After Valenciennes and Béthune, it’s now the turn of a new city to become the regional capital of culture for 2013. Dunkirk all the way from the 06 April until the 28 December. Great, but many people have never heard of this label, or worse, don’t give a damn. Luckily, in today’s world, there is such a thing as ‘communication’. And press reviews. Full of arguments for us plebs to come and get a bit of culture right in the middle of a SEVESO site. Enough to convince any skeptic.
To put on a good cultural event, one has to give a general, and at the same time, precise idea of the project. For DUNKIRK 2013, the idea behind the project is given full emphasis on the home page of the Dunkirk 2013 site: From the 6th of April until the 28th of December 2013, Dunkirk is hosting the Regional Capital of Culture!. Dunkirk 2013, so much more than just an artistic and cultural event. A chance to discover, to experience, to understand ourselves and one another.” If Marseille 2013, European capital of culture at the moment, were to adopt it, it would still work. It’s THE interchangeable cultural slogan par excellence, but at least our Dunkirk 2013 skeptics have been reassured: They are not in unknown territory. They are going to “understand one another”.
But unique in what way, that is the question. It’s no big deal, Dear Hearts, that’s communication for you. Still on the home page of the site (before getting to the heart of the matter in the press review): “The initiative of the Nord-Pas de Calais region gives us a unique label in Europe, making culture accessible for all, while boosting the area’s economic activity.” By unique label, the Dunkirk pen-pushers mean the ‘Regional Capital of Culture’ of course, which can be found nowhere else in Europe. Perhaps it’s because it’s a regional initiative? Or perhaps because it isn’t essential and the world would keep on turning without it? Enough of that.
In their seductive spiel to get the skeptics to succumb, the press review implores us not to forget an essential ingredient: Dunkirk is on the seaside. Oh yes. The publicity for Dunkirk 2013 never forgets this and shout it out from the every… lighthouse (perhaps a bit too much). The Dunkirk region is “navigating towards the future and international waters”, it has “raised the flag”. The navy slant is also in the program: You’re invited on this unique voyage (normal as there are boats), which has three ports of call. Ok? Can you hear Renaud singing away in your head yet?
For anyone without close ties to Dunkirk, the city of Jean-Bart evokes at best the Dunkirk carnival, and at worst its SEVESO factories. Or just plain nothing. But it’s your loss, as one of the press reviews explains, with a long insisting paragraph that we just couldn’t resist to reproduce for you. “Dunkirk 2013 is also the occasion to discover a territory with many facets. Besides its rich culture, the Dunkirk conglomeration offers a natural and exceptional countryside of sea and sand dunes. Its identity is revealed in its soil: The Northern and Flemish culture is the guest of honour and invites you to join her on a voyage combining authenticity and tradition.” Surprising when you consider how few tourists are knocking around there on your average day…
Cos it’s a well-known fact that culture keeps things ticking over smoothly. It’s Daniel Percheron who said it himself in his editorial self-interview: From Cambrai to Calais, from Boulogne to Roubaix and from Arras to the surrounding mining area, culture must be within easy reach of 4 million inhabitants. It creates social ties, general wellbeing and is an attractive factor for the region” General wellbeing by means of culture: My God! Why doesn’t President Hollande organize a hexagonal capital of culture to counter his unpopularity?
Spend 12 million Euros (budget for the event itself, and another 100 million Euros invested in facilities and equipment), all in the name of culture? Not possible, especially in times of economic crisis. The argument that wins the day however is that the event will leave its footprint on the region. Michel Delebarre, Senator and Mayor also has the right to answer three of his own questions in the press review: “It seems essential to us that the staging of this [3rd] edition leaves its footprint on the region and gives rise to enthusiasm, beyond 2013 and the visitor figures. To invest on this scale in the present economic context may well seem ludicrous to some, but it is necessary not to be a slave to this logic of price and paralysis and to see these large projects as a venture for the future and employment. François Hollande could well take a leaf out of the Nord– Pas-de-Calais (log)book. All the more so as the event will “transform opinions on the region and let it shine out on a national- and euro-regional stage”…
If our skeptic isn’t from the region and still against spending a weekend in Dunkirk, there is a sledgehammer of an argument that the local cultural media use to crack his little nut: the Northern cultural exception. Yes siree: we might well have a higher unemployment level than elsewhere, we might be going down the plughole faster than other regions of France, but in the Nord– Pas-de-Calais, “the density of our cultural amenities has no match outside of the Paris region.” Throw in some figures just for form: “With more than 140 museums of which 49 have been awarded the ‘Museums of France’ label, the Nord-Pas de Calais is exceptional when it comes to French culture in terms of the number of museums per square kilometer and second in terms of the sheer number of regional museums. The presence of masterpieces on show in our museums constitutes a unique collection.”
P.A.R.T.I.C.I.P.A.T.I.V.E: You just can’t make a go of a large cultural event in the 21st century without a participative dimension, like the Web. Without which, it’s not worth diddly squat. To crush all remaining resistance out of our skeptic, the press review swears that out of the 135 events initially proposed, 80 will make it out of port and into territorial waters… Don’t forget neither to do a roll call of the proud artists who will be taking part. Like Emilie Thomas: “I’m really proud to be part of this program. Dunkirk 2013 will be the most important event in which I’ve ever taken part….and I hope it won’t stop there!” Oh how we would love to see a press review where the artist says otherwise…
The ultimate sales pitch is not to be zapped either, driven home by every regional town as soon as it organizes any event: “Located at the heart of Europe, less than three hours away from 5 great capitals, (London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Luxembourg), the 3rd regional capital of culture is within easy reach.” Wait for me. I’m coming!
(*) Some text ‘borrowed’ off the Dunkirk 2013 official site and press documents.
**”As Soon As The Wind Gets Up” is the title of Renaud’s song (Dès Que Le Vent Soufflera) used in this article.
***On a French map, Dunkirk is spelt ‘Dunkerque’ (and is not is Scotland!)
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