Since its European Cultural Capital 2021 win, Timisoara’s next moves have included nominating Chris Torch artistic director of Timisoara 2021. An expert for the European Commission on intercultural policy issues and studies, Torch is also on the Board of Culture Action Europe, the foremost advocacy platform for culture in Europe. Will Timisoara live up to its promises? Business Review talked to Torch to find out the next steps.
How did you get involved in Timisoara 2021?
I had previously worked on the artistic teams for the successful bids of Matera 2019 (Italy) and Rijkea 2020 (Croatia). I was planning to remain with the Rijeka initiative, as program director. However, during the European Culture Forum in 2016, I was contacted by TM2021 executive director, Simona Neumann. She engaged me to help in the final months of the bid for 2021. She convinced me that Timisoara was committed to realizing a sustainable structure with long-term visions and I couldn’t resist.
I have collaborated with cultural initiatives in Romania over the last ten years, so the region and context are not unknown to me. I visited Timisoara for the first time in 1997, while doing research for Stockholm 1998 – European Capital of Culture. I have never forgotten the rich experience of driving alone in Romania, along the Hungarian and Serbian borders, where people, languages and goods crossed.
What distinguished Timisoara from its rival cities?
Timisoara is ready to bloom. It has a sustainable size, a dynamic economy and several high-level educational institutions. I believe that its sincere longing for richer contact with other European cultures and languages, its willingness to face challenges and intercultural issues were factors. Additionally, the bid focused on revitalizing the passion and the energy that has always marked the city, not least that which sparked the revolution of 1989. This is an energy that Europe urgently needs.
What’s the first phase for Timisoara 2021?
We call this initial phase StartUp, and it is planned to last into early 2019. First and most important is to cultivate a skilled team of creative producers, communicators, capacity-builders and competent cultural managers.
One popular definition that defines a startup is an “organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” A startup explores an unknown or innovative business model in order to disrupt existing markets. A startup essentially goes from failure to failure in an effort to learn from each failure.
This inspires a combination of reckless courage and paralyzing fear for us, knowing the immensity of the responsibility that has been given to us by the citizens of Timisoara and the European Commission.
In one sentence, what is your vision for 2021 for Timisoara?
A green city that continues to mature, with citizens who are open to both psychological and physical borders, re-generating the courage of 1989, transforming it into a platform for a renewed European Project and rooted in cultural encounters and curiosity.
What is Timisoara’s biggest challenge this year?
For the European Capital of Culture project: recruiting and cultivating a qualified team of people ready to root themselves in Timisoara and realize this project with us! As a city, generating citizen engagement and empowering them with creative energy and critical thinking.
How does Timisoara plan to use this opportunity to promote stronger ties with Europe?
The title “European Capital of Culture” says it all. It is a trans-national project, rooted in a local and national context. It is an amazing opportunity to network, learn, co-produce and evolve with cities at other edges of Europe.
A key challenge, in Timisoara as across Romania, is cultivating skilled professionals to fuel an expanding economy. Creativity, innovation, even controversy – all are essential factors for development. We will open opportunities for creative producers and active citizens to improve organizational skills, intercultural competence and networking capacity throughout Europe: internships, seminars, conferences and practical experience during the StartUp, into 2019.
Europe 2020 has been the guiding EU strategy in the last few years, focusing almost completely on economic development. Timisoara 2021 comes at the right historical moment, igniting a shift towards a cultural/social focus.
When is Timisoara’s tipping point?
I don’t believe much in tipping points. As a creative producer and cultural policy activist, I see change happening all the time. A city, as a unit, doesn’t shift suddenly into another stage or identity. Instead, many small encounters create a critical mass, a trend. Timisoara has been gathering experiences for hundreds of years. Certainly, the city’s intellectual position during the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the civil courage shown in 1989 are examples of significant shifts.
But, if we must identify a tipping point, why not 2021? When citizens are empowered, when they’ve generated ways to express themselves, when they’ve opened themselves up to unknown impulses, who knows what might happen?