City of Kiel – The first Cultural Pearl to be awarded

On 1 March, the city of Kiel in Germany was the first of the four “BSR Cultural Pearl 2024” (Jakobstad/Pietarsaari – FIN; Svendborg – DEN, Rujiena – LAT) to be officially awarded its title. The local ceremony coincided with and thereby posed the opening to Kiel’s first event as Cultural Pearl, a barcamp titled ‘Kieler Kulturkraft 2024’. The latter translates to ‘Kiel’s cultural strength 2024’ highlighting its goal to showcase the impact of different initiatives across the city and bringing them together to foster more of this cultural strength in developing new cooperation opportunities and formats.

The day began even before the official registration time for the barcamp with many of the 120 participants arriving early at the event venue. The audience was composed of stakeholders from the arts and culture as well as social sector, the project partners with the lead partner the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Areas, European Affairs and Consumer Protection (German abbreviation: MLLEV), ARS BALTICA and the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (Foundation) as Kiel’s mentor. The chosen event location, the Wissenschaftszentrum, centre of science, is in proximity to the Christian-Albrecht-University both geographically and vision-wise providing the space for individuals, initiatives and companies to connect within and across sectors. Thereby, it was an ideal location for Kiel’s celebration and bar camp.

After a short introduction by Annette Wiese-Krukowska, Kiel’s project lead, and Anne Czichowski from the Department for Culture and Creative City for the team behind Cultural Pearl Kiel, BSR Cultural Pearls lead partner CBSS represented by Felix Schartner Giertta began the awarding ceremony. His opening remarks focused on explaining social resilience, its relationship with culture and the project itself within this context:

“The core of every society are communities, they are the context in which we live, hope, dream. They form the backbone of a society’s ability to cope with challenges, cooperate, organise oneself and build a better future. Because what is social resilience? The ability of a community to overcome challenges, to adjust, thrive and learn together through them. And what is the key to building communities to do so? You probably guessed it: Culture, Culture, Culture.”

Continuing this notion set by Felix Schartner Giertta, Kaarina Williams from the project partner MLLEV – Ministry of European Affairs elaborated on the already proven resilience within the project’s history so far which will reflect in future. The initial project idea originated in Kiel in 2017/2018 aiming for an alternative to the competitive European Capital of Culture. Its precursor was financed by the Swedish Institute and the work began, continued through the pandemic and evolved into the project known as BSR Cultural Pearls today. As emphasised before: With Cooperative Learning across the Baltic Sea Region at its core.

Kiel’s history only made the fact that they were awarded the title of “BSR Cultural Pearl 2024” more special. The international jury consisting of 12 independent experts across the cultural, creative and social sector commended Kiel for its “the vibrant creative field […] promis[ing] good quality of delivered actions as well as an important international dimension” and praised its Cultural Resilience Action Plan (CUREAP) as “a great project, clearly formulated, both ambitious and realistic. Professional plan in all ways, honest and clear.“ Kiel’s focus on strengthening children and the youth through cultural learning, reducing the social divide in society and cultural and promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities was also viewed very positively.

With this being said, CBSS and the MLLEV congratulated the Mayor of Kiel, Renate Treutel on their accomplishments so far looking forward to supporting them in the title year during their further journey with the network of the 12 project partners.

In her Thank you and Acceptance Speech, the Mayor highlighted many of the diverse aspects of Kiel’s actions, planned and on-going, such as the new town twinning with Cherson in Ukraine just signed a day before. This conscious decision of a new partnership with a town in a country at war was just one of the important points leading to her conclusion: “Culture is not the cherry on top, it is the glue that holds it all together.”

*A barcamp is an open conference on a topic whose content is developed and organized by the participants themselves.

PHOTO: Jan Konitzki