We already know that it is Hungary’s turn to propose a European Capital of Culture for 2023, and that our city’s leaders have made a decision to run for the title. This year’s ECoCs are Wroclaw from Poland and San Sebastian from Spain. Otto Fenyvesi’s writing is published under the title ᷈We Must Put an End to Closing Ourselves Up and Gazing at Our Navels”. We do not know what inspired his piece but these are important thoughts: it is this type of sincerity and sagacity that our bid team is driven by. Son of Saul receives an Oscar, which fills us with hope, and then the British decide to leave the EU at the Brexit referendum, which makes us feel low.
Aarhus from Denmark and Paphos from Cyprus are holding the European Capital of Culture title. The Art Council is established, the 2023 caption is placed on the church hillside at the end of Kossuth Street, and most importantly: Veszprém is going to run jointly with the Bakony-Balaton region at the ECoC bid. The visual style guide is presented; Tom Jones comes to broaden our musical horizon at VeszprémFest, and L’Entourloop from France at the Street Music Festival.
We have won! Of course, this is announced as late as 14th December, so moments of overwhelming joy and the Street Celebration are preceded by a few important steps. From January it is Leeuwarden, the centre of Friesland in the Netherlands and the Maltese capital Valletta that become European Capitals of Culture. In February we are selected for the second round of the bid, which we celebrate by inviting Jan Gehl (former Chief Architect of Coppenhagen) to support our team. Veszprém-Balaton 2023 JSC is established in June, with one single employee: Zoltán Mészáros, our first CEO. At the end of August Óváros (Old Town) Square is transformed into an open-air cinema, while autumn sees the first Veszprém Design Week: Paradigma Ariadné Studio make their entry with the ᷈12 Walls” exhibition claiming international media attention. On 12th December the jury which decides about the ECoC title visits Veszprém: in retrospect we know that they had a good time with us.
We feast our eyes on the Bulgarian Plovdiv and Matera, Italy, eager to learn from them. Ági Madarász becomes the JLC’s second employee, so now we have a person to carry out our programmes! Summer again passes with the enchantment of festivals; female energies explode at VeszprémFest (Caro Emerald and Katie Melua) and at Street Music (Lola Marsh). We are taken up into the network of cultural and creative cities, but what is perhaps even more important is we receive the ‘City of Music’ title from UNESCO. There is Design Week for the second time in Veszprém with ’The Face, the Pool, the Two Towers and the Ruin’ exhibition. International reception goes down even better this time: we hit the print edition of the Italian Elle Decor magazine and ArchDaily also writes about us. The first Veszprém Pecha Kucha and the likewise initial Civil Forum run with packed houses. Our new visual style is created and the Óváros (Old Town) Square Ice Rink opens. Just before year’s end we receive the news that Veszprém is the most liveable country town in Hungary (both Otthon Centrum and we assert this), and we are also informed that we are a first-rate location for live music events, nationwide. The team is in the building: we are nearly twenty at the year closing party.
Travelling to Rijeka and Galway, European Capitals of Culture 2020, we already survey the opening events to learn from them. As many as 25 team members sit and listen attentively to leaders’ strategy presentations at the year opening workshop. Our office opens at one end of Kossuth Street, Neil Peterson comes to Veszprém again, and our Volunteer programme strategy is also made ready. At the beginning of February, the number of sunny hours nears that of summer days, so Óváros Square Ice Rink closes down. Despite the unusually warm weather, we count 6 300 visitors, which means that more than 10% of Veszprém’s population skated at our place. At the end of February Zoli Mészáros leaves as CEO of VEB 2023 Jlc., giving his position over to Alíz Markovits. Culture bistro Papírkutya (Paper Dog) opens with Ian Siegal’s farewell concert, and a string of performances by celebrated European street musicians follows. Then Paper Dog has to close down because of COVID-19, like every other place across the country. Hungary restarts in June, even if only partially. After the massive initial wave of cancellations, the culture sector is being revived, with countless festivals and events held at modified dates. VeszprémFest 2020 is unfortunately called off but it is compensated for by Filmpicnic, a chamber version of the Street Music Festival, Rosé, Riesling and Jazz Days, Auer Festival, Festival of the DANCE, Kőfeszt, Music Hungary, Hamvas Days, and the Quasimodo Poetry Competition. It is special joy to see our Shinies, ECoC’s volunteers, working with us at some events. We look forward to autumn with grand plans, only for these to be washed away by the second wave of COVID-19. Yet this does not bring us down at all: we promptly start planning for 2021, albeit from our desks at home.