What is a European Capital of Culture?

Every year, the European Union selects one or more cities from up to three countries to become European Capital of Culture.

Chosen cities are invited to present a year-long ambitious, innovative and far-reaching cultural programme.

The competition is delivered by the European Commission, but is open to all European countries.

Milton Keynes is bidding to become the third UK city to hold the title following on from Glasgow in 1990 and Liverpool in 2008. Both of these ‘Capitals of Culture’ were resounding success stories.

Chloe Elliott Bk2

Part of the 'Journey To You' project for MAP6, taken by Chloe Elliott.

Why is Milton Keynes bidding and are we up to the task?

Milton Keynes wants this and needs this. We know that we will deliver the best UK European Capital of Culture yet. 

We also know we have work to do.

We have harnessed the energy, spirit, ambition and most importantly the support of our citizens to do this.

Who else is bidding?

Never say never as they say and surprise candidates may come to light on the 27 October 2017 when the bids are handed in.

For the moment we know that a consortium of Belfast, Derry and Strabane, Dundee, Leeds and Nottingham are bidding for the 2023 title.

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Photograph by Andy Stagg

What is the jury looking for?

Well… that is a good question and one that we have been asking ourselves day in and day out for the last two years.

The short answer is something remarkable.

This is not about delivering a one year ‘super-festival’. European Capital of Culture must be embedded in the city’s long-term cultural plans.

A strong European dimension is important, celebrating the diversity of Europe, our commonalities of culture, heritage and history.

Quality, innovation, ambition and excellence must be the order of the day when it comes to the cultural programme.

We have to be able to deliver this. Support from our citizens and capacity to really get this thing off the ground is make or break for the jury.

How much will it cost?

So far Milton Keynes Council has contributed £150,000 to support the development of the bid.

Funds have primarily been spent on the brilliant creative talent that we have here in Milton Keynes.

We have had to bring in some help – sometimes you need a fresh pair of eyes and we have never done this before.

We have a fundraising plan identifying where the budget will come from if we are successful. This includes a mixture of public and private support with Milton Keynes Council contributing 15% to the overall budget.

Past European Capital of Culture cities have seen bumper visitor numbers and multi-million pound boosts to the economy. Liverpool, for example found that the year saw 9.7 million visitors to the city, and generated £753.8million.


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Part of the 'The Millenials' project for MAP6, taken by Heather Shuker

How do we apply and when do we know if we have won?

This is a two-stage process.

The first stage is the development of a ‘bid book’. A printed document that includes everything the jury needs to know about our bid. 

27 October 2017
Milton Keynes 2023: Different by Design is submitted to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in London.

30 November 2017
Shortlist for European Capital of Culture 2023 is announced.

If we are shortlisted to the second stage, we will have a further nine months to develop the next bid book.

A second bid book is submitted in August 2018.

Winning cities are announced four years in advance.

So… we expect the 2023 winner to be announced in 2019.

What happens if we don’t win?

So far, the process of developing our bid has been inspiring, energising and very useful.

It has allowed us to ask some important questions:

  • What do our citizens want?
  • What would they like to see?
  • What is working? What isn’t working?
  • What are our ambitions and how are we going to realise them?

If we don’t win, we will build on momentum, support and work already delivered to achieve our ambition to become a creative and cultured city.