Fotografas R. Ščerbauskas
Ⓒ R. Ščerbauskas

A lecturer at Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) Faculty of Arts and director of the gallery „101”, art critic Daiva Citvarienė is convinced that Kaunas residents under-value their city and its history. A conversation with the curator of cultural projects, initiator of museums and urban communities co-operative platform in „Kaunas: European Capital of Culture 2022” project about the importance of city history to each of us, and projects that initiate dialogue between art institutions and the community.
For the interview, we ask our interviewees to pick a place that is personally important for them in Kaunas. Why did you choose Kaunas Artists’ House for our meeting?
It is important for the city history, cultural life. First of all, it is one of the most beautiful modernist buildings. It was supposed to house the Vatican diplomatic mission in Lithuania, although the nuncio did not live here even a day. In 1932, this place became a children’s hospital, and during Soviet times, some of the scenes from the famous film „Raudonemdžio rojus” („Mahogany paradise“) were shot here. This place is important to me personally. During my student years, I found this street to be one of the most beautiful and mysterious streets of the city, and, at the time, Kaunas Artists’ House cafe has become sort of a home that I am still missing to this day. By the way, there was also an open-air cafe. Artistic life was once in full swing here leaving a footprint in the history of Kaunas art. And finally, the historical tour – a mobile app – of this street is currently under production. Moreover, these days it is perhaps the most attractive place for the so-called Pokemon Hunters. So it has everything that I find interesting: city history, culture, and multifaceted memory of urban communities. So, there is a whole cloud of memories that can tell how different generations of Kaunas’ population used to live and what was important to them. You are an initiator of an online Kaunas city memory archive (
What did push you to start such an archive, and how is it different from other websites about Kaunas history?
I hope that the majority of the residents learned about the „” (en. „Places of memory”) this spring, when we introduced „The Spirit Guide to the Old Kaunas”. The website was launched in 2014 , but the idea came much earlier. On one hand, my professional interest in the subject of memory led to it, on the other hand, for a long time as an art critic and gallerist, I have probably felt an internal discontent that exhibitions and art events attract a small circle of people. I wanted to do something that would be interesting for many residents. Website “” is sort of a virtual archive of city memory which collects the memories of residents that are related to various parts of the city as well as a range of city life stages. In addition, it publishes various articles, studies, photos, literary texts, art projects about Kaunas and its memory, presents virtual routes. The most important thing is that everyone can share their memories on this website. We publish all of them. In this project, my focus is on two key subjects. First of all, this is the ability to give a voice to the memory that we can’t find in the history books, and which is often forgotten or silent: the so-called „little stories”, the memories of ethnic, religious, and other minorities. This way, we can learn a lot about the past of the city, city history, and people’s role in this history. Secondly, it is the principle of democracy. It’s not the historians, the experts, who tell us about the city and its history, but the entire population of the city. There are no trivial, boring memories. All of them are important and valuable as evidence of our relationship with the city, past events. They trace the impact these events left on us. In summary, you can say that we do the same work as many world museums do. So, in a sense, „” is a virtual museum: the Museum of Citizen Stories. Kaunas is a museum city. It has 29 of them. However, statistics show that museums are not a big center of attraction for the city population.
Why is that? What is wrong with museums activities?
I cannot say that there is something wrong with what museums do. Under these difficult conditions, that the majority of our city and state museums are working, they are doing a great work. In addition, over the last decades, museums have undergone a remarkable change. Back in 1996, when I started my work in the Department of Information and Education at the M.K.Čiurlionio National Museum of Art, museum education, in its current sense, didn’t exist. Only a few years later we started going to Scandinavia to learn and build something ourselves. So museums went a very long way of change. However, the Western museums went even further and it is difficult for our ones to catch up. The hardest part is the realization that the concept of a museum has changed: it is no longer an authoritative, competent, expert institution. In Lithuania, museums still „know better” how to shape the strategy of the museum, what exhibitions to hold and how to do that. Meanwhile, there is this city in the United States of America that has a museum which builds its strategy together with the communities. Another interesting example is the Rotterdam City Museum, which refused to be an institution that simply accumulates and conserves history. The museum staff decided to open up for various communities and left the safe walls of the museum for often unsafe – literally – areas to collect the stories of people who live there, and discuss, not the things that separate, but unite – in other words, to talk together about the recent past, the so-called „linking heritage”.
In „Kaunas: European Capital of Culture 2022” project you present the initiative „The Museum for the City and the City for the Museum”. It aims to encourage a greater citizen involvement in the life of the museums. Why do we need this kind of project? What measures will you take to implement this idea?
As you said, Kaunas could be named a city of museums, but only a very small portion of city population visits museums. The contest for the title of the European Capital of Culture obliges us to rethink the role of cultural institutions in the life of the city and the relationship with city communities. We would like the initiative „Museum for the City and the City for the Museum” to become a new collaborative platform for the museums and city communities. It could become a platform for new partnerships, the opportunity to develop a new approach to the museum, as a friendly, open, respectful and extremely interesting place. Therefore, we propose that museums, instead of working for communities, would work together with the communities, to do more than open their doors, but also knock on the doors of those who cannot come to the museum, for example, the disabled, child care centers and others. In addition, we will encourage the development projects, which would allow everyone to build their own museum: starting with kindergarten pupils and ending with seniors. I have no doubt that the museum staff is very creative and will offer the ideas of their own on how to improve the functioning of the museum, open museums to the city residents, inviting them to participate in all levels of museum activity. So the purpose of the initiative is to encourage a new approach to the museum institution, its concept, and function, and to encourage dialogue and cooperation.
What aspects of “Kaunas: European Capital of Culture” application would you like to highlight?
I am very happy that „Kaunas: European Capital of Culture” application is based on talking to the urban memory, and the ideas of openness and inclusiveness. Today, the title of the European Capital of Culture requires to have a new look at the culture and see it as a democratic tool. Culture can unite, invite for a dialogue. In today’s world, where the new walls and the old antagonisms rise, this new role of culture is particularly relevant. The memory can also function as the cultural democracy tool. Attention to the memory means that today we are interested more than in History with a capital letter, but also in the memories, testimonies – that remained in the margins – of ordinary people. Memory – as the example of Kiemo gallery on the Ožeškienė street proves – can become a medium for a dialogue that gathers communities, encourages them to collaborate, modifies the consumerist approach to space where we live. Today we often talk about the fact that the population of our city is not connected with the place. And that’s why they can easily leave this city. Therefore, the role of culture developers is highly important: they can help build a dynamic, creative city of socially active people. Very often, we tend to think that culture is only for a small circle of people, it is distant and incomprehensible. I’d wish that every resident of this city knew that culture is for him and about him.

Video: Marius Paplauskas