European Capital of Culture in Riga – a Resounding Success

European Capital of Culture in Riga – a Resounding Success
Mārtiņš Otto, Riga 2014
“Riga’s year as a European Capital of Culture and the implemented programme have been a success story for Riga and Latvia, and this experience should be put to good use in the long term,” Diāna Čivle, Director of the “Riga 2014” Foundation, said while meeting with members of the press on Monday, the 1st of December, one month before the “Riga 2014” Programme comes to a close. The other organisers of the Programme agreed saying that what had been done this year would have a lasting positive impact for years to come.

Riga, as a European Capital of Culture, is being held up as one of the most successful Capitals of Culture, with an unchanging team and resolutely implemented artistic concept; the programme approved in advance by the international jury was implemented and involved 90 different countries; the programmes implemented by Riga municipal and non-government bodies and institutions were of high artistic quality and achieved a high profile both in the local community and internationally; new cultural traditions were established; the numbers of people attending cultural events increased; initiatives were implemented and issues raised with the intention of having a positive, long-term impact on the cultural, social and economic environments in Riga and Latvia.

Given the above, it is imperative to convert the European Capital of Culture outcomes into long-term initiatives and experience.

“This year is a turning point. We all wanted to build this year in a meaningful way with substance, with projects that were implemented to a high-quality artistic and professional organisational level. And we succeeded.

We have been able to show that the status of European Capital of Culture can be more than a formal slogan, but a way to underscore our own cultural identity, talent and excellence in the European mix, which would reinforce every person’s awareness of their creativity and special worth. This is the leap in terms of quality, the fulfilment of which we have been thinking about and contributing to all the way through – that the presence of culture in everybody’s life should be a daily need rather than an occasional, spontaneous choice” emphasised Diāna Čivle, the head of the “Riga 2014” foundation and curator of the “Riga Carnival” thematic line.

Putting together and implementing the European Capital of Culture programme throughout 2014 involved more than 12,000 participants from nearly a hundred different cultural bodies, national and municipal cultural institutions, and non-government cultural organisations.

More than 1,900 artists and representatives of creative groups took part in implementing the European Capital of Culture artistic programme. They were directors, producers, musicians, dancers, actors, artists, and many, many more creative personalities from Latvia and many other places.

The “Riga 2014” organisers are pleased with the very high attendances at European Capital of Culture events, for concerts, theatre performances, film screenings, festivals and exhibitions. To date (up to 1 December), more than 1.5 million people have already attended “Riga 2014” events.

Many of the European Capital of Culture events could be enjoyed without being there as they were broadcast live on television and radio or streamed online via the internet. Latvian Television viewing figures show that broadcasts of “Riga 2014” events, concerts, opera and other activities reached a total of 6.2 million views.

Data collected in an impact assessment study of the European Capital of Culture programme by an expert working group (research group leader Anda Laķe, a Doctor of Sociology, sociologist Gints Klāsons and Doctor of Art History Baiba Tjarve) shows that the “Riga 2014” Programme made it possible for a large number of people to enjoy the cultural and arts content for free: 63% of events were free or freely accessible (freely meaning outdoors, in parks, etc.); provisionally, 37% of events required an entry fee; at 37% of events the audience comprised not only spectators, but either a) participants; or b) both spectators and participants. (Data source – Analysis and typology of “Riga 2014” projects according to different features).

The programme created by “Riga 2014” for this year has given the whole of Latvia tangible benefits both in terms of international recognition and economically.

According to a report by the European Travel Commission, the number of foreign tourists in Latvia increased by 18.9% in the first half of the year, the second largest increase in Europe in that period. Most of that happened thanks to Riga being awarded the title of European Capital of Culture and focused co-operation with the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all Latvian representations abroad, the Latvian Institute and tourism authorities in promoting European Capital of Culture events in Latvia and worldwide for several years beforehand.

As early as in 2013, foreign media took very intense and consistent interest in Riga’s role as a European Capital of Culture. Up to the 1st of December, there had been 1,503 foreign articles, reports or TV spots about Riga as a European Capital of Culture, created by media representatives from 66 countries (in total, 460 foreign journalists visited Latvia, a further 100 or so foreign journalists are expected for the European Film Academy Awards ceremony).

“Overall, the European Capital of Culture programme has been substantive in content, diverse, compelling and included both public-participation projects and so-called high culture. Internationally, Riga is being rated as a very successful European Capital of Culture, with an excellent performance and a high level of organisational quality. Cities from other countries are already visiting us to benefit from this experience and this will definitely continue for the next ten years, so this experience should be put to good use” stressed “Riga 2014” Programme Manager Aiva Rozenberga.

The European Capital of Culture year has introduced new events to Riga’s cultural calendar, new festivals have announced themselves and enriched Riga’s cultural space: the “Blank Canvas: art-ground, play-ground, crime-ground” street art festival, the “RE RE Riga!” international festival of street art and world music, and others.

A number of international events have been founded, setting themselves international and ambitious goals. For instance, the European Film Academy Awards ceremony, to be held on the 13th of December, has motivated Latvia’s film professionals to present themselves as widely as possible by screening Latvian cinema in this international environment, so laying the foundations for the Riga International Film Festival, enabling the Latvian film industry to develop international contacts.

The “Born in Riga” concert has become an international musical calling card for Riga. Having already been broadcast in nine countries around the world, it encourages us to continue to present special large-scale musical events that present our city to the world as the birthplace of outstanding musicians and musical events of high artistic calibre.

During the World Choir Games, held as part of the European Capital of Culture programme, 27,000 singers in 460 choirs from 73 countries in five continents gathered in Riga. 1,600 people from 15 countries were involved in their organisation.

“I am convinced that we have put down a clear dividing line – Riga before the Capital of Culture year and Riga after the Capital of Culture year. People’s self-esteem is also different after this year, because being the European Capital of Culture means achieving one’s own goals,” stated Uģis Brikmanis, curator of “Riga 2014’s” thematic line “Thirst for the Ocean”.

A number of new works have been specially created for the European Capital of Culture year, including the opera “Valentīna” by Artūrs Maskats, musical avant-garde opera-lecture “Mikhail and Mikhail Play Chess” by Kristaps Pētersons and librettist Sergejs Timofejevs, the “Transcendental Oratorio” by Zigmars Liepiņš and the staging of chamber opera “Lysistrata”.

As part of the “Riga 2014” Programme, the “Kamēr...” choir recorded a new CD “Amber Songs” featuring arrangements of Latvia’s most beautiful folk songs by composers from 17 countries along the historic Amber Road, specially commissioned by the choir. In its turn, State Choir “Latvija” issued an album/book of poetry “Amber Road” combining the poems of contemporary master poets from twelve European countries with music by twelve Latvian composers.

Numerous books have been published under the “Riga 2014” Programme, including bilingual poetry collections such as those of the “Orbīta” text-group: “Poetic Dedications” by Artūrs Punte, “I See, I Hear, I Keep Quiet” by Zhorzh Uallik and Sergejs Timofejevs’ “Stereo”; and “PROZA” – a selection of short prose works by Russian authors in Latvia.

The European Capital of Culture year has seen a number of documentaries and feature films produced that will also be seen in the future, for example, a documentary film about outstanding Latvian-American artist Vija Celmins, director Olaf Okunov’s “Territory. Vija Celmins”. We have also watched the film “Escaping Riga” directed by Dāvis Sīmanis, which is a story based on documentary events in the lives of two exceptional 20th century personalities – film director Sergei Eisenstein and philosopher Isaiah Berlin – who were both born and spent their childhood in Riga. Over the European Capital of Culture year, seven renowned European documentary filmmakers created a single story about Riga, the documentary film “Over the Roads, Over the River”.

With the assistance of the “Riga 2014” Programme, the former State Security Committee (KGB) building, popularly known as “Stūra māja” (The Building on the Corner), opened its doors to the public for the first time. The “Corner House. Case No. 1914/2014” exhibition helped visitors find answers to questions posed by 20th century European history, thereby initiating broader public debate on many issues that had never been thoroughly considered – the legacy of totalitarianism and commemorating the victims of totalitarian rule. The exhibition was viewed by more than 45,000 visitors in just a few months.

Recent government decisions will allow the ground floor exposition to re-open and guided tours of the KGB cellars to resume on a permanent basis from January 2015.

“Our preparations for the European Capital of Culture Programme have given the city of Riga abundant content. It is also essential that the resources and potential for co-operation between people created during the Capital of Culture are utilised in the long term, such as in thinking about Latvia’s upcoming centenary and the future development of the non-government cultural sector” stated Gints Grūbe, curator of “Riga 2014’s” thematic line “Freedom Street”.

The “Riga 2014” Programme provided museums with the opportunity to put together high-quality, international-standard exhibitions, which has led to international co-operation continuing in the future. For example, the “1914” exhibition at the Latvian National Museum of Art “Arsenāls” exhibition hall featured works from 17 of Europe’s most prestigious art museums and national galleries from 11 countries. “Double Reality”, the solo exhibition of world-famous Latvian-American artist Vija Celmins was compiled from works held by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Washington’s National Gallery of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art, Cartier Centre for Contemporary Art in Paris, London’s Tate Gallery, Scotland’s National Gallery, New York’s McKee gallery and the Latvian National Museum of Art. It was this type of international collaboration between museums that made possible the Gustavs Klucis (Klutsis) exhibition “Anatomy of an Experiment”, the “Tutankhamun’s Amber” exhibition, the “Amber: the Myths and the Science” exhibition at the Pauls Stradiņš Medical History Museum, as well as many other lively “Riga 2014” exhibitions.

“Riga 2014”, working in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Latvian embassies abroad, held 190 different public diplomacy events in 2013 and 2014, in 39 countries around the world, telling Riga’s European Capital of Culture story.

“For Latvia, unlike other capitals of culture, renewing or releasing the inner freedom of all the people involved had great significance and the Capital of Culture achieved this. I very much hope that the Riga 2014 year will bear its real fruit in preparations for the next major events in Latvia” said Vita Timermane-Moora, curator of “Riga 2014’s” thematic line “Amber Vein”.

The “Riga 2014” Programme has also established a good base for future creative initiatives and greatly reinforced Latvian citizens’ sense of belonging to what is happening in the Latvian cultural space.

“The European Capital of Culture Programme also highlighted the creative potential of the city’s residents, reflected in the many interesting, appealing locations that in recent years seem to have popped up in our city like mushrooms after rain, gathered into clusters and brought our creative quarters to life. I am delighted that we managed to spur our city’s creative spirit, stimulate a whole series of positive citizens’ initiatives, as well as promote the activities of our creative industries” pointed out Solvita Krese, curator of “Riga 2014’s” thematic line “Survival Kit”.

In this light, during the European Capital of Culture year, Riga’s 58 neighbourhoods hosted many, many neighbourhood projects; also projects in Riga’s five creative quarters; many citizens’ initiatives were stimulated. In order to increase public participation, “Riga 2014” implemented new approaches and forms of participation at events, taking part in which, residents welcomed the implementation of their own ideas.

The “Esplanade 2014” cultural chalet operated for three whole summer seasons (from 2012) as an open venue for cultural events and discussions, both for the residents of Riga and visitors to the city. Every day featured a number of “Riga 2014” project activities – discussions, presentations, concerts, theatre productions, performance art and other activities running into several hundreds.

More than 3,700 “Riga 2014” volunteers (2,202 from Riga, 980 from near Riga, 525 from other Latvian regions) made a huge contribution to the smooth running of the “Riga 2014” Programme.

The youngest volunteer was 14 and the oldest 83. The average age of our volunteers was 22 years, 83% of them were women and 17% men. The volunteers worked in many, diverse areas – as guides for foreign visitors, as photographers, exhibition supervisors, creators of art works (concepts, constructors, painters, illuminator, video editors, etc.), social-media content creators, translators, flag carriers, people-movement co-ordinators, information centre staff, guides, concert organisers’ assistants, market researchers, co-ordinators of other volunteers, workshop leaders, artists’ assistants, conference organisers’ assistants, sports event organisers’ assistants, assistants at the marathon and many others.

“In my opinion, new levels were set in motion during the European Capital of Culture year through expanding the cultural space and lifting the cultural landscape to a new degree of quality. Now we have to work on this space not contracting again, the level not falling and activity not diminishing” considered Gundega Laiviņa, curator of “Riga 2014’s” thematic line “Road Map”.

Great interest arose in the www.riga2014.org cultural portal, the home of articles and other material about the European Capital of Culture Programme. Since its launch in April 2013, 651,000 unique users have visited the site. The Latvian-language section of the site was visited by 452,000 users, the English section attracted 127,000 visitors, while the Russian section had 72,000 visitors.

In total, the portal published 5,544 articles, 1,705 photo galleries, 269 video recordings and 202 audio recordings. The portal was the hub for 32 live, online broadcasts from different European Capital of Culture events.

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