2018 European Capitals of Culture: Valletta's 'festa' and Leeuwarden’s 'open community'

Celebrations in both countries to start from around mid-January

Valletta and Leeuwarden are the European Capitals of Culture for 2018
Valletta and Leeuwarden are the European Capitals of Culture for 2018

Leeuwarden, the Netherlands and Valletta, Malta are holding the title of European Capitals of Culture for 2018, with opening celebrations in both countries starting from around mid-January.

The opening celebrations in Valletta, which will be inspired by the traditional Maltese ‘festa’ (village feast), will take place across the city from January 14 to 20. Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, will be attending the official opening cerermony on January, the European Commission Representation in Malta said in a press release.

The Representation said that celebrations in Leeuwarden would be kicking off on January 26 and 27, involving artistic installation and performances by professional and amateur artists throughout the city, as museums open their doors to visitors all over the Friesland region. European Commission first vice-President Frans Timmermans will be attending the official opening ceremony on January 27.

"The European Capitals of Culture help bring communities together through culture with long-lasting benefits for the respective cities, their citizens and their economies. 2018 will be a special year as it is the European Year of Cultural Heritage, and both Capitals have included many projects promoting cultural heritage in their programmes – contributing to highlighting the role of culture in building a European identity. I wish Leeuwarden and Valletta every success for the coming year,” Navracsics said.

Programme overviews

  • Valletta

The ‘festa’ overarching theme in Valletta aims to encourage artists and audiences to rethink the traditional view of culture, the Representation said.

Taking into consideration Malta’s location as an island-state between Europe and North Africa, the programme strives to bring together different perspectives from the Mediterranean’s various shores. The programme is made up of over 140 projects and 400 events and is organised around three principle themes - “Island Stories”, “Future Baroque” and “Voyages”.

Around 1,000 local and international artists, curators, performers, workshop leaders, writers, designers, choirs and film-makers will have a role in the festivities, and the celebrations will be ongoing throughout the year across Malta and Gozo.

  • Leeuwarden

At the centre of Leeuwarden’s programme is iepen mienskip (open community), with the city aiming to strengthen and connect communities from across the Friesland region and Europe, the Representation highlighted.

More than 800 projects involving music, theatre, landscape art, opera and sport will take place throughout the year, including an exhibition by Dutch graphic artist MC Escher, a Mata Hari-themed opera, a Frisian horse-breeder event, and grassroots projects such as ‘European sports for all’. These are intented to contribute towards raising awareness and understanding of different cultures.


The European Capital of Culture was started in 1985 on an initiative by the then Greek minister of culture Melina Mercouri, and has since become one of the most high-profile cultural initiatives on the continent.

Cities are chosen based on the cultural programme they propose, which must include a strong European dimension, promote the participation and involvement of the people living in the city, and contribution towards the city’s and the surrounding region’s long-term development.

“It is also an excellent opportunity for the cities to shape their image, put themselves on the world map, attract more tourists and think about their own development through culture. Being a European Capital of Culture has a long-term impact, not only on culture but also in social and economic terms, both for the city and for the surrounding region,” the Representation asserted.

“In 2017, Aarhus in Denmark and Pafos in Cyprus were European Capitals of Culture. Following Leeuwarden and Valletta in 2018, the future European Capitals of Culture will be Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and Matera (Italy) in 2019, Rijeka (Croatia) and Galway (Ireland) in 2020, Timisoara (Romania), Elefsina (Greece) and Novi Sad (Serbia, candidate country) in 2021, and Esch (Luxembourg) and Kaunas (Lithuania) in 2022. All EU Member States, candidate countries and European Free Trade Association/European Economic Area countries participating in the Creative Europe programme can become a European Capital of Culture,” it said.

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