We’ve already covered the moment when it was announced that Kaunas won the title of European Capital of Culture for 2022. Let’s now talk about how and why it happened. What exactly convinced the members of the European jury that Kaunas in fact needs the title more than Klaipėda or the rest of the cities that entered the competition a few years ago? What’s hidden in the slogan “Contemporary Capital” and who are the people that joined their hands and ideas for the greater good?
You can be the jury now. We’re stoked to publish five of the speeches that were addressed to the members of the commission in the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture at the end of March. The speeches were delivered after the grand excursions in Kaunas and Klaipėda, during which the jury was able to witness the most interesting parts of both of the cities with their own eyes.
Very different personalities chose to represent Kaunas, the city they believe in. Hear the tone of their shivering voices and feel their palms. You can also give them a round of applause and, if you have something as powerful to say, do send them your resume. Five people are to be hired this year by Kaunas 2022. Not considering changing jobs at the moment but still feel the synergy floating around? That’s also extremely important. This is what the Contemporary Capital is all about.
<…> The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of how memory works is the Courtyard gallery. Some of you visited this gallery yesterday and talked to Bella Shirin – an amazing woman who after half a century had found her way back to Kaunas and to this former Jewish quarter. But a couple of years ago this courtyard looked exactly the same as many unloved places in Kaunas – piles of garbage, crammed with cars and estranged residents. But when the artist asked his neighbours who lived here before how they remember the life of the courtyard in the past, those questions changed everything. Revived memories of the place brought back the community spirit. It changed the residents' perspective of the place they lived in. Estrangement was replaced by togetherness; piles of rubbish were substituted by artworks.
I strongly believe that memory cultures can help to heal the past wounds and broaden the liveable spaces. That’s why in today's Europe it is so essential to talk about the memory of the place and the hurtful consequences of collective amnesia.
Bella likes to say: “Kaunas is me. Every street, every building. I live here”.
Bella's memories dwell here, that is why this city is so precious to her.
I wish every Kaunasian would feel this way.
Art Critic, curator
As a student, I worked as a guide at the National Museum of Art. I really loved the work and I have always loved living in Kaunas, but I started wondering what is wrong with this city and its cultural situation.
I noticed that the museum attracts very few local visitors, but I also realised how little the museum changed since I first came to see it twenty years ago with my parents.
I often got upset hearing that my friends didn’t know the organisations or events I worked for. But then I also realised how little we as organisers know of them, our audiences.
The people behind our cultural events have lots of talent, good connections with Europe and the world, they can deliver European quality content and always go that extra mile for what they love. Despite that, the cultural field does not work as well as it could.
Kaunas 2022 is our chance to change this. That’s why we have developed a big capacity building platform called the Tempo Academy which addresses some of the key challenges that we face in Kaunas, for example, the insufficient direct communication and marketing for the audiences, the evident gap of participative culture, the limited cultural services in our neighbourhoods, the lack of knowledge on sponsorship and many others.
And if I were asked how the success of the project would look like, for me it means that:
- our cultural institutions step outside their walls and into the public space;
- our museum lady guards will smile more to the visitors;
- our cultural institutions become advocates for innovation and contemporary living and attract young visitors;
- Kaunas becomes one of the leading cities in Europe for community arts and culture.
Art critic, culture manager
I grew up in the Šilainiai micro-district in Kaunas.
I studied in England for 12 years and in 2015 I came back and set up a creative project in Šilainiai, because it inspires me and because I felt the urgency to do so.
I had discovered a large number of creative people living and producing work in Šilainiai, but later found out that none of them had any recognition whatsoever. I found that young people who desire to follow a creative path were unable to pursue their ambitions due to the lack of support and space for them to practice and share ideas. Even larger number of residents who simply want to engage in activities closer to home or after work, there is no place for. I also noticed that the people within this district have become disconnected and the communities fragmented.
I am very proud of what the Šilainiai Project has been able to achieve in a year and a half – through community activation, support and empowerment of creative individuals a trusted platform was created where locals can share their creative ideas and act upon them.
Šilainiai Project is one of the inspirations for Fluxus Labs that are part of the “Consciousness” programme for Kaunas 2022 in which creative hubs will be created in every part of town that will engage with local communities.
The Tempo Academy will prepare and support the local creatives running them. This process can be a model for other cities in Lithuania and across Europe.
In our team, I’m responsible for the concept and the myth.
Since the first fifty years of my life I have spent in and around my beloved city of Kaunas, the concept that we have here is more than just a concept for me. It is a burning necessity.
Our city has a complicated history of being neglected, denied and censored. And we had some brighter periods in between. A bit like a remission of a disease. But the remission was always temporary.
So we have become a temporary city. The cliché was that we have low self-esteem, we are not important, we are number two, boring and angry.
Thus the concept is to recreate Kaunas, to show it in its true colours. To make it a contemporary city which understands itself as a continuum of meaningful events and decisions made by the community.
To become truly contemporary, we need to overcome confusion in history and mentality, to understand that we are a confluence of very different people and ideas, and finally we have to create a consciousness which can productively lead us to become a more successful community in Europe and for Europe.
As a part of our concept we want to create a contemporary myth for Kaunas. A unifying narrative that every citizen can contribute to and relate to. I call it the Beast of Kaunas. Or a dragon. A real one as the character on my T-Shirt. You will see it present at all our big events and pictured on merchandise, books and films. And a symbolic one as a metaphor of ancient European traditions of chivalry gone contemporary. The Beast of Kaunas is a complex public relations project never attempted before.
And, above all, along with the Beast and with becoming contemporary, I want my city to have fun.
I feel extremely excited about what will follow next. I have no doubts that the project is already of great success for my city.
I’m very proud of my colleagues and of what we all together have managed to do: as a team, we’ve got stronger and bigger – today there so many more of us. As a community, we’ve got closer; as partners, we got much more collaborative.
But for me, as a researcher, it’s truly important that we have employed not only our imagination but also our investigation. For I do believe that all good ideas should be well-grounded, grow out of place and be site-specific if we are after achieving positive long term effects and changes.
So I’m happy that we have executed two major research studies: research on quality and accessibility of cultural services in city neighbourhoods and creative industries mapping study. Both of them also form really good bases – a baseline for our future project evaluation and assessment.
It is what our proposed Designing Happiness programme is about; a platform for experiments, a platform where people of different sectors – arts, culture, business – would meet, share ideas and spaces, co-create, co-innovate.
Kaunas is a UNESCO creative design city with future to be designed yet, and we want many more companies here to use design as strategy not only as style.
Let’s not forget about happiness, because it’s all about empathy, feeling safe, being home. It’s about togetherness, a sense of belonging as Daiva and Evelina were talking about and it’s about celebrating life and finally having fun as Rytis wished.
Yes, we know that to design happiness is quite a naive aspiration. But be sure, Kaunas is too artistic to not understand the scope of the challenge it’s about to face. We might not be perfect, but we’re ready – more than ever.
• We have skills, experiences, passionately dedicated team of almost incurable city lovers and great professionals;
• We have the support of various communities – we know that because we studied that;
• We have infrastructure needed;
• We are on the very good energy and synergy track to revive the city’s economy.
But, above all, we’re believers of a not perfect human in a not perfect world, and believers in Europe. We choose to believe in honesty, beauty and power of idealism that is never out of fashion.
All this is in and for the memory of our dearest colleague and inspirer Leonidas Donskis, who never stopped believing in human dignity, the magic of togetherness with no anger and in Europe as an open space for understanding.
Researcher of architecture and creative industries
Illustrations by Asta Didžiokaitė
The article was originally published in the May edition of Kaunas Full of Culture magazine. You can browse through the edition on ISSUU.