Nancy Braun, Director General of the Esch2022; Credit: Esch2022 recently got the opportunity to speak with Nancy Braun, Director General of the Esch2022 - European Capital of Culture, about the goals, challenges, achievements and the legacy of Esch2022; leading a team of over 30 people working over the past two years, she has been instrumental in bringing the cultural extravaganza to fruition. What is the main goal of Esch2022? What does this project mean to you specifically? And what do you hope it brings to residents and visitors to the region?

Nancy Braun: REMIX is the body and soul of the Esch2022 European Capital of Culture project. A call to action and stands for a proactive, participatory and inclusive approach to shaping the future together.  Culture is a key element in this ambitious societal project – culture understood as including all forms of artistic expression but also, in the broader sense, as everything that defines us as human beings, our history, traditions, roots and the myriad aspects forming our individual and collective memory.

Esch2022 is a project which aims to giving access, empower people, inspire confidence, change perspectives, embrace the new. For Europe, Esch2022's message is to find strength from within. To believe. To regain control of its own destiny and build a sustainable future. Under the slogan Remix Culture and its four sub-sections Remix Art, Remix Europe, Remix Nature and Remix Yourself, Esch2022 aims to create synergies, guarantee sustainable development and, most importantly, ensure that the general public gets actively involved. How many people are working on this project (including volunteers)?

Nancy Braun: Esch2022 has the ambition to be a project which drives sustainable change. Consequently, the list of local, national and international actors involved in the project is important. The team that works in the offices in Belval counts 33 people. A sort of external team is working in the 19 municipalities which form the Esch2022 territory. Those are mainly part of the cultural and communication services of each municipality. Here we count around 20 to 25 people. Then we have of course partner organisations and cultural institutions. Those probably are around 150 people. We also consider the volunteers as part of the Esch2022 team and for which we currently count around 700 inscriptions.

And last but not least, we also have to consider the 130 different project partners who are working together with us on the general program development. How did you and your team come up with around 130 projects or 2,000 events for the Esch2022?

Nancy Braun: As part of the call for projects, the "Appel à Projets", we invited artists, creatives, associations, institutions, anyone who could actually imagine participating in Esch2022 through a project. From Luxembourg and the entire Esch2022 territory, even beyond the borders, the only condition was that the project had to take place in the Esch2022 region and their project needed to be in line with the four themes of Remix Europe/Nature/Yourself/Art and take into account criteria such as accessibility, inclusion, participation.

By the end of the first deadline in the summer, 290 projects had been submitted and by the end of the prolongation until 31 December 2019 around 600 projects were submitted. The submission phase had been extended until the end of the year because the demand was so high and some interested parties, including those from France, had thus more time to participate.

Projects could be submitted in German, French and Luxembourgish, which are the three official languages in Luxembourg, as well as English. Project leaders could submit multiple projects, and some of them did so. This ensured a wide range of possibilities for involvement and participation. What are some of the highlights, in your opinion, of the programme?

Nancy Braun: The Esch2022 programme revolves around the participatory experience of the people from the region and the visitors. Following the guideline of co-creation and participation, the programme aims to reflect a balance between the diverse cultural potential of the region and the international scene. Through 130 projects, which are the result of a public, cross-border call for projects, the local arts and culture scene of the participating municipalities and cultural centres form the mainstay of the programme. It includes the disciplines of performing arts, dance, theatre, music, visual arts, architecture, design, cultural heritage, literature, audio-visual film and young audiences as well as multidisciplinary projects. 

Besides the city of Esch-Alzette, every one of the Pro-Sud municipalities (Bettembourg, Differdange, Dudelange, Esch-Alzette, Käerjeng, Kayl/Tétange, Mondercange, Pétange, Rumelange, Sanem, Schifflange) as well as the eight French municipalities from the CCPHVA ( Communauté de communes Pays Haut Val d'Alzette) will be in the spotlight for one month each. Each 22nd of the month the municipality hands over the title of the municipality of the month to the next one. The first three are Käerjeng, Pétange and then Bettembourg. 

Käerjeng has been about fire and traditions with the Festival de Feu, and will showcase the many different flavours of our region with the project "Au Goût du Terroir" in September. The only Esch2022 event rescheduled because of Covid-19. In Pétange, they celebrate Carnival in all its forms, turning it into a great cultural festival that goes far beyond the borders of Luxembourg. With the help of countless volunteer do-it-yourselvers and artists, who have been bringing together people from all over Europe, this event has been inspiring the young and the not-so-young for many decades as it celebrates different cultures and strengthens ties between generations.  Bettembourg celebrates literature as a cultural bond and invites you to travel between the lines of young literary creations and to debate the influence of artificial intelligence on our everyday lives.

Internationally renowned cultural venues such as ZKM| Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Ars Electronica (Linz), HEK (House of Electronic Arts), Basel, will concentrate on the visitor experience as well. The focus is on contemporary art at the interface of technology, science and society within the framework of major exhibitions on the site of Esch-Belval, where the industrial past meets the digital future. What makes the Esch2022 project different from previous years when Luxembourg City held the title of European Capital of Culture?

Nancy Braun: Esch2022 has the ambition to leave behind a strong legacy. On the one hand, together with the City of Esch-sur-Alzette and the association fr'Esch Esch2022 is setting up the right conditions to implement a ten-year-long cultural strategy of the city.

The Esch2022's programme aims to fulfil the five main axes set by the strategy "Connexions":

  • Support creation across the city
  • Encourage access to culture for all
  • Ensure cultural education and access to formal & informal education through culture
  • Enhance the image of Esch-sur-Alzette
  • Support the local economic development through culture

On the other hand, to guarantee the continuation of regional projects that have emerged as part of Esch2022, the team is working on a dossier that will be submitted to Pro-Sud, the syndicate of the municipalities in the South of Luxembourg.

This dossier contains the respective project description, currently implied partners, the point in time from which the project is to be continued and the development status at that point. In which aspects does the Esch2022 complement its sister cities Novi Sad in Serbia and Kaunas in Lithuania as the European Capital of Culture?

Nancy Braun: The cultural programming of Esch2022 is a living reflection of the great diversity of the 19 municipalities of the Esch2022 territory. Esch2022 wants to celebrate the history of a cross-border region located in the heart of Europe, to tell its evolution from the industrial age to the knowledge society and its future potential in the era of the digital revolution.

To exchange the culture richness with Kaunas and Novi Sad, Esch2022 entertains a strong relation to its sister cities, holding the title of European Capital of Culture 2022. For Kaunas, the Esch2022 team is working closely together with Meno Parkas Gallery, for instance, to organise exhibitions with Luxembourg artists Martine Feipel and Jean Béchameil, as well as Filip Markiewicz (closing 2022). In exchange, the Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevicius will be exhibiting at Konschthal Esch with a presentation of ten to twelve of his videos works in a specially conceived architectural design.

Many Luxembourg artists or institutions have undertaken on their own to contact operators in Kaunas. Examples are: MUAR – Musée vun der Arbecht (Musée du Travail); the Kaunas Photography Gallery and the Centre national de l'audiovisuel (CNA) through the project H - The notion of humanist photography. Regarding Novi Sad, an outstanding example is the project Jazz Exchange which unites all three 2022 capitals, Esch, Kaunas and Novi Sad.

In all 31 projects are being developed with partners from Kaunas while 19 coproductions unite Esch2022 to Novi Sad. Regarding COVID-19 but also more generally (perhaps concerning coordination between various municipalities), what have been some of the main challenges in organising the Esch2022 programme?

Nancy Braun: It is always challenging explaining the concept of a European Capital of Culture, a project which might seem rather abstract at the beginning and needs persuasion to get every municipality and potential stakeholder on board with the idea.

It took some time to convince everyone that Esch2022 is a project which can shape our future beyond 2022. To use a metaphor, you can compare the project to a huge passenger boat which needs to go in a certain direction. In addition, Esch2022 wants as many passengers on board as possible. Residents, visitors, guests, and entrepreneurs have not only to feel welcome, but they are also invited to decide the direction the boat should take in the future. What contingency plans are in place in case of new restrictions?

Nancy Braun: Esch2022 is in close contact with the Ministry of Health and developed together with the project partners various scenarios. Throughout the last two years, the Esch2022-team has been in constant exchange with all parties involved to constantly evaluate feasibility and adapt where necessary. We are very happy with the fact that no single event needed to be cancelled due to the sanitary situation.