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Antwerp 93

In 1993, Antwerp was Cultural Capital of Europe, and the event organized for the occasion, Antwerp 93, aspired to ‘show how Antwerp and other Flemish cities have contributed to European culture’. The festival saw its task as the setting up of ‘a dialogue with artists and cultural institutes from all over Flanders in order to step into the breach and improve the quality of the cultural situation in Flanders’. Eric Antonis, who later became Alderman for Culture for Antwerp was superintendent (intendant) of Antwerp 93. Antonis’ programme emphasized contemporary music, theatre, art, film, photography, media art and fashion. He felt that Antwerp 93 – whose slogan was, Can Art Save the World? – should also carry a political undertone in order to create a climate of openness and tolerance, and stem the rise of the extreme right. That ambition proved too lofty.

As a successful example of city marketing, however, Antwerp 93 was pioneering: the goal of ‘strengthening the image of Antwerp as an historical, art-loving and enjoyable city’ was certainly achieved, with events such as Eurosail, 150 Years of the Zoo and the Diamond Exhibitions making important contributions. An ambitious display of ‘horizontal fireworks’ was less well received by the local population: the controversial literary component, the Vertoog en Literatuur (Exposé & Literature) project led by Bart Verschaffel. Antwerp’s literary world opposed its purely philosophic-essayistic emphasis, feeling that contemporary writers had been ignored and deploring the fact that such venerated Antwerp authors as Willem Elsschot and Maurice Gilliams had not been set in the limelight.

The summer programme of Antwerp 93 led to the development of the Summer of Antwerp, a nine-week city festival that since 1995 has aimed at successfully combining culture, entertainment and city marketing. [Eddy Bettens]