For the last several months, Kaunas has been complimented with several significant signs of success. In December, Kaunas was included in the UNESCO design cities network, and at the beginning of the year, it won the National Science Centre competition. However, the challenges waiting for us are even higher. An application for its inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List is being prepared. Kaunas is making an effort to gain the title of a European Capital of Culture in 2022. What would be the benefits of this title for the city and what could be expected if Kaunas was chosen as a European Capital of Culture?
The European Capital of Culture programme was initiated in 1985. The idea to create a platform that would help identify and recognize the cultural variety within Europe was initiated by the famous actress, Melina Mercouri, who was the Minister of Culture in Greece at that time. Throughout a period of more than 30 years, the programme has improved in quality and has become one of the European Union’s flagship projects. The purpose of the cultivation of culture is to promote a city’s regeneration processes, tourism and the international integration of cities.
Each year, the title of a capital of culture is granted to two cities of the European Union countries. Both designated cities are announced at least 5–7 years before the actual year of the capital of culture celebration, since the programme guidelines encourage the cities to use the programme as an integral measure in implementing the long-term strategic goals of the city. The European Capital of Culture programme is usually supported by national, regional and municipal authorities as well as the European Union. It is an open secret that these programmes accumulate large budgets, and the monitoring of previous capital of culture programmes has shown that the amount of economic benefit generated exceeds the amount of investment by 6 to 8 times. Plus, there is an increase in the number of jobs, newly attracted investments, and a significant increase in the flow of tourists.
The idea to become a candidate for the title of European Capital of Culture was brought to Kaunas by local cultural operators supported by the municipality. The initiating team consisted of representatives from various fields such as sports, history, art, journalism and philosophy, while the preparation of the application was coordinated by the division of Kaunas Culture Centre “Tautos namai” (Home of the Nation) which had been established specially for this purpose. Having submitted the application in May of this year, the applicants will present it to an international commission consisting of the representatives delegated by the European institutions in summer. However, this is not the end of the competition. Having completed the first stage, attention will be focused on improvement of the application and the specification of projects by taking into consideration the comments provided by the jury. It is likely that the decision of the commission on which of the candidate cities of Lithuania shall be granted this title will be announced at the beginning of 2017, following the review of the specified offers provided by the candidates. Until this time, the city’s analysis, reflections and generation of creative ideas will continue to unite many organizations, like-minded people and persons responsible for the development of the city towards this common purpose.
At the moment, more than 50 local cultural, sports, community-based organizations, artists and international partners are involved in the preparation of the application, and approximately 70 meetings and public discussions with the city’s community and its international partners have been arranged. This shows that just seeking the title motivates organizations to review their activities, expand their range of partners and cooperate. The programme should also promote the cultural relationships within the region, since Kaunas city is participating in the competition for the title of a European Capital of Culture together with the Kaunas District Municipality. In this way, more emphasis is placed on the need for more active cultural cooperation and the common topic of rivers.
The slogan of the application, “ConTEMPOrary Capital”, was born during the discussions. It was used as the first step based on the name “temporary capital”, which Kaunas city was historically, and has become a synonym for it. This idea is further continued by stating that the positive identity of the city has not stayed stuck back in that century, because it is currently in the process of creation taking place now. It is known that Kaunas has also been a bastion and a merchant city, and was granted the title of a fortress (it has never really been used as a fortress). Later, two decades of independence followed a takeover of its role as a capital, although its temporality was perceived from the very beginning. After the war, Kaunas changed from a modern European city into a technocratic, industrial centre. Each of these periods has left its imprint on the collective memory and is covered by legends. In other words, we know who we have been, but we do not completely understand who we are today, and this is one of the reasons why Kaunas needs the title of a European Capital of Culture.
Further development of the programme contributes to the advantages, which may help to confront the challenges facing the city. For instance, today one of the main concerns of Kaunas is its decreasing population. The potential is very high, as approximately 1,200 specialists in creative industries graduate from their studies each year, however, a major part of them leave the city after graduation. Therefore, the content of the programme is oriented towards youth employment, promotion of the development of creative industries, and the formation of a new tempo of a creative city, which could make people fall in love with their city anew and would strengthen their emotional attachment. A major part of its residents are also concerned about the destiny of the famous modernistic buildings in Kaunas, because a number of important inter-war architectural objects have been abandoned. We have to look for new ways to conserve and adapt them creatively.
What are the chances of winning the title of a capital of culture? The jury will not only assess the concept and the quality of the programmes prepared, but also more pragmatic aspects, such as the infrastructure of the city and its planned development, supply of cultural services, capability of welcoming large flows of arriving tourists, and existing and future relationships with other European cities and organizations.
In fact, the European Capital of Culture programme shall become a tool for improving the existing quality, i.e., to bring the modernistic buildings back to life and the industrial buildings of the subsequent periods which have been recently abandoned, to open the doors of museums to visitors more widely, to unite the efforts of city’s operators towards common activities and objectives, to revive the multifaceted history and memory of the city, and to return Kaunas to the map of Europe.
Text: Ana Čižauskienė