Mobilisation for Culture. Head of the “Riga 2014” Foundation, Diāna Čivle
Scrupulous planning ahead, the main decision-makers’ confidence in the “Riga 2014” Programme, steady and continuous funding, and a many-sided artistic council that included cultural leaders from various areas – these were the cornerstones for successful implementation of the “Riga 2014” Programme, making 2014 a year of cultural projects unprecedented in their scope and quality, believes Diāna Čivle.
Prior to the “Riga 2014” Programme, Diāna Čivle had worked on several major cultural projects in Riga, from “Riga 800” to the organisation of several National Song Festivals. As the Director of the Culture Department at the Riga City Council, Diāna Čivle oversaw the organisation of such projects as the Riga Festival, “White Night”, festival of light “Staro Rīga”, and many other events that have by now become permanent features of the city’s cultural life. This experience and the cultural life of Riga formed the basis upon which the “Riga 2014” Artistic Council – Diāna Čivle, Solvita Krese, Gundega Laiviņa, Gints Grūbe, Uģis Brikmanis, Vita Timermane-Moora and Head of Programming Aiva Rozenberga – built the “Riga 2014” Programme. It was comprised of six thematic lines, which each highlighted an individual feature of Riga or the entire Latvia, from the brightest stars on the “Born in Riga” stage to the tidy courtyards in Ziepniekkalns or Sarkandaugava neighbourhoods, from the manifold amber to the willingness to study the lesser-known and often painful periods in history, from the carnival-esque revelry to art that helps live a happier and more meaningful life.
As the “Riga 2014” Programme is coming to a close, the importance of the European Capital of Culture effect and its continuation in the future is being emphasised. What are the other conclusions that those in charge of the cultural life of Riga should take into consideration in the future?
One of the effects we had anticipated was the reaction of residents in the Riga neighbourhoods to the events taking place in these areas – their enthusiasm and calls for more such events to be organised. This denotes the next major task for us, the “Riga 2014” foundation, and our colleagues in the Education, Culture and Sports Department at the Riga City Council: to continue this very important development of people opening up to culture we have seen in 2014. This mostly concerns the programmes and projects for the neighbourhoods of Riga. The “Riga 2014” Programme, which took three years to create, has prompted people to rise from their club chairs and go meet their neighbours. A really important job has been done, and by now it is not only a cultural, but also a social process. It is important for the authorities to carry on with these initiatives.
The other major factor, which we had not been considering very seriously, is integration that comes along with the joint cultural events. This entails not only integration in ethnic terms, but also integration of different social strata that are brought together by situations they have never been in before.
I remember very vividly the period of Brussels monitoring, when Riga was only yet preparing for becoming the European Capital of Culture. I was asked if there would be a special programme for such a large Russian-speaking minority in Riga. I replied there would be none, because the entire programme would also be designed for them. They would also become spectators and potential participants. Now that the programme has ended, and looking back at how the very different Rigans had excellent time attending the various events together, it is clear that we have attained remarkable examples of integration.
We have also talked about routine situations and intercultural relations. What are your observations in this regard?
This year, Rigans have proven to be very hospitable people. When Riga was hosting the World Choir Games, there were several cases when local residents showed surprising concern for what was happening in the city and for the visiting artists. One evening I was alone in the office, when a salesperson from a Riga bookshop called to inform about a credit card a customer had left at the shop. I asked, why are you calling us? Turns out, the staff had noticed that the shopper was one of the participants in the World Choir Games and that her ID card said she was from Yekaterinburg. We were able to find the owner of the credit card the next day. This is just one story that proves how responsible and hospitable we are in our city.
Stable financing was mentioned as one of the most important pillars supporting the programme. What has 2014 been like for the not-so-simple relationship between culture and money?
Although the financing provided for the project was comparatively modest when compared to the other European Capitals of Culture, we proved that we could do well with what we had. The budget, and three years of planning and designing projects, resulted in unexpectedly great results. We could concentrate on attaining our goals instead of calculating what we could do in the perfect circumstances. That is a very important point when thinking of the future.
It is important how funding for culture is used up. That is a matter of responsibility and having the courage to take action. It is of paramount importance to consider well how everything will be organised, down to the last euro, but at the same time you have to remember that the major events, organised on an international scale, will definitely pay off. All the cities and countries that have assessed the economic return on the major cultural events have arrived at the proportion of one to four, meaning that investment of one euro will bring back four. Of course, it may vary from one event to another, and not necessarily happen at once, but it definitely will in the long term.
We have been talking about doing such a study in Latvia, and there have been attempts to do something in this regard. It’s not simple, and not just for us – for the other European countries too. Furthermore, this concerns not only culture but the entire national economy! I’m eager to see the findings of the study on Latvia to see what part of the funds for culture goes to other sectors, such as transport, for example. The preliminary findings presented by researchers indicated about half of the funds. Not to mention the part of the financing for culture that we pay back in taxes.
This kind of analytical approach is also necessary to those working in culture sector, because I know how painful it is to hear that culture is a spender that does not give anything back. All those who provide money should open up their eyes and see, in a broader sense, this one-to-four proportion.
Will the culture sector of Latvia remain as united and successful once the carrot – the European Capital of Culture year – is taken away?
Speaking of carrots – they have to be planted in a long carrot bed going on for a long time [laughs – ed.]! It has been proved by the status of the European Capital of Culture, which worked as a call for mobilisation. It worked exceptionally well. Everybody wanted to do something! Come to think of it, a lot was being done just because Riga was the European Capital of Culture – from refurbishing streets to processes that are not even related to culture and art.
There is one such mobilising event coming up – the 100th anniversary of Latvia in 2018. It’s three important years until that time, when we have a chance to create something fundamental. That is not just a question of infrastructure! If somebody wants to shoot a film, organise an international exhibition, or implement some other great idea, it’s high time to get busy!
I have also mentioned that Riga should be working on its application to become the World Book Capital in 2018. Riga could also vie for the title of the UNESCO City of Media Arts. There’s a lot of different titles that the city could hold to decide its future development goals.
These statuses require little audits to be carried out to realise what is actually going on in your city. Once that is done, it will become clear whether we are prepared to vie for one or another title. Even if we see that we are not, the audit will show where we’re at.
The Latvian Capital of Culture – how challenging could these nominations be?
Very challenging indeed. So much so that there already are two cities in Latvia ready to vie for the title. Which ones – that’s not hard to guess, because both these cities were candidates for the status of the European Capital of Culture, along with Riga. It only confirms what I’ve said already – even if you are just a candidate, you’re bound to win something. Quite many things have already been reorganised, improved, furthered in these two cities. Perhaps, no particular programmes are even necessary.
It is important to understand that the idea can also fall through if cities view it only as a way to get more money. If so, better not to start even. It is also important that the city should be ready to invest, and use this kind of a title for marketing purposes. For the most part, the cultural programmes are great. The only question is, how they are “wrapped up”.
How did the “Riga Carnival” thematic line turn out, in your opinion as the curator of the thematic line?
I have to admit that it was hard in many instances, but I had chosen this dual role myself – on the one hand, I was a curator, and on the other hand, I bore the main administrative responsibility for the entire process. It is possible that my work as a curator suffered as a result, because I simply did not have enough time. But I also know for sure that I could not perform any administrative tasks if not for my creative side. To understand what is going on, and be part of it, is the way to find the best solutions to any kind of administrative work. In the culture sector, I believe, it is one of the most important skills – to stay within the administrative boundaries without limiting creativity.
I can’t really say that there have been no carnivals in Riga before, however, careless fun and partying is not very characteristic of our cultural environment.
That is exactly why we chose to have such a challenge. We knew from the start that it would not be a carnival such as in Venice or in Rio de Janeiro. It is about having the courage to do something that has not been done before. We took the liberty to organise a winter carnival in the month of February, turn the Mežaparks outdoor stage complex upside down for the “Raise, Fair Sun!” performance to create an absolutely new, yet very emotional and Latvian world. It was surely one of the highlights of my thematic line. There were many other major and unforgettable events, and now Riga is hard to imagine without them.
One more remarkable “Riga Carnival” feature was the completely different look on the history of fashion in the ten “Ladies’ Paradise” performances – very creative, ethereal approach to the subject. This series of performances will certainly continue to exist independently as an educational film and material for TV shows.
My “brainchild”, the “Staro Rīga” festival of light that was first organised when Latvia celebrated its 90th anniversary, has now reached the age of a schoolchild. It is a school of international artists and festivals of light. The seventh edition of the festival featured multiple foreign artists and paved our artists’ way to festivals in other countries. It has happened in such a powerful way that this year I received, along with Christmas cards, a lot of applications for new projects. We will see already next year where Latvian artists’ objects will travel for international festivals of light.
I received a lot of positive energy from the “Riga Magic Dance” performance. Most of the performers were young people dancing various urban dance styles. The director gave them such tasks that they had to overcome themselves to perform them – breakdance in the rhythm of a waltz, and suchlike. The atmosphere was electric, and the young people were dancing with such vigour that sparks were flying.
Of the events in other thematic lines of the “Riga 2014” Programme, I remember particularly well the very special feeling of unveiling an infrastructure upgrade project in the neighbourhood of Ziepniekklans as part of the Development Campaign for Good Locations. It is there, as well as in Alekša Square in Sarkandaugava, in Čiekurkalns and during other events in the neighbourhoods that were, first and foremost, meant for the involvement and self-expression of Rigans – it is there that I experienced the profound astonishment at how many talented people live in Riga! Our people can do fantastic work, create wonderful things, and stage quality performances. This is the untapped potential of Rigans.