Since 1985 one European Capital has been selected per year, sometimes twinned with a second city which has hosted a cultural month. In November 1993, when choosing the Cities of Culture for the year 1998 and 1999, the Ministers took the following approach with regard to the year 2000, “The Ministers acknowledged the cultural importance of Avignon, Bologna and Prague, whose applications were supported by several delegations. The Ministers pointed out that the year 2000 would be of quite specific symbolic importance. They agreed to consider the possibility of involving a larger number of towns and cities in events planned for that year, including Avignon, Bologna and Prague.
June 1995, gave the particular symbolic importance to the year 2000, after six other cities announced their interest in being an ECC for the year 2000: Bergen (Norway), Brussels (Belgium), Krakow (Poland) Helsinki (Finland), Reykjavik (Iceland) and Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Due to the difficulties in selecting only one European Capital among the proposed cities that arrived in Brussels, the fifteen Ministers of Culture reached a compromise and agreed to give all nine of these cities the Cultural Capital title for the year 2000. “These cities are being asked to coordinate their programme and define a common theme for this event; they will thus be able to share in the organisation of a European Cultural Area in the year 2000” commented the European Ministers after the decision.
The reaction from the nine cities varied from amazement to disappointment. After the first shock, however, Avignon, Bergen Brussels, Bologna, Helsinki, Prague, Krakow, Reykjavik and Santiago de Compostela soon combined their forces and started to plan collaborative actions and projects. Apart from the AECC joint projects (10), most beneficial collaboration took place on bi-trilateral level, between some of the cities (about 60).
According to the resolution governing the programme the cities of Avignon, Bergen, Bologna, Brussels, Prague, Krakow, Helsinki, Reykjavik, and Santiago de Compostela were, "free to determine their own emphasises and theme and to organise programmes and projects within the time scale and budget which each city decided". Due to the fact that the nine Cities of Culture of the year 2000 were different in size, ambitions, needs and tastes of the local and international community they focused on different directions. Inevitably the cultural programmes and approaches of the cities varied massively.
Although each cultural programme was independently planned and managed by each European City of Culture 2000 Office, Avignon, Bergen, Bologna, Brussels, Prague, Krakow, Helsinki, Reykjavik, and Santiago decided jointly the nine different themes around whom they build up their own programme. Thus providing a measure of cooperation and to welcome the new millennium "with a common message". This decision resulted in nine rich and wide cultural programmes reflecting the nine different cultures of the cities.
The city of Avignon, vibrant home to artistic creation, decided to celebrate the year 2000 under the motto, “Art and creativity”. The city of Bergen, the Grieg’s home-town decided to welcome the new millennium under the sign of, “Art, Work and Leisure”. The cultural city of Bologna, “la dotta”, selected the motto “Culture and Communication”, focusing on young people and used the chance to open an array of new cultural spaces including a covered salt warehouse. The capital of Europe, Brussels, decided not presenting a great millennium festival but concentrated on initiatives which, under the theme, “the City”, will have long term impact after decades when it has been ripped apart to make way for the EU institutions. Prague looked to its past heritage and built up a rich and ambitions programme under the theme of Cultural Heritage. The Nordic city of Helsinki decided to use this opportunity to bring Finnish culture to an international awareness level and to foster the link between culture and, “Knowledge, Technology and Future”. Santiago de Compostela, well known for being the end of the St. James’ pilgrim road questioned itself on the place of, “Europe and the World”. The city of Reykjavik placed all the events under the theme, “Culture and Nature”, while Krakow , the city with its tradition of various cultures and religions existing together for over a thousand years chose the theme of, “Thought, Spirituality and Creativity”.
Source: European Cities of Culture - A wealth of urban cultures for celebrating the turn of the century – Final Report - GiannaLia Cogliandro