“2021 is just the beginning, in my vision; the beginning of a transformation” says Simona Neumann, the executive director of the ‘Timisoara European Capital of Culture 2021’ Association.
that requires years of careful planning, a strong team, dialogue and the
support of the main donors, as well as lots of patience. The association
started the year 2019 ready for assessing an open call, launched in December 2018
and titled "SEARCHLIGHT", a participatory cultural initiative targeting the
larger audience. Simona Neumann explains:
"Actually, by means of the Searchlight
initiative - an open call for project proposals - we want to involve the
public, NGOs and cultural institutions that have not yet had the chance to take
part in the creation of the Timisoara 2021 cultural project. To open a gate of
opportunities for such participation, to promote ideas other than those
included in the application file. We were anxious to receive innovative and
sustainable projects, which can be continued after 2021. And of course,
projects that cover the European dimension needed for their inclusion into such
a program. We had three thematic areas: places, people and connections. We
received 72 proposals, out of which the jury selected 23, which meet all the
selection criteria and have a realistic budget, based on co-funding."
in taking a look at the 23 winning projects can see a concentration of ideas
and names that are 'different', in all the three thematic areas. Most of them
are quite playful with letters and concepts, and the results are surprising,
even for a cynical viewer. Mention should be made of the fact that the
Association does not finance projects; its role is actually that of a magnet
that attracts people and ideas that are to be integrated into a single entity
for the year 2021. Simona Neumann, the executive director of the Association
told us what happens to the selected projects.
"The Board of the Association is
scheduled to conduct a review. This will include, of course, the 3 providers of
public funding, namely the Timisoara City Hall, the Timis County Council and
the Ministry of Culture, alongside private operators. We will be looking at the
realistic financing options for this year and, depending on this, we will see
whether we can launch a second call for proposals. This is very important for a
programme of this scope, because Timisoara 2021 has not only local and national
coverage, but a European dimension as well. The fact that for 2 consecutive
years we have only received 30% of the funding planned for this programme made
it impossible for us to hire more people in the executive team. They would have
been in charge, among other things, of a much closer relation with the mass
media. And I mean both classical, mainstream media, and online influencers and
In the nearly 7
years since she joined the Association, Mrs Neumann says, the relationship with
the media has grown and changed. Whereas in the beginning there was a lot of
suspicion, and many voices claimed Timisoara stood no chance of becoming a
European Capital of Culture, in time the attitude of journalists, particularly
local ones, has transformed dramatically.
and online journalists have come to understand how this programme works.
Moreover, they felt compelled to take a stand against those who "crossed the
boundaries of civilized criticism," as Simona Neumann puts it, and to defend
the Timisoara 2021 programme using viable arguments. "Beyond just being
channels of communication, in the best possible sense of the word, people in
the media are becoming ambassadors of Timisoara 2021."
As soon as the
announcement was made about Timisoara winning the nomination, the Association
members were warned about something that usually happens in the cities named
European capitals of culture: controversies emerge, accusations are made.
"The expectations are high and some
people don't have the patience or the willingness to understand that such a
programme is very closely monitored by Brussels. There are clearly defined
stages which cannot be skipped. They want it all and they want it now, they
want balloons and fireworks today, metaphorically speaking."
If 2021 is just
the beginning, then the skies of the beautiful and cosmopolitan Timisoara city
will be filled with many balloons and fireworks. And they will bring about
others, in the years to come. "European Capital of Culture" is not just a
designation, but, more importantly, it is an opportunity for change offered to