European Capital of Culture Forum in Kaunas: Reflecting on Five Years of Creative Adventures, Lessons and Achievements

Next year’s European Capital of Culture (ECoC), Kaunas, has already caught the continent’s attention. On September 22–24, the team revealed a comprehensive programme for 2022 – the press conference was followed by a two-day forum full of captivating presentations, in-depth debates and artistic interventions. All of that helped to reveal the core ideas and values of the project and suggested 2022 will be one of the most successful years in the city’s history. An introduction to a new creative era, too. Once a temporary capital of a new state, today, Kaunas is ready to become a contemporary European capital.
‘I feel like five years ago when our team met the ECoC jury at the Ministry of Culture in Vilnius – we then promised the jury culture can make the much-needed change in people’s mindsets and help them better understand each other, as well as heal the city from its historical amnesia,’ Virginija Vitkienė, CEO of Kaunas 2022, reflected when opening the press conference ahead of the ECOC forum.
Partnerships that Enhance the Value of the City
‘Three years ago, we started the forum as an occasion and space to learn and get inspired from other cities, organisations, and innovators creating novelties in the cultural sphere. This year, it seemed more than natural after a few years of talking globally, we focus on Kaunas and speak in-depth about its programme’, Ana Kočegarova, Head of Programme at Kaunas 2022, opened the panel about the culture partnership programme. Kaunas 2022 accumulated around 80 partners that each helped shape the unique programme for next year. 
‘An ECoC without helping hands is not ECoC’, Ana Kočegarova smiled. Among other partners that joined her on the stage was Gintarė Masteikaitė, culture manager, producer and head of ConTempo, the international performing arts festival making heads turn in Kaunas and Kaunas district since 2019. The culture professional believes ‘One of the key events initiated by Kaunas 2022 reveals the potential of performing arts and what we can do together; also, it supports independent artists who live here, or who left city and country and are now coming back. In general, art is a great tool to bring the world to Kaunas and Kaunas to the world.’ 

Memory Topics Crossing State Borders
Memory Office, one of the founding branches of Kaunas 2022, kicked off its session with guided tours in two of the most multi-layered areas of Kaunas, history-wise. During the walks, the programme’s curators presented the site-specific artworks initiated by the Memory Office that all prove the language of art as a way to tell the stories of people is a tool much more potent than pure facts. 
Next year, the Memory Office will present a comprehensive programme in three parts, starting in spring, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the unrest in Kaunas that followed the self-immolation of a 19-year-old student Romas Kalanta in protest against the Soviet regime. The events of 1972 will be reviewed in two theatre performances. Later on, the fourth CityTelling festival will grow into a month-long event. In autumn, World Litvak Forum will gather many people who have their roots in Lithuania to discuss the painful past and a shared future. 

Architecture Heritage as Catalyst
Modernism for the Future is one of the most ambitious branches of Kaunas 2022, aiming at opening 360 interwar modernist architecture buildings in Kaunas and Kaunas district for visitors, ideas and events. The goal coincides with the architectural networks path to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Coincidentally or not, representatives of UNESCO attended the ECoC forum session held at the modernist auditorium of National M. K. Čiurlionis Museum of Art.
Within the framework of the Modernism for the Future programme, for more than five years and in various ways, cultural organisations, initiatives, architectural historians, and interdisciplinary art creators have been seeking inspiration in the city signs witnessing the birth of modern society, to tell Lithuania, Europe and the World. During the session, the programme’s partners revealed how Kaunas modernism can be Open and Accessible, Inclusive and Inspiring, Raising Awareness and Love to everyone for their future city. 

Understanding Oneself and the World Through a Myth
Possibly the most exciting session of the ECoC forum in Kaunas was held in the confluence of Lithuania’s main rivers, Nemunas and Neris, which is often called the birthplace of the city. Rytis Zemkauskas, the curator of the Myth of Kaunas, stressed we are what we tell and invited everyone to control the chaos by telling a common story: ‘Narrative places a human being within the time-space. Narrative helps to deal with the fear of infinity, it establishes, comforts and protects; The European capital of culture is aimed to create a uniting network of many different narratives – The Great Myth’. So, will creating a new myth for the city help it change its path? The answer will unfold in next year’s great mythical trilogy comprised of the Uprising (January 22), Confluence (May 20), and Treaty (November 25–27). 

All as one Before and After
From traditional music sounds and crafts that spread over the terrace of Kaunas Cultural Centre during one of the last sessions of the ECoC forum to brave examples of contemporary art – all of the above is nurtured in the playground of the Kaunas 2022 community programme. Spanning through the numerous neighbourhoods of Kaunasand Kaunas district, the programme aims at revealing the multi-layered face of the region, combined from varied yet all significant features, legends, beliefs and wishes.
Celebrating the spirit of communion and co-creation are two of the key goals of Kaunas 2022. During the past five years, the activities brought impressive results: 1,300 cultural and artistic activities were organised, more than 18,000 participants took part, and more than 55,000 viewers enjoyed the content. More than 350 foreign and Lithuanian artists contributed to implementing the activities, and more than 70 long-term works of art were created. ‘The greatest outcome of value is a community that is curious and initiates changes in its living environment’, believe the programme’s curators. During the session, emotional stories about personal journeys were shared. Everyone was invited to set off on a journey through the co-created wonders of Kaunas and Kaunas district next year.

Design’s Role in Creating a Happy City
From audience development to a greener city, design as a tool is critical in every single aspect of Kaunas 2022. Design for Happiness, a programme striving for an accessible, happy and sustainable city, has been incorporated in the main idea since Kaunas started getting ready to become an ECoC. ‘It was clear ever since we started preparing the bid that we want Kaunas to be not only a city of modernist architecture but also a city of contemporary design,’ said Virginija Vitkienė, CEO of Kaunas 2022, when opening the session on Friday morning.
Together with partners, Virginija Vitkienė presented a lush tree of activities of Design for Happiness for those attending the event and watching the broadcast. The tools include a new accessibility guide for cultural institutions looking for new audiences, an old industrial ship in river Nemunas currently converted to an art hub, a successful collaboration with Kaunas’ fellow city in the UNESCO Creative Cities network, Kortrijk in Belgium, an overwhelmingly inspiring landscape design festival, the International Happiness Day and upcycling as a tool for creating sustainable fashion.

Emerging Kaunas: Goals for Years Following 2022
It would be very incorrect to say only professional artists and culture operators helped shape Kaunas 2022. The young generation of Kaunasians has been included in the path since the very start, with the help of the Emerging Kaunas programme, offering creative mentorships and workshops for high school students. The changes in the mindsets of the next generation were creatively and at the same time carefully transformed into the events of the programme of Kaunas 2022, highlights of which were revealed in the final session of the ECoC forum. Started with the rhythms of trap music, the event included personal growth stories, alternative initiatives and big future plans. 
Next year, Emerging Kaunas will host the largest contemporary city festival "Audra” (Storm), based on the principles of co-creation and coined in cooperation with dozens of young producers, curators and the music club Lizdas. What happens next? The people Rising Kaunas will definitely come back in 2023 and the years to come.

Hundreds of participants from across Europe attended the forum events, including representatives of former and future ECoCs, various institutions of art and culture and the press. Thousands of viewers watched the broadcast online – both real and virtual reactions became a true inspiration for the team of Kaunas 2022’. Video recordings of the presentations and the press conference are all available online on YouTube and Facebook.
Lithuania’s second-largest city Kaunas and the surrounding Kaunas district are ready to become one big European stage next year. The programme of Kaunas 2022 includes at least 40 festivals, over 60 exhibitions, more than 250 stage events (50+ world premieres!), and a number of concerts exceeding 250. The grand opening of ECoC is scheduled for January 22, 2022.
Text by: Kotryna Lingienė
Photos by: M. Plepys

All Eyes on Kaunas: Lithuanian City Revealed the European Capital of Culture 2022 Programme

After twelve years of anticipation, the official title of European Capital of Culture is back in Lithuania. The country’s second-largest city Kaunas and the surrounding Kaunas district are ready to become one big European stage next year – the grand opening is scheduled for January 22, 2022.  
The immersive formula for the big year includes at least 40 festivals, over 60 exhibitions, more than 250 stage events (50+ world premieres!), and a number of concerts exceeding 250. A press conference revealed key events, the most important names and many more exciting details for the whole continent to follow. Held in Kaunas, the event was accompanied by teams of Esch in Luxembourg and Novi Sad (Serbia), the other two European Capitals of Culture ready to shine in 2022.
Culture Beyond City Limits
It has been five years since the city of Kaunas and the surrounding Kaunas district have started preparing for 2022. The truth is, the ambitious international project has already proven its success. The change has taken place, and the communities that make up the face, body and soul of Kaunas have activated. Much of the European Capital of Culture program aims to celebrate the awakening and write a new chapter of the history of the area.
Dozens of unique small towns surrounding Kaunas, as well as lush nature and rich traditions that go back hundreds of years, are what complement the urban network within the city limits. At the same time, the international title has helped the rural communities meet international artists and discover new ways to express their identity.

A Community Project Above Everything Else
The theme of Kaunas 2022 is a grand yet unified dama that gives meaning to the road to the awakening of the city and its people. It’s the biggest co-creation festival of all since day one – the majority of the time, ideas and finances is dedicated to bringing as many people closer to culture as possible. It’s also an educational project, as hundreds of culture professionals and enthusiasts and representatives of the young generation have already gained new skills, guaranteeing the project’s continuity and quality future for Kaunas and Kaunas District.
What also makes Kaunas 2022 unique is creating a new myth for the city to help it change its path. The Mythical Beast of Kaunas – a project designed to create a unifying narrative for the city – will unfold in next year’s great mythical trilogy comprised of the Uprising (January 22), Confluence (May 20), and Treaty (November 25–27). 
The three main events are co-created by artists from Lithuania and abroad; they incorporate the ideas of historical personalities from Kaunas into the new work – names like George Maciunas and Emmanuel Levinas. Among the programme participants are Philip Miller, William Kentridge, Marina Abramović, Yoko Ono, Jenny Kagan, Robert Wilson, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Antony Polonsky, Modestas Pitrėnas, Edgaras Montvidas and many others. It’s important to stress each branch of Kaunas 2022 has its own superstars, some of whom are still on their way to international fame – Kaunas and Kaunas District, as one big European stage, will become their trampoline.
Highlights of the Programme
Annual festivals already launched by Kaunas 2022 will reach their culmination, such as the International Day of Happiness (March), the European Capital of Culture Forum (May), Contemporary Neighbourhoods (all summer long in the towns of Kaunas district), the European Youth Festival (July), the international performing arts festival ConTempo (August), Fluxus Festival (September), landscape design festival Magenta (autumn), the CityTelling Festival, which reconsiders the multiethnic memory of Kaunas and the people who built it every October, and the Kaunas Design Event in celebration of its title as a UNESCO Creative City of Design (October). Talking about UNESCO, the Kaunas 2022 program called Modernism for the Future invites the residents and guests of the city to embrace the rich modernist architecture network and support its path to the World Heritage List.
Among the highlights of the event schedule in 2022 are the international exhibition of up-and-coming contemporary artists “MagiC Carpets Landed”, the 13th Kaunas Biennial “Once Upon Another Time”, an exhibition by William Kentridge, one of the most influential and most wanted international artists of today, a retrospective by the cult figure of New York art scene Yoko Ono, a show by the global superstar Marina Abramović, as well as works and performances by other fantastic names, often cooperating with each other and local artists or communities. New and very much anticipated events such as World Litvak Forum are also confirmed for 2022.

Cultural Bridges to the World
Artistic interventions, including two premieres, spiced up the mood of the press conference. Kaunas dance theatre ‘Aura’ presented an excerpt of ‘Pluto’, a new show depicting a journey through one’s identity by Matthew Dane Livingston. 
Another premiere that received much attention was a new song ‘City Sisters’ by Lithuanian singer and Kaunas 2022 ambassador Jurga Šeduikytė and South African songwriter Kgomotso Le Roux. ‘City Sisters’ tells a story about two women in two countries – and Le Roux is singing her part in the Zulu language.
The cultural bridges built by the project of Kaunas 2022 helped even more creative ideas connecting Lithuania and SA to be born. The list includes an exhibition by William Kentridge, one of the most prominent contemporary artists whose roots are in Lithuania, coming to Kaunas next year. The South African artist explores the topics of violence, empathy and racism in his works – similar themes are reflected in the song ’City Sisters’, which will become a soundtrack to the exhibition. The premiere of the song’s music video will be held in both Kaunas and Johannesburg.
European Capital of Culture Forum for Extended Talks
The press conference in Kaunas is followed by the European Capital of Culture forum on September 23–24. Both live and online, the fourth international forum is dedicated to in-depth discussions and evaluation of the programme for next year. Curators and partners of the six main branches of Kaunas 2022 will present the vision for the city and the results of their five-year work, including the most significant achievements and the most important lessons that all influenced the final programme. Of course, it will be time to talk more about the key events in next year’s calendar.
The timetable of the forum:
Watch it live: ir

An Unexpected Twist of Events: Kaunas Airport Renamed to Fluxus Airport

Did you know the international Fluxus movement, emphasising the artistic process over the result, is rooted in Kaunas, Lithuania? To celebrate the legacy of George Maciunas, the founder of the international community that includes artists like Yoko Ono, his hometown Kaunas has renamed its international airport to Fluxus Airport. 
Starting September 10, 2021, passengers will arrive and depart the world’s only air gates of art until the end of 2022, the year of the European Capital of Culture in Kaunas.
Virginija Vitkienė, CEO of Kaunas 2022, believes it’s essential to remember Fluxus is the sign of creativity, playfulness, unconventional approach and art without rules or borders: “Kaunas airport agreeing with our offer clearly shows how inclusive, stimulating and attractive the key ideas of the Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022 are.”

George Maciunas, the founder of Fluxus, was born on November 8, 1931, when Kaunas was the flourishing temporary capital of Lithuania. The period of the First Republic is now a source of inspiration for contemporary Kaunas. Thus, as a UNESCO City of Design, member of the UNESCO Creative Cities network and the European Capital of Culture 2022, Kaunas is inseparable from Fluxus and the legacy of George Maciunas. 
For decades, the Fluxus Cabinet, filled with art and statements from around the world, has been open in the Kaunas Picture Gallery. A stone’s throw from it, at the intersection of three streets, there’s a unique George Maciunas square. The latter is the starting point of the annual Fluxus Festival’s main event, a massive and creative climb up the hill. The festival, together with the Fluxus Labs project focused on community art, is part of the program of Kaunas 2022.
As 2022 is around the corner, Kaunas and Kaunas district are becoming one big European stage: they will host more than 40 festivals, a comprehensive year-long exhibition programme, more than 250 performing arts events, including 50 premieres and a rich musical programme with approximately 250 concerts. The complete programme for 2022 will be revealed on September 22, 2021, during a press conference that will precede the European Capital of Culture forum.


Photos by: A. Aleksandravičius

Reverse mountain climbing? At the Fluxus Festival, it's also possible!

The largest and probably the most colorful community festival of Fluxus will happen in Kaunas on September 11th. This year's event will invite you to participate in discussions and immerse you into a co-creation full of fantasy - the festival participants will create and decorate their own costumes and the most unexpected vehicles to climb Parodos Hill in a Fluxus way. 
Awakening the city in a Fluxus way since 2018, this year's event reflects the trailer of the year 2022, when Kaunas will become the European Capital of Culture and thus, the communities of Kaunas and Kaunas district invite you to celebrate all the holidays of the year. As for the culmination of the Fluxus Festival - the climb to the Parodos Hill - its organizers call for an inventive look - everything that the participants' imagination allows is possible. "You can climb walking backward or in a handstand, carrying an uncle or a goldfish, with rollerblades or a surfboard, or maybe just wearing a Santa Claus costume," said Simona Savickaitė, coordinator of the "Fluxus Labs! "program of Kaunas - European Capital of Culture 2022. 
Due to the last year's pandemic, the Fluxus Festival didn't go as planned, but this year the communities will interact live, which, according to the organizers of the event, is a celebration in and of itself. "I am delighted that this community event is being created by more than 200 people from different social groups and beliefs, from students to seniors. This is the real Fluxus - after overcoming our fears, we are doing things that we may have never done before, we go on adventures," said S. Savickaitė. According to her, an event that would be more communal is probably unimaginable - all activities are created by the residents of Kaunas city and Kaunas district, and each of the activities invites the event participants to participate in co-creation. Simona is convinced "costumes of the festival liberate - by communicating, people start to form a unity." 
The festival participants will meet in the square of the pioneer of the Fluxus movement - Jurgis Mačiūnas, and after climbing the mountain, get involved in the (un)expected and (extra)ordinary artistic action of Kaunas city and district communities. "It's all just a part of the Fluxus Festival. "Kaunas 2022 "community program "Fluxus Labs!" will invite you to celebrate the community spirit and turn this day into a real holiday of unity and friendship of all Kaunas and Kaunas district residents" said S. Savickaitė. 
Get to know the entire Fluxus festival program: 
2 PM - 4 PM Discussion about communities and their activities "Creativity and dialogue: changes in communities" ("Kodėl me?", Perkūno al. 4, Kaunas). The final lectures and discussions of the cycle "Creativity and Dialogue: Changes in Communities" organized by Kaunas 2022 community program "Fluxus Labs!". 
5–9:30 PM Fluxus costume workshop - preparation for climbing the Parodos Hill (Kaunas Picture Gallery courtyard, K. Donelaičio str. 16, Kaunas). The organizers invite you to make a Fluxus costume. The necessary tools will be taken care of, but you can also bring your own.                                                               
5–9:30 PM Fluxus makeup and hairdressing workshop - preparation for climbing the Parodos Hill (Children's Literature Museum, K. Donelaičio str. 13, Kaunas). The organizers invite you to create Fluxus hairstyles and makeup. The necessary tools will be taken care of, but you can also bring your own. 
5–9:30 PM Decoration workshop for Fluxus vehicles (scooters, bicycles, skateboards, etc.) - preparation for climbing the Parodos Hill (KTU University yard, K. Donelaičio 20, Kaunas). Organizers invite you to decorate your vehicles. Decorating tools will be taken care of, but you can also bring your own. 
9:45 PM to 12:00 AM "Fluxus Festival" - climbing the Parodos Hill (J. Mačiūnas Square, K. Donelaičio St. 2, Kaunas). 
"Fluxus Labs!" is part of the "Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022" program. In the European Capital of Culture year, events in Kaunas and Kaunas district are planned for more than a year: more than 40 festivals, over 60 exhibitions, more than 250 performing arts events, of which more than 50 premieres and more than 250 concerts. 

Waiting for Kaunas2022, interview to the CEO Virginija Vitkienė

There are still a few months to Kaunas 2022, the great event that will see the second city of Lithuania take on the role of European Capital of Culture. The city has been preparing since 2017, when the candidacy was accepted. We met the CEO of the organization, Virginija Vitkienė.
In our interview she talks us about the program which is based on several interesting topics: from Modernist architecture, of which Kaunas is one of the main protagonists in Europe, to Memory, remembering the past and looking to the future, from Fluxus Labs which sees local communities personally involved in the various artistic events. Important to underline: each activity is studied and designed with local communities, especially with people who live in neighborhoods.
Watch the video:
Interview by: Marina Macrì, a journalist of "Lithuanian stories"
Photo by: M. Plepys