There are currently 16 Spanish cities contending for the title of European Capital of Culture 2016. In tenth place on the Spanish Ministry of Culture’s official list – behind Oviedo and ahead of Pamplona – is: Palma de Mallorca. The fact that the capital of the Balearic Islands has reached this far is due to a German: Hubert Feil. The 52-year-old Bavarian spent three years developing the application, with a core team of ten employees.
When you first look at the application document, it´s striking: Neither the town hall of Palma nor the Balearic Government have put their signatures to the application. “So far there is no official support. We work under difficult conditions,” says Hubert Feil. However, he prefers to talk about positive signs. Joan Gual de Torella, President of the Balearic Chamber of Commerce, has given his support from the beginning. Tourism Minister Joana Barceló has given the Organization Committee access to the photographic archives of the Balearic tourism association Ibatur. “That’s why we have such beautiful photos in the booklet,” Feil remarks, smiling.
Instead of Balearic politicians, he can count on important German supporters such as the tour operator TUI and the airline Air Berlin. Even celebrities like musical producer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber are among the advocates. In total, there are 1,900 companies and organizations helping. “We are one of the few candidate cities in the history of European Capitals of Culture with an application from civil society. Political support will come once we are in the second round,” Feil believes.
The second round is a shorter election out of five to seven candidates. A 13-member European jury will decide on September, 28 in Brussels. If Palma passes this test, EU experts will visit the city, then the first projects will be pushed and the advertising machine will start. At least then, the chance of winning may have increased significantly.
Up to now, creativity in dealing with ignorance and scant resources was required, which has led to some quite charming solutions. Instead of welcoming speeches by Palma´s Mayor Aina Calvo or Balearic President Francesc Antich, the organizers have included the greeting of a twelve year old girl on the application document. Elena, the daughter of a Serbian couple, will become an adult in the year of the Capital of Culture 2016. She writes: “I’m from here”. She is an authentic Mallorcan, who speaks fluent castellano and mallorquín, as well as her parents´ native tongue. Hubert Feil, a man with a casual elegance and a strong handshake, sees the multi-cultural theme as a substantial part of the application. “We believe the multi-cultural city of Palma to be the most peaceful melting pot in Europe.
“In the last 60 years, particularly, Palma has had to slip into many roles, had to solve migration issues, take in a number of foreign residents, and been stereotyped in a variety of ways by the Europeans. The search of the Balearic population for identity and the preservation of their culture has to be seen in that context.”
At the same time, Palma de Mallorca is probably one of the most European cities in Europe. Taking this into consideration they discovered many interesting topics and projects for the European Capital of Culture project.
Feil is no newcomer to the area of cultural capitals. With the city of Regensburg, he won the Bavarian contest and was responsible for the candidacy for this year’s Capital of Culture 2010. He was also involved in the organization of Austria´s project in 2003, when Graz won the competition. Since he had been advising the art fair Art Cologne in Palma in 2007, the idea of making Palma de Mallorca a Capital of Culture and – in a second phase – the Balearic Islands a cultural region, fascinated him. “To me it’s not about the beauty of the city. More important is the tension between image and cliché – between which Palma is forced because of its touristic importance – and reality.” In fact, Palma and the island are a premium destination for artists: “In no region of Europe are there more artists living or having at least their second home,” he emphasizes. Not only that:
If Palma does win the title, it would be the first island capital in the 25-year history of the European Capital of Culture.
Competing cities such as Córdoba, to which Spanish President Zapatero has publicly promised his support, are building new museums with millions of euros. “This is a pure demonstration of power. Zapatero wants to promote the UN project ´Alliance of Civilization´ and relies on Córdoba’s role as a bridge to the Arab world. He also needs the Andalusian support for the next election,” says Feil.
“A cultural capital should show something completely different,” the experienced cultural manager argues. For example, the beginning of a change. In Palma, the high number of school dropouts – 46 percent – is a negative record in Europe. These “losers” tend to look for jobs in tourism. But this business is also at a turning point. The second major theme of the application: environmental protection on the island, the “Green Island” concept. How can tourists become travellers? the application leaflet asks. This means conscious travellers, who protect the resources and preserve nature.
“Energy is a serious issue. Ninety per cent of the energy consumed in Mallorca must be imported. In contrast, alternative energy is hardly used on the island,” says Feil.
If Palma de Mallorca reaches the next round, he wants to set up “thinking centres” on the island, which would bring together international tourism experts to exchange ideas. “We are not only carrying out projects, we’re also providing suggestions,” Feil explains.
Sustainability is one of his favourite words. Maybe Feil wants to bring even more tourists to the island with the Capital of Culture project? But he’s quick to deny this. It´s a different kind of tourism he imagines, which works throughout the year, and is less seasonally bound: “For this reason we also included the billion-dollar transformation of the Playa de Palma in the application text, as a sign of change. In the long run, catalogue tourism will not work any more,” he believes.
Here he disagrees with many Balearic politicians. Feil believes, though, that he can break through party politics. The fact, that Palma´s Mayor Aina Calvo (PSOE) declined to support the Capital of Culture project, “is because of the loyalty to Córdoba-supporter and party leader Zapatero,” Feil argues. “I´ve underestimated the centralized system in Spain and the ignorance of local politicians,” he admits. But to speak out as a German in such a way, for a Spanish city, is not unusual for the 52-year-old: “Only Germans wonder about it. The Mallorcans themselves, say that only someone from abroad could do the job. Almost everyone has a family member in politics. Therefore, the conflict of interests is inevitable.”
Last but not least there´s the question of financing. Between 40 and 60 million euros would be necessary to implement the total 1,000 projects, including a new musical theatre. But in line with the experience of other cities, Feil predicts the creation of 4,000 new jobs. He is a man of conviction and he will need to do much convincing. “In Europe or on the Spanish mainland, neither the Balearic Islands nor Palma are perceived as cultural spaces. This is now an historic opportunity to position Palma as such,” he believes.