'European Culture Capital' gives Portugal major boost
By Emilio Rappold, dpa
December 24, 2012, 12:01 am TWN
LISBON--David triumphed over Goliath and Guimaraes — the smallest city ever to be chosen as European Culture Capital — has managed to beat back the enormous economic crisis hitting the region and give Portugal a remarkable financial boost in 2012.
“We are meeting all our expectations,” programming director Carlos Martins told dpa in December. He explained that the number of tourists to Guimaraes, Portugal's first capital city, doubled to about 1 million.
“We will also have prepared (Guimaraes and Portugal) for the future by celebrating our common heritage,” he said.
Organizers are hoping that the success achieved by the Guimaraes 2012 Culture Capital program, which saw an unprecedented popular response, will help Portugal out of its current crippling economic crisis.
“The social change factor is cultural or it does not exist,” Martins said, adding that the culture city program boosted the economy in different creative ways.
One visitor who was pleased with what he saw was U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Alan Katz. He said he was “surprised” and “enchanted” by what he found in the mediaeval city of Guimaraes, in particular the way local residents became involved in the cultural projects.
“People often say that the Portuguese are not very enterprising. This is evidence to the contrary,” he said.
In a Portugal in the midst of deep recession, austerity measures, record unemployment at over 16 percent, despair and growing poverty, the environment in Guimaraes, with a population of just over 50,000, is very different.
While in Lisbon and Oporto restaurants and shops are seeing patronage tail off, in Guimaraes residents welcomed tourists into their homes and offered lodging to groups of artists who performed in theatres, streets and bars and common meeting places.
Many locals became tour guides for free, showing visitors from all over the world the main sites and explaining the historical importance of the city located 350 kilometers north of Lisbon.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists, numerous artists, scores of businessmen and politicians converged on the city throughout 2012.
Among those celebrities were Finnish film director Aris Kaurismaki, British director Peter Greenaway and Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira.
The European Union created the “European Culture Capital” in 1985 in a move suggested by then Greek culture minister Melina Mercouri with the intention of highlighting the cultural diversity of Europe and bringing its nations closer.
The cultural program for Guimaraes over the past year included more than 500 activities and cost an estimated 25 million euros.