Interview with Riga 2014 director Diāna Čivle
Are preparations for the European Capital of Culture year currently progressing according to plan and what will be your main tasks next year?
Everything is going to plan and our work in the ‘creative kitchen’ is very intensive. We plan to announce the full programme in spring next year. By then, there will be many more interesting things for everyone to explore, to find out more about and special events to look for in the programme. The year will be jam-packed with different events. There are more than 100 projects, which means many more actual events as each project often involves a large number of different activities. In 2010, when Rīga was confirmed as a 2014 European Capital of Culture, we issued a call for public project applications and received 340 projects, of which a little more than 100 were selected and it is these we have continued to work on. As it stands, we are in the finishing straight of the preparation stage, having already concluded contracts with a number of projects.
Are you concerned that next summer’s municipal elections could affect you?
The programme is a very broad-based collaboration platform involving the city of Rīga, in actual fact – every ministry, the Latvian Tourism Development Agency, LIVE Rīga, the Latvian Institute, the non-government, cultural-organisation sector and others, and so far, we have all found a way to cooperate and work towards our common goal. This year of culture offers a great opportunity, through us all purposefully working together, for Latvia to really make its mark in the world. We have learned a lot, for example, from the experience of Vilnius, which for various reasons, did not make it to the list of success stories. We are really endeavouring to build cooperation, taking all the risks into account. How far we have got shows that we can work well together in the context of this major event.
Every European Capital of Culture is, of course, a special case, because this is a very large project with a full year’s programme of cultural events. The preparatory phase is also lengthy in itself. In the same way, we have to maintain the impact we have achieved this year. The turn of the year is a key factor, as we must avoid the bad experience of some previous European capitals of culture which started off at very rapid pace, only for interest to fall away just as quickly. All the bodies involved must be coordinated and plan jointly. I believe that if we manage this, we can be confident of a great outcome. It is one of the risks about which we can now say that we have put a lot of effort into – making this cooperation between different bodies effective. In terms of presenting Latvia on the international stage, this is collaboration with Latvian embassies abroad and foreign embassies in Rīga, it is planning tourism issues by utilising the networks available to the Latvian Tourism Development Agency and LIVE Rīga. It is also a matter of planning cultural processes. In our case we cannot talk only about the programme or how it takes it course – it has to be linked in with the long-term plans of both the city of Rīga and of national cultural policy, as such a large-scale event impacts cultural policy overall. One of the most important aspects, for which we have already been noticed and appreciated in Europe, is the financial responsibility as regards our European Capital of Culture event. Both the city of Rīga and the national government have already defined their available resources and have maintained their position consistently. This puts us at an advantage, particularly when we are under the spotlight of international experts in terms of monitoring from Brussels, because it shows that we are planning prudently.
How the money invested returns in different ways
Are there any estimates of how large an influx of tourists could be attracted by the European Capital of Culture year and whether there will be a return on the investment?
Colleagues from other European capitals of culture have calculated that each euro invested brings back four. It is, of course, a long-term investment. In the cultural sphere, it is always hard to substantiate that the resources invested immediately return to our coffers – they return in the long term and to the country as a whole through taxes, through various tourism-industry activities. Speaking with European colleagues, I have come to realise that there is no unified system for justifying long-term investment in culture. Each European Capital of Culture calculates this economic growth according to its own criteria.
In 2008, 2.6 million people visited Liverpool for the first time. That figure was 3.4 million visitors for Linz in 2009, 10.5 million for the Ruhr in 2010, about two million for Turku in 2011 and for Tallinn (also 2011) – almost two million visitors and about 1,000 articles in international media reaching an audience of hundreds of millions. Growth in tourism, for visitors who stayed for at least one night, was 23% in the first nine months of the year.
Which are the main advertising markets where Rīga is being promoted as a European Capital of Culture?
We cooperate with the Latvian Tourism Development Agency and LIVE Rīga and look where they schedule their activities in the long run. The most typical markets are Germany, Scandinavia, our neighbouring countries and Russia. In these markets, the approach is Rīga being a tourism attraction. At the same time, our events, many of which are international, open up several atypical markets to Rīga. For example, one direction of most economic benefit to Latvia is China. One particular event where we have successfully used cultural resources to promote tourism development is the World Choir Games which Rīga will host in 2014. Cooperation with the organisers of this event allows us to use, for example, their Chinese representative to widely distribute different kinds of information about Rīga. We are sure that the World Choir Games will see quite a few choirs from China – they are intrigued and are interested in Rīga because they have already heard a lot about us. In the same way, we have been cooperating with a foundation established by major Japanese companies which has a special programme supporting European Capitals of Culture. With the help of this foundation, while discussing the participation of various Japanese artists in our events and projects, we are simultaneously promoting Rīga as a travel destination to Japan’s cultural tourists.
How many choirs have already booked for the World Choir Games? And what rules will apply to Latvian choirs who want to take part?
Currently, we are waiting for the announcement that applications can be sent. The official deadline for applications is as late as the second half of 2013, and only then will we know actual numbers. The rules will be less stringent for Latvian choirs, we have asked for that. Latvian choirs will have many different ways to participate in the Choir Games, they don’t necessarily have to enter the actual competition, which is run under quite a strict regime. We recommend that each choir consider its options and preferences, what it wants to gain from this participation. There will be opportunities to either participate in the entire official event, or to organise friendship concerts with choirs from different countries, to make friends with particular choirs.
Where will the main World Choir Games events be held?
The Opening and Closing ceremonies are planned to be held in Arena Rīga and one of the major concerts will be outdoors at Mežaparks, where we are keen to show off our Song Festival traditions. We hope that this will feature the world’s largest ever multinational choir.
Hoping for a Guinness World Record?
I don’t know if we will beat the figure for the world’s largest choir, but we could certainly qualify as the largest international choir. That is what we are aiming at.
What is happening with plans to hold the European Film Academy Awards ceremony in Rīga in 2014? Is the outcome already known?
The results are not yet known, we are still on the list of candidates. The organisers have told us that at this phase, of the three possible venues, two have been selected for further consideration – Rīga and one other candidate, which, of course, was not revealed to us. In all honesty, we are not even trying to find out who it is, because we know that Rīga would be better. Seriously though, early January will see a working visit by representatives of the organisers and will once again inspect the technical aspects of venues. When they were last here, there were plans to reconstruct the Congress Centre. These plans have since changed and we have advised them of this – it seems that this has not diminished their interest in Rīga.
Which are the possible venues for the ceremony?
At this stage, we have offered two venues, the Congress Centre and Arena Rīga. As yet, there have not been any questions about other sites.
Would the Congress Centre not be too small for such an event?
It was clear from the outset that the Congress Centre has fewer seats than their usual number of participants in this event. We will probably get further details in January.
On what has and has not been constructed
How will your plans change if the new building of the National Library of Latvian is not, after all, completed by the beginning of 2014?
We continue to plan in the full certainty that the library will be ready. Given the current situation, I think that this is a time to ‘sing from the same song sheet’ and move forward with maximum purpose so that our joint plans do not fall apart. Of course, the situation concerns us, we would have to change a lot of things in the programme if the library could not host the initially planned events and exhibitions. For example, the exhibition The Book 1514-2014, a reading promotion activity for children, film lectures – many different events already provisionally scheduled by month. As it stands, we are in a bit of a spot, because in the present situation can’t really figure out how to proceed. While there is enough time to reschedule, for now we have to wait. We have to find out the finalised scenario for the construction of the library infrastructure. According to the latest news, the Ministry sees no obstacles to a positive outcome.
Are you ready to develop a plan B in any event?
Do we have any option? Of course, one would have to be developed. But I think it would be very bad news for Latvia as a whole, if this issue were to take that course. Let us not forget that the eyes of the world are upon us in relation to being a European Capital of Culture. Earlier, you asked about the bad experiences and risks of other European Capitals of Culture – in many cases it was an inability to overcome difficulties or to eliminate risks. Right now, we still have all the tools to deal with every one of these problematic situations, but will have to act vigorously to find solutions. I believe that solutions can be found to even the most severe problems, but only by taking action. That’s what it feels like now, given the desire and energy that the Ministry is investing in the resolution of this issue, so it seems that things are moving in the right direction.
Meanwhile, two other major cultural buildings – the Latvian National Museum of Art and the Museum of Occupation – will be fenced in during 2014, they will be undergoing reconstruction.
Yes, that is so. We are taking that into account and understand the situation. Of course, we would have been much happier if we could be celebrating these fences and scaffolding being removed. Now maybe we will be celebrating the scaffolding being erected, but that also gives cause for optimism – life goes on and, if the European Capital of Culture year persuades us that cultural issues are very important to any agenda, our awareness will have taken a great step forward. Those of us working in the cultural sphere know that one approach is – everything starts from culture. In another approach – culture is left to the end, especially when sorting applicants for funding, because it seems that everything else is more important and culture can wait its turn. These are two very different approaches. It seems to me now that in many cases, one can feel a positive trend towards changing this attitude. Because it is only when we deal with cultural issues in a broader sense, if we are able to recognise the importance of these issues and place them at the top of the pile, that we can look forward to many things being successfully put in order. That is my conviction.
On partner cities in Latvia and elsewhere in Europe
How will Rīga work with the other 2014 European Capital of Culture, Umeå? Will we be competitors or partners?
We are going to have a great partnership. Although the European Commission’s choice of national and city pairs in the context of the European Capital of Culture tends to be called an ‘unwanted marriage’, we have, from the start worked closely with Umeå and planned the way in which the two programmes will be arranged, as well as joint cooperation projects. For example, if we are planning to launch the European Capital of Culture year on 17-18 January, Umeå will do it two weeks later. We are planning the year’s activities in cooperation with Umeå, because that way we can both help and hinder each other. Of course, we much prefer helping.
One of the joint projects with Umeå is the Liv-Sami issue. Latvia havs Livs, Umeå has Sami people, and they have much in common. This has lead to successful cooperation between their Västerbotten museum and our Open-air museum. The second project, which has already seen a number of events not only in Rīga, but also in partner city Sigulda, is the Survival Kit contemporary art project where our artists have worked in Umeå and artists from Umeå have worked here. I believe that this is not only a very good international cooperation project, but also an opportunity for the mobility of artists because they need to see more – they also draw inspiration from impressions gained elsewhere. There are about ten different projects assigned for cooperation with Umeå.
Will projects relating to Rīga as a European Capital of Culture also be held in other Latvian cities apart from Sigulda?
Definitely. We started to work on this some time ago, calling all Latvian towns and cities to think about how to develop special events for the European Capital of Culture year. In many cases, they are traditional and familiar events, whereas in other cases they can evolve as a branch of our programme in another city. For example, in collaboration with the future Mark Rothko centre in Daugavpils, a conference is being organised, beginning in Rīga and concluding in Daugavpils. Right from the start we have made and received proposals to cooperate with the other candidate cities, Cēsis and Liepāja, and a number of potential projects are at the coordination stage. Many more or less defined projects from different municipalities are also under consideration. For example, we had a conversation with the Kurzeme (Courland) planning region who are thinking about a project connecting a number of municipalities. This would give cultural tourists arriving in Rīga in the summer an opportunity to go on special tours around Latvia in addition to their time in Rīga. There are different approaches and we hope that this will give us the opportunity to create a special Latvian-level sub-programme to the European Capital of Culture programme. Rīga is only a door through which visitors arrive and we have a large garden – the whole of Latvia.
Why we need the European Capital of Culture year for ourselves
Has the total budget for the European Capital of Culture been set?
We have, from the beginning, worked within a specific budget framework, which, of course, also has an unknown part. Our total budget for the years 2012-14 is 17 million lats. These funds come from a number of sources – the city of Rīga, government funding, we plan to obtain 10% or 1.7 million from business partners willing to invest their funds. The figure also includes a request for European funding. We are developing a variety of European-fund projects, several of which have already successfully obtained support. Each European Capital of Culture also receives European funding of 1.5 million euros.
Will European Capital of Culture programme events cater to all tastes, or just to sophisticated culture lovers?
In Rīga’s European Capital of Culture application we emphasised that we would have a very broad view of culture – from cultural activities implemented by any of Rīga’s 58 neighbourhoods to events with high artistic value. The spectrum is very wide, and from an artistic point of view, we have much to be proud of – from our outstanding musicians who will be here and give concerts, world-class directors like Alvis Hermanis, a variety of achievements in contemporary art, where we hope to see many works by Latvian artists known around the world, but who are less known in Latvia itself. But any smaller event is just as important whether it be one of the creative quarters or a Rīga neighbourhood. If these events are arranged through the programme in a balanced way and every Rigan finds activities in line with their very diverse tastes, we will have achieved our goals. We are organising these events for ourselves first of all, and usually people feel at their best when they have done something well and taken part. Therefore, we invite everyone in Latvian to participate in developing this programme. We have already started this with the Creative space in the Esplanāde and the very active volunteer movement through which anyone can help prepare for the European Capital of Culture year.