Over 100 projects were expected to pump fresh blood into the town centre and make its heart beat faster through various types of programmes, architecture and content. Those residing inside the walls of mediaeval Maribor were be given the chance to connect their creative spirit with the city – both as co-creators and visitors of numerous exhibitions, street events, projections, concerts, musical events, artistic installations, and performances. The thematic integration of the townspeople on the basis of conceptual art practices and contemporary “folk” art was not just the wellspring of the European Capital of Culture 2012 – it also represented a widening horizon of social engagement, as well as the birth of a rather distinct atmosphere in the city, as local and international events blend together within the framework of this project.
Town Keys aimed to unlock and reawaken forgotten or repressed memories. Several events and projects, conceived by both Slovenian and international artists, were devoted to the theme of the history of Maribor., including a dialogue with the past, a look at the roots of national struggles of the 19th century, an examination of the two wars of the 20th century, and an exploration of the industrial character of the city on the Drava River, its obsession with football and its infatuation with golden foxes.
Other keys opened up the future: they were held by permanent and part-time city dwellers, those with an artistic mission and a vision. The idea was to enrich high art with spatial characteristics of the citizens. The Northern Lights project marked a map with locations that appeared in the works of the city’s most renowned writer, Drago Jančar. “The Writer’s Office” by the Old Bridge offered books in all languages, including those that illuminate this terrain. And the world championship of young chess players took place at different locations around the old town centre, with the hope of reviving the social world behind (and around) chess boards.
The industrial decline of Maribor around 1990 was followed by a void that is still waiting to be filled with new content. Devastated in terms of space and spirit, Maribor kept on losing both its vital functions and its soul. That loss is now being replenished through culture. The question of the city’s identity was reconsidered on the basis of both historical research, and the emerging dialogue of new artistic practices. By the end of 2012, Maribor was a prime example of how a city can come to life in a dialogue with artists, urban planners, architects and strategists.
The experiences and culture of Maribor’s Germans (which still resonate in the everyday reality of the city), life in the mediaeval and present-day city, Admiral von Tegetthof and talking graves – all of these themes have set the tone for some of the content that has been developed as part of this programme: a comedy entitled Micika and Aldo (under the bridge) by Tone Partljič; The Urban Benches project (set to revitalize the city benches in terms of personified urban furnishings, i.e. a skaters’ bench, a homeless bench, a lovers’ bench, etc); The City Confessional, meant to provide a spot for townspeople to engage in psychotherapy, as well as plenty of space for people to articulate their criticisms against whatever ECoC 2012 may be doing. Finally, the Murmur of the Bridge-bound River posed many questions, one of which was the nature of the coexistence between Maribor and the Drava River, and what exactly the river gave and continues to give to the city.
The bright city walls announced the events of the ECoC 2012 and breathed life into the very heart of the city once again. The Rafter’s Playground was set up in the Lent part of the city, and reminded passers-by of their historic surroundings through play; The Street Comic brought forth a new experience-based dimension of the comic genre; the Maribor repository project Zbiradejnica set up mailboxes to collect various objects belonging to townspeople, which were later featured as a story in a special exhibition; the 30th anniversary of Holc Jewellery was honoured with a studio exhibition of artistic jewellery entitled Essence – What is essential is invisible to the eye (inviting 10 jewellery designers); The House of Literature came to life in the old Lent quarter and provided literary activities all year round.
The pubs within the city walls took part in organizing The Gipsy Night, held in April 2012, with several dozen of them hosting a Roma music group. Similar to this programme, October 2012 saw The Acoustic Weekend in Maribor with several renowned Slovenian music groups performing acoustic music within the city walls. The citizens and visitors of Maribor encountered a dressed-up team of Sluckers in charge of maintaining the overall well-being and psychological stability of people, while the well known “tourist train” was transformed into a performance venue for a one-man comedy entitled Safari Maribor. The Cathedral’s belfry was turned into a year-round Museum of Fire Safety, thanks to the participation and collaboration of the Archdiocese of Maribor, the Fire Fighting Association of Maribor and the Regional Museum of Maribor. And finally, the city centre staged the opening of the House of Science/Centre of Experiments, whose mission was to present science as pure fun.
Youth activities – of the kind that young people would actually like them to be – found their expression in the Alternative Youth Room. After a twenty-year wait, the No Border Jam finally took place at the border by Šentilj and thus accomplished its mission. Furthermore, the ECoC 2012 took part in setting up a skate park in the sleepy Maribor district of Nova vas, which also included a big event at The Leon Štukelj Square in the month of May. Furthermore, an open-air mini concert hall came into being in the Lent district and hosted “family musical groups” throughout the summer; the city centre enjoyed plenty of Hugs&Kisses, which involveed around 30 love messages in the form of traffic signs. The Minoriti stage at Lent saw the opening night of the musical The Children of Lent by Tone Partljič and Edvard Hoellentaler; a conceptual project entitled The Bomb Attack on Maribor was held on April 12th in collaboration with the Aviation Centre of Maribor; an installation entitled Situacija: Anophtalmus hitleri by author Jasmina Cibic took place at the ECoC 2012 Salon (Rotovž Exhibition Salon); the former Casino Maribor hosted three large exhibitions: The Germans and Maribor, Gledat, kaj delajo (Slovenes in Carinthia), and The Bourgeoisie in Maribor. The passing of time was discussed at the symposium Between Emancipation and Elimination, the Lent Festival glowed in the colours of the European Capital of Culture, and last, but certainly not least, children had a blast not only at the puppet festivals held by the Puppet Theatre Maribor, but also at the Rafter’s playground, set up especially with them in mind.
All in all, the goal of the Town Keys program team was a rapid revitalization of the old city centre through various cultural phenomena. The programme itself drew on post-modern practices which provided the widest possible creative platform at the moment. The programme proposal in this form thus brought the basic concept of Town Keys, namely the history of Maribor and other partner towns, fully to life.