The European Capital of Culture: A review of the academic evidence

13 July 2021

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Oriane Nermond, 

Oriane Nermond

Research Assistant, Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics

​Dr Neil Lee, 

​Dr Neil Lee

Associate Professor in Economic Geography at London School of Economics

Dr Neil Lee is an Associate Professor in Economic ...

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​Professor Dave O’Brien

​Professor Dave O’Brien

Professor of Cultural and Creative Industries at The School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at The University of Manchester

Dr Dave O’Brien is Chancellor's Fellow in Cultural...

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The European Capital of Culture programme has been running since 1985. Every year a new capital has been chosen, from Riga in Latvia to Galway in Ireland. Since 2010 two countries have been chosen to host the programme simultaneously, running cultural events across the year and appointing a host city.

The programme has become more popular over the years, as competition to win the 1.5 million euro prize has increased, and cities and governments have been drawn to claims that there are significant social and economic benefits of being a Capital of Culture. 

The UK’s own ‘City of Culture’ programme was designed along similar lines to the EU’s scheme, and was launched after Liverpool were appointed Capital of Culture in 2008. In 2021 Coventry will be hosting the programme. 

There is now a considerable amount of research on the impact of the programme on local economies. This is the first paper that attempts to synthesise this body of evidence, and challenges some of the assumptions about the positive economic benefit for local economies. 

Ultimately, the authors found that there is limited evidence that the programme has a transformative economic effect for the host city.  

This is not to say that the programme is not worthwhile. It can attract tourism and funding to a region, and can generate a fantastic array of arts and cultural projects that benefit local people and put their city on the map. 

However, ultimately this paper finds that, on the whole, the economic impact of the European Capital of Culture is neither large nor sustained.

This report is being published as part of the PEC’s campaign Creative Places, which is calling for the government to invest in our local creative industries via targeted funding to creative microclusters

Please reference this paper as:

Nermod, O., Lee, N. and O’Brien, D (2021) The European Capital of Culture: A review of the academic evidence. London: Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, London School of Economics and University of Edinburgh. Available from: 

Image of European Capital of Culture in Liverpool in 2008, by Beatriz Garcia