The Norwegian city of Bodø has become the first city north of the Arctic Circle and outside the EU to become a European Capital of Culture, in 2024. Civic boosters in Bodø have been celebrating, after attracting the biggest international event ever in Northern Norway.
“We are incredibly glad today,” Bodø Mayor Ida Pinnerød told state broadcaster NRK. “2024 will be an unforgettable year.”
Only two Norwegian cities have won the title before, Bergen in 2000 and Stavanger in 2008. Bodø was competing in the final round against two cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar and Banja Luka. The EU’s own Capitals of Culture for 2024 include Tartu in Estonia and a city in Austria yet to be determined.
The “Capital of Culture” distinction is sought as a means of attracting international attention and visitors, and for boosting cultural connections with the European Union. Norway is not a member of the EU but is closely aligned through its membership in the European Economic Association and European Free Trade Association. The EU’s stated goal in selecting Capitals of Culture is to “provide Europeans with opportunities to learn more about each other’s cultures, to enjoy their shared history and values and to experience the feeling of belonging to the same community.”
The call for applications went out in 2017 for cities in the non-EU countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Norway. Cities in Serbia were not eligible because Novi Sad in Serbia will hold the title in 2021.
Bodø didn’t get any national assistance in the first round after Minister of Culture Trine Skei Grande controversially rejected its request for NOK 100 million (USD 11 million) in financial support for the project. Grande even advised Bodø against applying, saying the city should wait a few years.
Bodø ignored Grande’s advice and managed to raise funding locally. When Bodø made it into the final selection round, Grande changed her mind and the state will now help fund what’s expected to cost a total of NOK 300 million. At least NOK 100 million will come from local businesses, the rest from state, county and municipal coffers, to fund a full year of special cultural events with a program meant, according to the EU jury, to “have a lasting impact and contribute to the long-term development of the city.”
The northern city with an economy once based on fishing and a military presence has already undergone major redevelopment in recent years and now features several new cultural institutions, museums and a thriving tourism industry. Surrounded by the mountains and the sea, Bodø has blossomed and clearly met EU criteria as a city where culture, not just the economy and industry, can be a driving force in “civilized urban development.”
More redevelopment is planned, including an ambitious project to move the city’s airport to open up more waterfront areas for residential and commercial projects.