Interested and Prospective Cities


UNESCO Cities of Literature

We are a global network of cities who specialise in the literary arts; the UNESCO designation ‘City of Literature’ recognises excellence and places an obligation on cities to nurture and support their art form and collaborate internationally by sharing best practice, supporting freedom of speech and through projects which ensure literature reaches as wide and diverse an audience as possible, locally and internationally.

The Cities of Literature are part of a wider UNESCO Creative Cities Network currently made up of 180 UNESCO Creative Cities globally. Members from over 70 countries covering seven creative fields: Crafts & Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Music and Media Arts have all received UNESCO designations which recognise past, present and future: a strong cultural heritage, a vibrant and diverse contemporary cultural scene, and aspirations to extend culture to the next generation at home and to other cities in a global partnership.

Designation as a UNESCO City of Literature is awarded in perpetuity, but reviewed every four years, and the applications process demands significant resource in terms of partnership working, business planning and formulating a shared cultural vision for your city, to ensure that the network is vibrant and sustainable. As a result, it may seem like an intimidating process, so this Guide is intended to give interested cities some pointers
and examples of good practice to help them get started.

As UNESCO Cities of Literature, we have committed to the following internal values that should guide our work, relationships and activities:

• We will build a welcoming and cooperative network that reflects the diversity and richness of the world’s languages and literatures;

• We will promote the value of dialogue and freedom of speech and expression in all our activities;

• We will pursue through the network international opportunities that benefit our local and national literary sectors;

• We will work to strengthen the relationships between all creative cities around
the globe;

• We will be active and proactive in our communications with each other and our partners.

Looking to apply?
We love the work we do and the international collaborations that the Creative Cities Network makes possible, and we actively encourage new cities to think about applying. We are particularly interested in forging links with countries or regions that aren’t currently represented. And we welcome enquiries from any offices that would like to explore the possibility of applying in the summer of 2019. Remember that it is your city that applies for the designation, not any individual or group. Therefore, make sure that this is a city-wide initiative.

We can work with you in an advisory capacity throughout your application process, engaging with you in a practical way and helping you to understand what you’d be joining. In fact, we recommend all cities to go through this process, ensuring that, in our eyes, an application contains all the key ingredients for success. The following document outlines what we feel to be the most important performance indicators, and outlines what we can contribute during what we hope will be a time of exciting change and development for your city.

For further details, please contact the Chair of the Cities of Literature subgroup, Justyna Jochym at

We are prepared to ‘mentor’ applicant cities, with a representative from the group consulting with you via phone, skype and email as you develop your applications. This mentoring could cover practical advice on budgets, service level agreements, effective approaches to programming and communications, as well as strategic guidance, partnership brokering, etc. Ideally this process starts at least a year out from the deadline.

If you are interested in joining such a “buddy system”, please contact our Cities of Literature Chair, Justyna Jochym at

Communication and Partnerships
Indeed, partnership working is absolutely vital: a City of Literature office’s work goes further and deeper when it harnesses effective partnerships of creative organizations such as literature development agencies, literature houses, booksellers, publishers, festivals, venues and universities, their networks stretching into the private sector, civil society, government and academia. As UNESCO states, the current importance and dynamism of the cultural sector, and particularly the creative field concerned, in the city’s development should be demonstrated in the design and preparation of the application. And as we all know, effective partnership working across sectors and with different sizes and styles of institution isn’t always easy!

How to move ahead

Of course, all this work is underpinned by a budget and funding strategy, both of which are scrutinised at the point of application. Cities of Literature need to be able to spend their budget in local, international, cross-sectoral and joint projects, and as such fundraising, reporting and evaluation to stakeholders are at the heart of sustainability for many city members of the network. We’re all having to demonstrate impact, introduce
measures of success and put accountability systems in place to our funders.

As well as well-developed mechanisms for creating, producing and promoting literature, it’s also important to demonstrate that your city actively engages people to access cultural life, both in terms of festival audiences and readership, and also particularly for marginalized or vulnerable groups. As well as excellence and breadth of art form, we want to hear about the social and political concerns that motivate your work. The Cities of Literature group includes representatives from organisations that specialise in freedom of speech, cultural diversity, programming for young people, engaging communities and other socially motivated aspects of literature development. If you are grappling with pressing social problems or targeting specific forms of deprivation in your city and region, we may be able to assist in unexpected ways.

In terms of first steps however, make sure you take these:

• Contact UNESCO and register your interest in the Creative Cities Network and the City of Literature designation

• Read through the UNESCO Creative Cities Network website so that you fully understand
the nature and purpose of the network

• Look at the websites of the designated UNESCO Cities of Literature and in particular
their programmes and international activity

• Create a ’10 Things to Know’ about your literary city. You will see examples of these for each designated city on the Edinburgh City of Literature website. Keep this information brief and to the point. This will be a very useful tool to help you understand your city’s literary assets and explain to partners and the press why you are a literary city and why you feel you should be awarded a UNESCO City of Literature designation.

Freedom of Speech
Working with writers internationally, we are often asked about freedom of speech. It is our belief that dialogue and channels of communication can support writers in their work. Your writers inevitably want to be part of a wider world, and becoming a City of Literature is one way of encouraging this.

Resourcing the Network
The sustainability of the Cities of Literature network is entirely dependent on the collaborative efforts of its members, and we are anxious to ensure that applications demonstrate capacity for this. A poll of Cities of Literature representatives in 2017 estimated that half a day to a day per week’s labour, reporting directly to the Subgroup, is the minimum expectation. This might be spent in publicising the network locally and internationally, taking part in Working Groups at the request of the Subgroup chair, assessing new applications to the network, commenting on UCCN strategic papers, developing collaborative projects with partner cities in the network, etc. The salary and office resource for this need to be paid for locally, along with the costs of a city representative attending at least one international meeting per year.

Next Steps
In advance of your application, we encourage you communicate with us actively. And feel free to come and visit us, too! Tell us about what you do and explore how we might collaborate. The assessment will consider whether applicants have made contact with members, with whom and how substantive that contact was. This is another of the criteria that is integral!

Letters of Support
Please note that letters of support are not required for the UCCN application and can only serve the purpose of partnership development between cities. Collectively, our position is that we don’t issue letters of support for a city unless we have a meaningful relationship with that city and the literature contacts there, and really feel in our hearts that they have the credentials and commitment to be a city of literature. Where we have issued a letter of support for a city, it’s because we’ve built a relationship with the bid team there and we are proud to help and support them. We do not sign contracts or any other binding agreements with applicant cities.


UNESCO’s ambition is for a global network of several hundred cities to fuel research into concepts like the creative economy, cultural tourism, city diplomacy and sustainable urban development. We hope that these notes have provided a vision of how our expansion and collaboration feed into this longer-term plan.

On your road to submitting an application, here are some important tips we think you should consider!

  • Contact the Chair of the Cities of Literature and express your interest in applying
  • Review the websites and social media pages of all the existing members to find out more about their projects and programmes
  • Read the applications written by the members and observe what they emphasized in it
  • Consult with the Chair of the Cities of Literature on the values and priorities of the sub-network
  • Contact the Cities of Literature to inquire about their experiences in the network
  • Prepare an answer to the question, “Why are we bidding?” and “10 Things to Know About…[Insert Your City of Literature Name]”. This is your ‘elevator pitch’, your key message to communicate your politicians, newspapers, etc.
  • Speak to your National Commission as soon as possible to discuss your potential bid
  • Hold public meetings with stakeholders and the public in order to gather feedback about the needs of the literary sector and how the accreditation can help the sector
  • Educate your stakeholders about the accreditation. Draw attention to the fact that it is not a prize, but an obligation and long-term commitment to improving the well-being of the city through creativity, and specifically literature


Why do it?
You may have any number of reasons for considering applying for membership of the Creative cities Network. We hope we’ve answered the main questions you might have here, but as to whether you believe it’s worthwhile to undergo the process of application, with all the work that’s involved in preparing your bid, then maybe consider the following:

A lot if not all of the existing Cities of Literature would say that they were already literary cities and the reason preparing a bid was a lot of work was because of the sheer amount of literary work going on at so many levels within the city. But what difference has designation meant and has it been worthwhile? This is where communication with the designated cities comes in! This is a conversation you should have at an individual level with others who have been through this process before you – all the way back in 2008 up until this year. A common theme you will hear from them is that the designation has enabled them to do so much more than ever before because it’s given an imprimatur to their endeavors and has meant funding and staff and facilities and resources to make real things happen. Any one of our cities can give concrete examples of this so we urge you to ask them! Being part of this network has given us all a new perspective on what we were already doing and we’ve all grown since becoming members. You need to be convinced that this process is the right one for your city so talk to us, visit us if you can, but hear first hand from our members what difference it can make to a city.

Who is the main point of contact for the group?

All members serve as fantastic contacts and feel free to reach out to every member prior to application. As the group’s coordinator, Justyna Jochym (Krakow) serves as the main contact and can help you create all the necessary connections you might need to make your application reflect your strengths, as well as the goals and objectives of the network and subnetwork.

Please be mindful that lobbying is heavily discouraged and in fact, only demonstrates a misunderstanding of how the network and application process works. What is most important is relationship-building. While it’s interesting to know how many libraries and bookstores there are in your city, what is more useful is to know what your vision for the future is and how you believe you can cooperate with other members. Refrain from
sending promotional and informational material without context or built-up ties with the members. Communicate with Justyna and she will advise on the next steps.

So this is a prize that we can win for being the best, right?
The City of Literature designation is not a prize, trophy or accolade. It is recognition for the municipality’s literary and creative heritage; health, depth, scope and vibrancy of the contemporary scene; cohesive vision and development strategy. It is an investment in the future and enormous responsibility, often marking a new stage for the city as it opens itself up to a long-term global partnership.

It is also an opportunity, because it expands the possibilities and ways in which you can support and elevate your local literary and creative sectors. The designation helps to not only integrate and engage citizens, writers and artists, but also institutions, the private and tourism sector, and more, through diverse literary activities, local, national and global cooperation and strategies.

Will UNESCO give us money for our projects at any point?
This is a common misconception. Membership in the network is not connected with any kind of financial subsidies, nor with access to funds. All expenses connected to the municipal UNESCO programme should be factored into the municipal budget or in the budget of the institution that will be implementing the programme. The network however gives member cities the opportunity to cooperate on external funds, either national
or international.

Where can I find information about how many people work in the various Cities of Literature Offices and how they organize their work?
Easy! Ask Justyna about this and she will send you a summary of all this information. Definitely know that each city organises their office in a way that makes sense for them. There is no one model that you need to adopt. Should you want to know more specifics, always feel free to email Justyna if you want to get a sense of who would be good to talk to or any other coordinator that you’ve identified as an interesting case for you.

How much money do I need to run my programme?
This is the quintessential ‘How long is a piece of string?’ question and you will have to find the answer from examining your goals and expectations. At the very least you will need the following:
• Annual salary of a director of the office
• An office space for this person
• A budget for web development and maintenance
• A budget for organising events or at least having a presence at other larger events /
the hosting of meetings between literary agencies and organisations etc.
• A budget for promotional material
• A travel fund for attending UNESCO conferences twice yearly

Definitely create strategy documents for your city and outline what your vision and goals are. This will help you to identify what resources you need (human and financial).

I’m just starting to write our UNESCO City of Literature application, any tips?
The designation is for the city, and so the application should be written by the city. What we mean by that is this application should be as widely a group effort as possible, because the designation should provide benefit and positively influence the local sector as broadly and effectively as possible.

You will need the help and advice of many experts and stakeholders so assemble them together to help you, as this is about your city and must be a shared endeavor. These are the people who will go on to support you in your work after designation. Start by calling together any interested parties you can think of, so you can ascertain that enough will and drive exists within the city to help in gaining the designation and then
drawing benefit from it afterwards.

Work with the Mayor’s office and local cultural departments from the beginning so you don’t have to convince them AFTER you’ve done all the work – they should also be involved from early on in drawing up the bit.

Absolutely email and speak to a number of existing cities of literature to broaden your knowledge and understanding of the work that others do in the world of literature – this will temper or broaden your expectations and get you started on networking, communicating and exchanging ideas. If at all possible, skype or visit current member cities.

I’d like to reach out to existing members and learn from their experience. Where can I find all the contact details for the coordinators?
Definitely email the current Cities of Literature coordinator, Justyna Jochym, at and she will pass along to you the relevant contact details. These are, of course, already available on the UNESCO Creative Cities Network website, but the contact with the coordinator can really help in achieving a better overview of the network and who may be best to answer all your questions.