Norway is geographically large, lightly populated, with strong regional and local identities. Bergen has 230 000 inhabitants and is Norway’s second city and the largest city of Western Norway where 25% of the population live. The regions economy is export oriented; Bergen’s economy is primarily connected to the sea and contains complete and internationally competitive maritime and marine clusters as well as the major production base for North Sea oil and gas. Bergen is home to a university and other colleges and research institutions.
Bergen is sited spectacularly between the mountains and the sea. Amongst the cities cultural monuments are a UNESCO world heritage site and one of Europe’s most important extent wooden cities. Historically Bergen has been a city of music and theatre. The city today is home to several professional theatres, a full philharmonic orchestra, a range of museums and local and international festivals. On a European level Bergen has strong milieus in contemporary theatre and dance, international interest in the textile and ceramic arts and a growing international recognition for the jazz, club and electronic music scenes.
Norway was a medieval nation that was in union with first Denmark and then Sweden from the 14th century until1905. A long history connected to a young political structure has resulted in nationally oriented cultures in the last 150 years. On the other hand as a small country and language in the periphery Norway has also been connected to international cultural trends. In the early 1990’s the City of Bergen established ambitious plans to strengthen Bergen as a city of art and culture. The plans resulted in more financial support for artists and institutions and in new and refurbished cultural arenas.
The main motivation behind the cultural capital bid was to crown ten years of municipal strengthening of culture with a showcase of what had been achieved. The year was to present Bergen on national and European stages, to fill the new arenas and to create greater publics for artists and institutions. Cultural and artistic life was to “show what they where good for”. Bergen first sought the status for 1997 or 1998 with at traditional program of events. The bid was renewed for 2000 with a more open program.
All cultural city years are bumpy rides. Bergen’s was no exception. There were changes of directors and staff, catastrophe headlines in the media and vocal criticism from those that disagreed in the profile and the project. Bergen’s process was probably at the median in noise and pressure when seen in relation to other cultural cities. On a concrete level Bergen 2000 was based on consultation processes with cultural and political partners. Cultural life was represented in a council, an artistic advisory board and the organisations board. Bergen 2000 gave an open invitation for projects that resulted in over 1000 project suggestions and a number of important program elements.
Bergen shared the status in 2000 with Avignon, Bologna, Brussels, Helsinki, Krakow, Prague, Reykjavik and Santiago de Compostella. For Bergen this meant two things:
Such a large number of cities meant it was not easy to find joint areas of interest with all the cities. Differences in philosophy and budget were amongst the major hindrances.