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Sjoerd Bootsma Shares His Leeuwarden-Friesland 2018 Experience

In September, we had the honour of interviewing the Programme Manager of Leeuwarden-Friesland 2018, Mr. Sjoerd Bootsma, in Tartu. As Tartu 2024 secured the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) title a bit more than a month ago, we are now continuing to learn from the experiences of past ECoCs while taking our own first steps as a future title holder. Here's what we we found out about the LF2018 success from Sjoerd. 

Sjoerd Bootsma raising a hand.
14. Oct Kalle Paas

It’s now almost a year since the end of a very successful Leeuwarden-Friesland 2018 ECoC title holding. What do you think were the key success factors for you implementing the programme so well?
A very important factor in our success was the fact that we as an organisation chose to not own all the projects we presented. Almost all our events were ‘owned’ by cultural partners in the sector. Our programme had a very strong grassroots origin, people throughout Friesland felt ownership.
Furthermore, we had an extensive side-programme with events that originated in the Frisian communities, this secured the participation of over 60,000 volunteers.
Our official programme contained a few blockbusters like the Giants of Royal de Luxe – these were essential in presenting ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences. You need a few events that stand above the rest in size and impact.

What do you think brought you the title ahead of many important cities in the Netherlands like The Hague, Maastricht, Utrecht and Eindhoven?
The fact that we organised a grassroots programme that was not made and presented by old men in suits but by a young generation striving to make their own region into a place with a future. Also, we presented a region with all sorts of challenges for the future that are universal for similar regions in Europe, and chose the arts as a catalyst to face these issues.

What happened after winning the title? What were your next steps?
At first we spent good time to build our organisation, funding structures, capacity building programme and such.

According to your experience, why is it important to start the implementation of ECoCs right after winning the title?
Because even though it seems it’s a long time till 2024, it takes a lot of time if you want to do things well. This is a big project with a very high potential international visibility, you don’t want to rush that. Also in preparing the artistic projects it takes time to grow these into events that deserve an international audience.

How much did the values of MIENSKIP change or remain during the implementation process of 2014-2018?
We used the phrase ‘iepen mienskip’ (open community) a lot during the bidding phase. In fact, we used it so much that after we had won, people grew a bit tired of it. But of course we did not drop it, it was at the core of all our projects. After a few years, in the run up to 2018, people started to notice that our ‘iepen mienskip’ was not a marketing phrase we used to sell tickets or whatever but that it was sincere, that it actually made sense for our programme and that it was not ‘just another cliché’. It’s still being used a lot, even today.

You had five principles when developing your projects. What were these principles? How did you reach them? Why did you choose these principles?
We chose five guiding principles which all our events had to take into account while developing. These were:

  1. Europe, because this is a European Capital of Culture, so both Europe and Culture have to be at the heart of your event
  2. Experience, which has to do with the artistic quality of the project and the experience a visitor would have.
  3. Entrepreneurship, where we asked projects to not only rely on our organisation for subsidising, and also to create events that could go on after 2018.
  4. Ecology, where we asked events to produce with sustainability in mind.
  5. Empowerment, to create events that would include communities that are normally not involved in arts and culture.

By asking projects to take these factors into account, we challenged everybody to get out of their comfort zones and start working together with partners that were new. This made for interesting discoveries, and a much stronger network in Friesland of events, entrepreneurs, funds, schools and governments. It truly brought many people and organisations together.

Why was it important for you to keep the projects as international as possible? What was the level of international participation in your programme during the bidding and how did you emphasise it during the implementation phase?
In the years running up to, and in 2018 we presented in total 1600 international cooperations and artists performing in Friesland. A very high number for us. We were a European Capital of Culture, so working with international partners was key. The result was not only a very exciting programme, it also showed a lot of Frisian organisations that they already have international quality themselves, it did wonders for the pride of organisations.

How important was the engagement of different generations in your programme?
This was very important. Nowadays we tend to easily lose one another. By having a strong focus on intergenerational working, we criss-crossed a lot of people and organisations. Many of these connections now remain.

Leeuwarden-Friesland was a ECoC where Leeuwarden City had the title together with 19 municipalities of Friesland. How was this united synergy created and how did it help you fulfil the ECoC year goals?
For our first bid we only wanted to present ourselves as the region, but this was forbidden by the jury. It had to be a city to turn in the bid book. It has never been a question that it would only be the city, it was the city and the region, or no bid at all. That’s just how Friesland works and I think that’s exactly how it should be. A city can only exist because of the region, and a strong region needs a city or two as well. It’s a relationship.

You are now the leader of the LF2018 legacy programme. What are the biggest challenges now, almost a year since the title?
We’ve just presented our legacy programme that runs until 2028, so for now we’ve changed our name from LF2018 to LF2028. Our biggest challenge is to secure organisational independence and to set up a programme that will keep capturing people’s imagination, keep working on an international level and with an international quality, keep developing the Frisian cultural sector and keep attracting international visitors with less money. Quite an adventure, but I’m sure we can pull it off. We’ve learned many new tricks and tools thanks to the Capital of Culture.

Thank you, Sjoerd, for this invaluable insight! Many successes to you and LF2028!

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Erni Kask, Marleen Viidul, Kalle Paas, Annela Laaneots, Triin Pikk, Berk Vaher and Sjoerd Bootsma in Tartu, September 2019. Photo: Kiur Kaasik

Erni Kask, Marleen Viidul, Kalle Paas, Annela Laaneots, Triin Pikk, Berk Vaher and Sjoerd Bootsma in Tartu, September 2019. Photo: Kiur Kaasik