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FAQ - Utrecht UNESCO City of Literature

'UNESCO City of Literature': what does it mean?

Since 2004, 39 cities have been designated as a UNESCO City of Literature. Not only do these cities have a long and imposing literary history, but today they still are buzzing with literary festivals, writers, bookstores and publishers. Meeting once a year, the cities form a network that develops new ways to reach readers, shares practices and expertise, provides insight into the literary experience in different parts of the world, and establishes cooperation and exchanges.


What is UNESCO?

UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, founded in 1945 with the mission to contribute to peacebuilding, poverty reduction, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, science, culture and communication. Every country that is member of UNESCO has its own national commission. The Dutch UNESCO commission was started in 1947. UNESCO is mostly known for its World Heritage List, on which property with an exceptional and universal nature- and/or cultural value is registered. The Rietveld Schröderhuis and the Medieval handwriting of the Utrecht Psalter are two Utrecht contributions to the UNESCO World Heritage programme.


What is the UNESCO Creative Cities Network?

Cities of Literature are part of the 'Creative Cities Network': a worldwide network of cities that see the creative sector as a determining factor in the development of urban policy. Although UNESCO originally operates on the level of member states, it acknowledges at the start of the 21st century that especially on urban level incredible amounts of interesting developments were taking place. Cities in particular developed policy to stimulate education, literacy, equality and citizenship with help from the cultural sector. UNESCO started the Creative Cities Network for cities that excel in these ways. There are cities in the categories of literature, film, music, design, gastronomy, craft and new media.


What are the ‘Global Goals for Sustainable Development’?

With the ‘Global Goals for Sustainable Development’ the United Nations have made agreements about the goals that cities collectively want to have reached in 2030. These are the successors of the 'Millennium Goals' that were endorsed by the UN members until 2000. The goals include the reduction of poverty, famine and inequality, stimulating the equality between men and women and the universal access to education. The Cities of Literature use their literary activities and organisations to stimulate Sustainable Development Goal 4 (access to education) and SDG 11 (sustainable and inclusive cities and communities).


How is the literature sector going to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals?

In 2017 the City of Utrecht was named the 'Most inspiring Global Goals municipality of the Netherlands.' The jury: 'Utrecht has shown many results already. The municipality integrates the Global Goals in the policy and succeeds to actively include several different parties, also business life.’ The municipal Global Goals policy will contain literary and cultural plans in the following years. We will do this with several initiatives regarding the reduction of illiteracy and inequality, stimulating (language) education for vulnerable groups and showing citizenship and inclusiveness. Examples are de 'Voorleesexpress', in which 250 volunteers read books to children who are behind on reading, the 'Bibliotheek aan huis' where people with a disability kan pick library books at home and the programme 'Wie Wij Zijn' of the House of Literature, which annually gives a central place to a different language, literature and culture of a group of citizens with a non-Western origin that are respresented in Utrecht.


Which cities are already UNESCO City of Literature?

At the moment there are 39 cites named City of Literature by UNESCO. This number is still growing.

  • Angoulême, France (2019)
  • Baghdad, Iraq (2015)
  • Barcelona, Spain (2015)
  • Beirut, Lebanon (2019)
  • Bucheon, South Korea (2017)
  • Dublin, Ireland (2010)
  • Dunedin, New Zealand (2014)
  • Durban, South Africa (2017)
  • Edinburgh, Scotland (2004)
  • Exeter, United Kingdom (2019)
  • Granada, Spain (2014)
  • Heidelberg, Germany (2014)
  • Iowa City, United States (2008)
  • Krakow, Poland (2013)
  • Kuhmo, Finland (2019)
  • Lahore, Pakistan (2019)
  • Leeuwarden, Netherlands (2019)
  • Lillehammer, Norway (2017)
  • Ljubljana, Slovenia (2015)
  • Lviv, Ukraine (2015)
  • Manchester, United Kingdom (2017)
  • Melbourne, Australia (2008)
  • Milan, Italy (2017)
  • Montevideo, Uruguay (2015)
  • Nanjing, China (2019)
  • Norwich, England (2012)
  • Nottingham, England (2015)
  • Óbidos, Portugal (2015)
  • Odesa, Ukraine (2019)
  • Prague, Czech Republic (2014)
  • Reykjavik, Iceland (2011)
  • Seattle, US (2017)
  • Slemani, Iraq (2019)
  • Tartu, Estonia (2015)
  • Ulyanovsk, Russia (2015)
  • Utrecht, Netherlands (2017)
  • Wonju, South Korea (2019)
  • Wrocław, Poland (2019)


Who initiated the Utrecht candidacy?

The municipality of Utrecht has applied, on initiative of the House of Literature, to present Utrecht as a candidate for this title. In 2015 a City of Literature committee was brought together that took responsibility for managing the project, the creation of the required documents and making contacts.


How much does it cost for Utrecht to be UNESCO City of Literature?

For the application process the municipality of Utrecht did not provide any additional budget. In 2016 a contribution of €10.000 has been requested and made available from the regular budget for cultural activities of the Municipality of Utrecht. This amount was used to create a Dutch and English edition of the bidbook and to create a website. Additional costs made to receive the title were paid from the regular budget of the House of Literature.


What value does the title have for the city?

  • UNESCO does not provide money to crowned cities. What we decide to do with the title, determines how we profit from it;
  • Utrecht has received permission to use the UNESCO logo on all expressions regarding Utrecht City of Literature;
  • The membership of the Creative Cities Network generates international attention for authors, organisations and other professionals for Utrecht as literary city.
  • The international attention stimulates literary and cultural tourism. The attribution of the title UNESCO City of Literature is permanent, just like the heritage on the World Heritage List. We are just like the piramids or the Taj Mahal, but just a little less photogenic (and with shorter queues);
  • Literary festivals and events can work together with organisations from other Cities of Literature, for instance by exchanging authors, sharing costs or to collectively tap into financing;
  • The ‘Utrecht book shop trust’ is initiated in which book shop owners and antiquarian book shops collectively develop initiatives to stimulate visits to the physical book shop;
  • Literature faculties and writing education can use the title to attract new (international) students;
  • With the recognition by UNESCO and the construction of an Utrecht City of Literature organisation the city receives an institution that stands up for the interests of the urban literary sector as a whole;
  • Membership of Utrecht in the City of Literature network is a new instrument to bring Dutch literature in general to the attention of publishers, translators, readers and media in countries of colleague-cities.


What is going to happen now that Utrecht is City of Literature?

For now the House of Literature will remain coordinator of Utrecht City of Literature. There is a possibility of a new foundation responsible for executing the Utrecht City of Literature programme. For the coming years the following projects are planned:

  • From October 31st 2017 onwards the website is online: a literary calendar of every literary event and an overview of all literary initiatives in the city;
  • In September 2018 a new city-wide literature festival, organised by the House of Literature in explicity cooperation with other stakeholders in the literary sector will take place;
  • In 2019 the central branch of Utrecht Library will open at the former post office at Neude square. This will become 'a cathedral for the book' in a beautiful, monumental building. There will be daily literary events, debates and film screenings, which the library compliments with her social functions like reducing illiteracy and supporting vulnerable groups;
  • Utrecht City of Literature aspires to start an international exchange programme for writers;
  • Utrecht City of Literature aspires to become part of the ICORN City of Refuge Network, which gives shelter to threatened authors;
  • Utrecht City of Literature aspires the start of an international talent development programme for young professionals (writers, translators, critics).