Excitement is mounting as Ireland's second-largest city gets ready to present itself to the world as European Capital of Culture next year.
A spectacular river-based fireworks display on Jan. 8 will mark the end of over two years of preparation and the beginning of a year that organizers hope will put Cork on the cultural map and draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to the southern port city.
Cork, with a population of 123,000, has undergone something of a renaissance in the past decade and has just completed a facelift of the city center.
Previously traffic-clogged streets have been transformed by Catalan architect Beth Gali, using a mixture of European-style plazas, daring paving patterns and ultramodern street lighting evocative of dockside cranes.
Now all hands are on deck to ensure that the new and improved Cork -- the "real capital" of Ireland, according to its inhabitants -- projects the best image possible during its year of fame.
A diverse program of over 4,000 events has been assembled, covering virtually everything from international folk, choral and jazz festivals to exhibitions featuring art from the expanded European Union (EU) and uniquely, a "knitting map" of the city based on satellite coordinates.
Organizers, though focusing on local talent, have also attracted a number of "big names." A lecture by architect Daniel Libeskind is sure to be a highlight, while Libeskind's pavilion "Eighteen Turns" will be on view in a city park during the summer.
Acclaimed writer and director Neil LaBute will also hold the world premiere of a new work in autumn, while all around the city local communities, schools and ethnic groups have been encouraged to have their say.
Cork 2005 organizers, aware of the diversity that comes under the banner of "culture," have also included sporting activities -- such as the EU Chess Championships -- and gourmet-related activities on the international stage, said Mary McCarthy, the director of program development for Cork. "It really focuses the city into moving forward in a coherent way."
"This designation has been the catalyst for a rejuvenation of the city and it will leave a lasting legacy -- once you have it, you've had it forever."
The European City of Culture program was launched in 1985 by the EU to "highlight the richness and diversity of European cultures and the features they share." This year the title was changed to capital of culture.
Cork is the smallest city so far to get the honor, following in the footsteps of Bologna, Antwerp, Glasgow, Lille and Graz, amongst others.
Organizers have, however, had a relatively small budget to play with -- around 13.5 million euros (US$17.5 million), compared to the 100 million euros said to be available to 2008 holders Liverpool.
Some have criticized how the money has been spent, pointing out that the general public in the city seems to have a lack of awareness of the year ahead.
"To a certain extent, I would accept that," said Mary McCarthy. "But we had to make decisions based on the money allocated to us and advertising is very expensive -- the money has been spent on programming and content rather than marketing and people will see that once the year begins and awareness begins to grow."
"People know that the year is special but they aren't aware of the detail," she said. "We will be publishing monthly programs which will be much more digestible."