Literary portraits of less-known European cities by artists
Sheffield, Skopje, Charlerois, Lublin, Graz and Chartres; they are all interesting European cities but they are not really well known amongst the greater public according to Flemish-Dutch cultural platform De Buren (The Neighbours). With this idea in mind the platform has chosen to invite artists from around the world to visit a number of ‘less-known’ European cities and write their personal story about their experience and life in the city in City Books.
The city is everything
A number of authors, photographers, filmmakers and other artists were sent on a journey to create a literary city portrait of European cities. You can find all the visited cities and artists on the website of City Books, which is accessible in the right hand column under ‘See also’. The idea is that this project will lead to a cultural network of ‘united cities in Europe’ according to Dorian van der Brempt who is the manager of De Buren. He says: “We strongly believe that Europe will never become like the United States of America, but we do believe that European cities unite us all.” According to the manager cities are a central place where dreams are projected. “On the other hand, this is also the place where urban problems occur the most. Where beauty and ugliness come together. Where the multicultural society is more visible than elsewhere. The majority of the world population lives in an urban city. Which arrangements do we make with each other about living together in a city? The city is everything.”
An example out of City Books
Abdelkader Benali, who is a successful novelist was sent to Skopje and Sheffield. He explains that he looked at these cities with a European lens, meaning that he kept certain aspects in the back of his mind while making the literary city portrait. “I considered how people in the city dealt with minority groups, the consequences of globalisation and the ‘dream of Europe’.” When you hear Lisbon, Rome and Paris, you immediately recognise the cities and want to go. But Grahamstown and Ostend are not exactly the most alluring cities. According to van der Brempt that’s why these cities were chosen. Writers are asked to talk to citizens in the local language because De Buren believes that this is the best way to make contact with local people in order to create cultural contacts. However Benali explains that this is easier said than done. People hear about the project and immediately feel an economic reasoning for a great Europe behind the idea, which results in dislike of the European ideal to become one united front. Benali: “In these times of nationalism and populism there is an atmosphere in which national sentiments prevale above the humanistic.”
Financing City Books
De Buren was founded in 2004 and it is a cultural cooperation between The Netherlands and Belgium. The platform is subsidised by the Belgian Ministry of Culture and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the ministry of Foreign Affairs. The literary project City Books was granted an amount of 200.000 euro. The literary accounts by the artists are downloaded thousands of times a month. De Buren co-financed the project with 180.000 euro in order to make it a success. Not only are articles written about the lesser known European cities (and sometimes non-European cities like Tblisi and Grahamstown) but artists also make podcasts about their journey and the stories are translated in several languages.
Conclusion: making ties between cities and between the authors and the cities
The intention of City Books is that outside of the project
informal links are created between the authors and the cities. But
the organisers also hope that the literary initiative by De Buren
will result in a further development of local initiatives within
the cities. Charleroi is a good example of this. In 2013 they will
host an exhibition of 8 European cities who are also described in
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