Leeuwarden-Friesland European Capital of Culture 2018 was a sustainable success on all counts

3 June 2019

Investing in culture is smart, and Leeuwarden-Friesland (LF), European Capital of Culture (ECoC) 2018 is here to prove it. The Dutch-Frisian city with over 100,000 inhabitants has unveiled the impact report of the year showing impressive results.

The focus of Leeuwarden-Friesland 2018 (LF2018) was ‘lepen mienskip’ (open community). The aim was to bring about change in the province, country and Europe in order to broaden the local community’s horizons.
Promoting participation, leaving no one behind and enhancing quality of life at local level were key priorities. But LF2018 was also projected towards the outside – the Netherlands, Europe, the world – with ambitious goals in terms of image.

Social impacts: cultural access and participation
Overall participation in LF2018 was massive: 5,3 million visitors in total, a record year for the number of tourists in the region. 68% of the people living in the region felt involved in the year. About 10% of the population served as volunteer. Project Frij Stiper was created for people who had not been employed for some time: the participants received support and training from the social district teams during their volunteer work. A total of 511 volunteers took part. The project will run through 2019.
Cultural education projects reached 83% of Frisian elementary schools, including special education schools. These projects were especially aimed at children below the Dutch poverty line. For them, education is often the only way to access culture.
People with little affinity for culture, including those with a low income, a low education level, limited access to culture and a limited social network were identified as priority target groups: more than 30% of them participated in LF2018 activities.
78% of LF2018 events included cooperation between different generations with a view to share knowledge. Traditional craftmanship skills such as carpentry and furniture-making – but also set design and textile – were at the centre of exchanges between people over 65 and younger generations.

Economic impacts: expenditure, investments, tourism
Visitors spent around €119 million. Investments realised, originally estimated at €74m, turned out to be €104,5m.
Research findings depict an economic impact ranging between €230m and €320m. This figure includes the spending by extra visitors and tourists, the extra turnover in the cultural sector, the capital expenditure elicited, and the derivative spending effects.
Several initiatives contributed to the improvement of tourism offer, especially experiential and cultural tourism. Projects such as the 11Fountains formed a new cultural heritage that became a must-see in the region. The art project consists in 11 fountains in the 11 Frisian cities, designed by 11 artists from different countries.

Sustainability: innovation and energy
LF2018 was sustainable on all counts. The food served was locally produced for 80% of the main programme’s projects, renewable energy was used, and materials were reused. LF2018 brought about innovation, socio-economic change and sustainability.
For instance, the regional initiative Innofest used festivals as living labs for innovation and helped start-ups to test their prototypes in festivals. The system was based on networking and good relationships between Innofest and the festivals. The model can be expanded to other cities/festivals, as shown in a EUROCITIES study visit report.
Because the municipality and province want to be independent of fossil fuels by 2050, extra attention was paid during the ECoC year to technological updating. Sustainable initiatives related to energy provision were promoted.
One outstanding example, praised for its communication effectiveness, was the Elfwegentocht: two weeks during which the whole Friesland province functioned without fossil fuels, culminating in the largest parade of this kind ever, including electric vehicles, cars and boats.
In terms of image, LF2018 managed to be associated not only with its traditional “peripherical agricultural-touristic area” reputation but also with keywords such as open, creative, and innovative.

European dimension (and beyond)
In 2018, nearly 1600 international collaborations took place with artists, students and museums from 87 countries; 76% were with institutions from EU countries.
Partnerships with foreign universities increased, consequently boosting the number of students and university employees participating in international exchange programmes.
The number of international alliance partners of the WaterCampus, meeting point of the Dutch water technology sector, doubled. As a result, the international profile of Leeuwarden in the sector has improved. This is a concrete example of LF2018 spillover in other sectors, such as water.

Legacy – What’s next?
The LF2018 team is currently building on the success of the year.
“Now, we have to persevere”, stated Sjoerd Feitsma, Leeuwarden’s alderman for culture: “with the effort of volunteers that was far above expectations last year, with our flourishing cultural tourism, and with the fact that we have now found our place in many European networks” – including EUROCITIES. “We can make good use of all these factors to build on our year as the Capital of Culture.”
If most of the key performance indicators set up in the bidding process have been achieved, others are long-term objectives. Projects for the bridging year 2019 include a UNESCO city of literature nomination.
As concluded by Dutch minister of education, culture and science, Ingrid van Engelshoven: Investing in culture pays!

Read ‘Final assessment LF2018 – Research results’.


Julie Hervé Head of Culture