munro: Covid-19 and Empty Meeting Grounds.

    What happens when the ‘magic’ attached to an annual public festival is recast in social distancing, medical masks replace carnival face coverings and small gatherings are a sign of success? Buttigieg and Munro interviewed locals in Malta about how traditions celebrated in ancient architectures of city space accommodated the challenge of 2020.

  • Pilar Alderete Diez: Language Learning as a Creative Process: New identities in European Spaces.

    What is it like to live in multiple places both physically and in your imagination? What is it like to learn a new language and to find the words to tell the stories of the self and the city that you have arrived into and left behind? Proyecto EstudiantELE is an award winning Galway-based project that gives individual lived voices to these deeply personal experiences. Here Alderete Diez lets us listen into fourteen new worlds forming.

  • Adriana Galvani: Homage to Ezio Bosso from Bologna, City of Music and European Capital of Culture.

    Looking back to Bologna’s Capital of Culture celebrations in 2000 and buildng from Émile Durkheim’s works, Galvini examines the value of the ECOC as an opportunity to celebrate major aspects of cultural arts practice and European architecture as central to the creation of a sustainable tourism connective with an enhancement of shared community identity, improved quality of life and community recognition.

  • Christian Lamour & Niklas Schulz: How cultural Third Places affect urban development in the European Capital of Culture region of Esch2022.

    What happens when the development of a ‘cultural third place’ at a border crossing reveals multi-lingual contrasting visions of urban regeneration through cultural development for local authorities and regional strategic planning? The project that is underway for ECoC 2022 Esch/Alzette in Luxembourg is examined through a myriad of interviews, conversations and on the ground research contextualised by the complexity of a Capital of Culture located in a cross-border urban region which is normally characterized by the daily commuting of 200,000 Belgian, French and German residents who head mainly towards the agglomeration of Luxembourg-City, which is located 20 kilometres away from Esch/Alzette.

  • Anna Puhr: Leuven as potential European Capital of Culture 2030: Strategies to include needs and changing cultural preferences of international residents over time.

    In the lead up to Leuven application as European Capital of Culture for the year 2030, Puhr reflects on a research project key to the bid that aimed to understand the cultural preferences of the international communities residing in Leuven. The case study of the city of Groningen was a foundation for local community interviews, considered as it is an exemplary case of sustainable minority integration of international communities in urban culture and future planning.

  • Antonella Santoro: Matera beyond the euphoria of 2019: economic and social scenarios of city’s legacy and the Covid-19 impact.

    Seasonalized tourist flows, cultural tourism targets, new technologies and internationalisation: the 2018 Capital of Culture in Matera for its economic tourism is here viewed as needing a longer term plan to encompass the local works of entrepreneurial intergenerational projects and the creation of new spaces as “an incubator for cultural and creative enterprises”.

  • Karsten Xuereb: The impact of COVID-19 on the cultural sector in Malta.

    The author asks local questions about the interdependencies of culture and the arts to the social fabric of a societies health care, social welfare, housing, the environment and education. Taking the longer view of the political and social fall-out of Covid, how can the intricacies of cultural eco-systems be supported outside of the basic economics of performance determined by tourism?
    Philosophical discussions about Herbert Marcuse, Marina Garcés, Zygmunt Bauman and Italian sociologist Carlo Bordoni are embedded here within international and pan-European anxieties about political economics and the ethical sustainability of cultural arts practices and the creative industries.

  • Nataša Urošević & Luka Krivošić (Pula Croatia): Reimagining Cultural Capital: in search of a virtual European Dimension.

    Taking Rijeka as a case study and drawing on interviews conducted with ECOC project managers, Nataša Urošević & Luka Krivošić (Pula Croatia) argue in Reimagining Cultural Capital: in search of a virtual European dimension that existing models of European Capitals of Culture as mass year-long cultural festivals are economically unsustainable especially for those cities operating within crisis conditions on the European periphery, where local communities have very specific social and economic problems. The touristic fluidity that forms a key economic dimension of ECOCs must be re-envisaged to take account of the increasingly “immobile and jobless participants, closed beyond national borders, in search of a virtual European dimension.”

Curating Galway: Student Submissions

In Conversation

Conversations with the special issue editors, Patrick Lonergan & Catherine Morris about European Culture, Politics & Education

In this conversation Patrick Lonergan and Catherine Morris talk with Antonella Bundu Municipal Councillor & Vice President of the Equal Rights Commission, Florence. In 2019 Bundu was the first black woman in Italy to run for Mayor of Florence.
Patrick Lonergan and Catherine Morris talk with Flora Carrijn about her vision for the University Network of European Capitals of Culture, her role as Provost of LU Leuven and the future of cities after the pandemic
Sarah Thornton, founding Artistic Director of Liverpool’s Collective Encounters theatre company and Abi Horsfield Outreach Director with Collective Encounters
In this conversation Patrick Lonergan and Catherine Morris talk with Emina Visnic about the challenges of staging Capitals of Culture for 2020-21 in Galway's twin city, Rijeka.

Special Issue Launch Webinar

Hosted by Moore Institute Director Dan Carey, this webinar explores the topic of Capitals of Culture: how can universities engage in practice-based arts research and teaching? What are the challenges for Capitals of Culture amidst a global pandemic? Is what we want of cities changed forever? What role do culture and the arts play in the development of local, pan-European, and international networks of solidarity?


  • Flora Carrijn, Provost of KU Leuven, who heads the Board of the University Network for European Capitals of Culture
  • Patrick Lonergan & Catherine Morris, co-editors of the University Network of European Capitals of Culture Spring 2021 special issue: European Capitals of Culture: The Art of Reimagining
  • Sean Ryder, Head of the School for English and the Creative Arts, University of Galway
  • Eithne Verling, Director of the Museum of Galway
  • Ananya Rajoo is an artist from Kerala, India, currently based in Galway, Ireland producing projects with a focus on cultural heritage. She is currently pursuing an MA in Creative Arts: Producing and Curation from University of Galway.
  • Karsten Xuereb, who led preparations for the European Capital of Culture in Malta (2011-2017)

Chair: Daniel Carey, Moore Institute, University of Galway

Watch the recording of the launch webinar, which took place live on Zoom on March 15th, 2021


As with every creative and educational endeavour, the production of European Capitals of Culture: The Art of the Reimaging has been a hugely collaborative process. We are very pleased that University of Galway found a way to host a version of the University Network of Capitals of Culture conference in this Spring online edition. We were helped at every stage of the way by the inspiring assistance and support of Flora Carrijn, whose generosity of engagement has been a real pleasure to encounter. We are grateful to all the board members of the University Network for European Capitals of Culture in particular François Carbon, Carmel Cassar, Bill Chambers, Komlósi László Imre, Kama Kaminska and Angela O'Neill for engaging in our planning for this special issue.

We would like to thank all contributors to the journal for responding to the call and for managing to produce creative and thoughtful articles under such challenging circumstances as the global pandemic. We thank Antonella Bundu, Flora Carrijn, Abbey Horsefield, Sarah Thornton and Emina Višnić for giving so generously of their time to record conversations reflecting on the themes of this special issue from the perspective of their own specialist areas. While editing the journal, we also launched the first year of a new postgraduate degree in curating and producing at University of Galway: the students arrived into a city from all over the world hoping to engage in the Capital of Culture only to ‘live’ under a series of intensive lockdowns: the work that Alison Adrat, Laura Brincat, Hugh Murphy, Emily Noe, Ananya Rajoo and Merve Yilmaz submitted to the special issue is an inspiring tribute to their imaginative engagement with culture and the city; education and community.

We thank our colleagues across the university and the city who have engaged in the planning and dissemination of many aspects of the Capital of Culture and its educational outreach: in particular we thank Caroline Loughnane and the members of the University’s Galway 2020 steering group and to those who engaged with us: Dan Carey, John Caulfield, Pat Collins, Lorna Farren, Steven Hadley, David Kelly, Marc Mellotte, Gwen O’Sullivan, Martha Shaughnessy and Lorraine Tansey. We thank the members of the university conference planning group: Emily Cullen Davison, Sean Crosson, Maria Pilar Alderete Diez, Barry Houlihan, Tadhg Ó hIfearnáin, Tina-Karen Pusse and Cassandra Smith-Christmas. We thank Galway City and County Councils, Patricia Philbin, Arthur Lappin, Marilyn Gaughan-Reddan, Kate Howard, Jo Lavelle and Matti Allam as well as all their colleagues and volunteers at Galway 2020 who participated in conversations with us about the conference. We are grateful to Brendan McGrath, Brian Barrett and Ciara Murphy for their participation in forging connections with partners during the Cities of Culture project in Hull.

While Brexit has transformed the landscapes in which we now operate, there are major spaces of research in the UK that have defined best practice for European Capitals of Culture: Liverpool’s Capital of Culture and its powerful legacy has been disseminated by inspiring figures including Beatriz Garcia, (Centre for Cultural Value at the University of Liverpool), and Kerry Wilson and Phil Redmond (Liverpool’s Institute of Cultural Capital at John Moore’s University). We are thankful to Michael Parkinson of the Institute for Public Policy, Practice, and Place at the University of Liverpool for his generous engagement and conversation reflecting on how universities can forge lasting community legacy projects. Such exciting collaborative networks of researcher has inspired the conversations in Galway. We have learned much the European artistic cultural work and communications of Ulrich Fuchs; and from Franco Bianchini and his colleagues at the Culture, Place and Policy Institute at the University of Hull where they are defining new ways in which cities can hone localised community cultural arts practice within international and European frameworks.

Thanks also to all our colleagues for their support: Aoife Burke, Emma Brinton, Miriam Haughton, Charlotte McIvor, Mike McCormack, Marianne Ní Chinnéide, Muireann O'Cinneide, Mike O’Halloran, Felix O Murchadha, Sean Ryder, Tony Tracy and Ian Walsh. We thank John Brannigan, Declan Hughes, Paul Perry and Pauline Slattery at University College Dublin for their support of the journal. Gary Lupton and Claire Bennett helped us enormously with our Creative Europe bid and we are extremely grateful for being so generous with their time and expertise.  Thanks as always to John Cox and to all of our library colleagues in the Special Reading Room and the University Libraries where all the best writing and research is made possible.

Originally, we planned to simultaneously host the European Cultural Parliament in Galway as part of the University Network conference. We are grateful to Karl-Erik Norman, Timothy Emlyn Jones, James Harrold and Joanna Suo and her colleagues at the IFA Gallery Brussells for their hard work in helping us to imagine this event and for their support in our Creative Europe bid towards hosting the workshops for artists, cultural workers and educationalists. We thank Sybil Curley, John Crumlish, Paul Fahy, Sorcha Keane, Fergal McGrath, Maeve Mulrennan and Eithne Verling for their active engagement and support for the practice-based arts and cultural work that we have been developing and reflecting on through this University Network of European Capitals of Culture. We thank Róisín Stack Chair of Theatre 57 and Theatre Director and University of Galway’s Druid Theatre Artist-in-Residence Máiréad Ní Chróinín for hosting our European Parliament guests at Druid Theatre.

Catherine Morris gives her special thanks to Gabriel Byrne, Hasret Çetinkaya, Joe Cleary, Maeve Connolly, Liam Farrell, Paul Garrett, Evelyn Glynn, Jesse Jones, Sinead Kennedy, Declan Kiberd, Jean Khalfa, David Lloyd, Alice Maher, Tim Maul, Dennis McNulty, Jessica Morris, Emer Nolan, Jane Ohlmeyer, Ben Okri, Fiona Ross, Maggie Roynane, Frances Wilde, Emma Wilson and Ivy Wilson.

Thanks again to Dan Carey of the Moore Institute for hosting the Centre for Creative Arts Research in which the special issue and the accompanying webinar reside. We are grateful to Sean Ryder, Eithne Verling, Ananya Rajoo, Karsten Xuerub and Flora Carijnn for participating as speakers on the launch webinar. Special thanks again to David Kelly who has worked so hard to get the journal online under endlessly changing circumstances! The editors would like to pay special tribute to the inspiring work undertaken by our late colleague Mary Mcpartlan in developing the University of Galway’s community and educational cultural programme ‘Arts in Action’.