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Having attracted over 2 million visitors in 5 years, “Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022” can be hailed as a success story. A programme which has delivered nearly 3000 events to guests from all over the world, increased tourism, international media attention, and a huge number of participants – these were some of the major achievements and legacies of the Capital of Culture that were discussed by the Lithuanian Minister of Culture Simonas Kairys, “Kaunas 2022” CEO  Virginija Vitkienė, and the Head of Communications and Marketing Mindaugas Reinikis at the last “Kaunas 2022” press conference held on Monday.

The journey of “Kaunas 2022” from a temporary capital to a contemporary one began back in 2015 with the preparation of the application for the European Capital of Culture competition. In March 2017, it was revealed that Kaunas’s proposed programme had convinced the selection panel of independent experts, and the city was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture, the EU’s most important cultural project, for the year 2022.

“I expected it to be sad when the title-holding year came to an end, but today I feel that many great things are only just beginning, and how they move forward will depend entirely upon us,” said the Republic of Lithuania’s Minister of Culture, Simonas Kairys, in his opening remarks. According to Kairys, 2022 has been an extraordinary year that has changed the rules of the game considerably – the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other challenges have forced the organisers to look at the project differently and to adapt to the current situation.

“I believe the project’s greatest objective was to make everyone realise that we are part of the European cultural scene: that it is important to create opportunities for dialogue and international cooperation, and to be open-minded. […] This title reminds the rest of the world that we have been a part of Europe for centuries, that even after 50 years of being stuck in a dark and difficult tunnel, today we are back in the European family,” the Minister of Culture said.

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Record Numbers of Visitors and Artists Involved

Over the five years of the project’s implementation, according to Virginija Vitkienė, CEO of Kaunas 2022, almost 2 million culture lovers have attended a variety of events – festivals, concerts, exhibitions, performances, contemporary dance performances and other artistic initiatives. Over half of them visited events in 2022.

18,000 artists and creators from all over the world – Europe, Japan, the USA, South Africa, Israel, and elsewhere – contributed to creating the Capital of Culture in Kaunas and Kaunas District. Yet most of the events, 70 percent, were created and implemented by Lithuanian artists. In 2022 alone, Lithuanian and international artists organised 1,370 cultural initiatives open to the public in Kaunas and Kaunas District.

A total of 26 million euros has been earmarked for European Capital of Culture projects, or 13 euros per person over five years. More than 50 donors and partners contributed to the cultural initiatives, with a total value of 2.8 million euros in financial support and services.

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From the BBC and The Guardian to National Geographic

The head of the initiative, Virginija Vitkienė, emphasised that the Kaunas 2022 project gained visibility not only in Lithuania, but also worldwide – in 66 countries in total in Europe and beyond, including the US, India, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, South Africa, South Korea, and Singapore. Over 170 foreign journalists visited the city.

National Geographic, a popular science magazine boasting 6 million readers, noted that Kaunas is “finally getting the plaudits it deserves.” The Telegraph reported that “in Kaunas, the Twenties are roaring once more,” while The Guardian listed the Capital of Culture among the 10 best European city breaks with a difference.

Kaunas has also been covered by the BBC, CNN, The Times, Rai, Deitsche Welle, Financial times, Euronews, and other news sites. It is estimated that news about Kaunas 2022 has reached more than 3 billion people worldwide. Foreign media representatives were attracted not only by the ongoing events, but also by street art, the themes related to memory, Kaunas modernist architecture, and the appearances made by world-renowned artists.

According to Mindaugas Reinikis, Head of Communications and Marketing, “Kaunas has now appeared on maps where it has never featured before, but this will probably take a few decades, or even centuries, to be fully grasped and appreciated.”

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Tourism Boost

International press attention and high-profile artistic events and exhibitions have led to an increase in tourist visits. In 2022, Kaunas accommodated stays from around 258,000 tourists, the majority of whom were from Germany, Italy and neighbouring countries – Poland, Latvia and Estonia. It was pleasing to see that increasingly more people were choosing Kaunas for more than a single-day trip, spending a whole weekend or a few days in the city.

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From New Cultural Spaces to Festivals Turned into Traditions

A number of popular festivals and events have become an integral part of the city and its surrounding district. The International Day of Happiness, Kaunas Literature Week, and the Fluxus Festival, which has now become a tradition, will continue to attract visitors and residents of the city. Culture to the Courtyards, Citytelling Festival and the international performing arts festival ConTempo will keep on bringing music and performances to Kaunas’s neighbourhoods. Design enthusiasts will remain warmly-welcomed participants at the MAGENTA Landscape Design Festival. The European Capital of Culture Forum and the much-loved Contemporary City Festival AUDRA will also carry on. And in Kaunas District, the community project “Contemporary Neighbourhoods” will continue to take place.

The CulturEukraine co-working space, launched in 2022, will continue to run its activities in the city, as well as the Kaunas Central Post Office, which has now been transformed into an exhibition venue and event space. The Kaunas Airport, which was renamed as the Kaunas Fluxus Airport, and the sculpture of the Mythical Beast of Kaunas, beloved by children, will serve as reminders of this historic year. Over 1,000 artworks, sculptures and publications created in recent years are going to be exhibited in various art institutions across Kaunas and Kaunas District.

A Path of Emerald, the route touring public art objects, featuring 50 works by Lithuanian and international artists, will remain in operation in Kaunas District, as well as the dredger-boat “Nemuno 7,” located in Zapyškis, now turned into a space of art and culture.

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The Capital of Culture Bids Farewell with 2022 Kisses

The most important component of “Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022,” as Virginija Vitkienė, the Head of “Kaunas 2022,” points out, is the people who have contributed to this project: artists, representatives of the cultural scene, communities, volunteers, and partners, transforming Kaunas into one big European stage.

As Kaunas passes on the title of Capital of Culture to three other European cities, it bids a symbolic farewell by sending 2022 kisses to Lithuania, Europe and the rest of the world. From the very beginning in 2017, photographer Remis Ščerbauskas has been seeking to capture snapshots of the participants of the Capital of Culture events, community members, artists, Kaunesians and the city’s visitors, volunteers, the project’s implementation team, and all those who have often stayed away from the limelight. All these people had been pouring their energy into taking the city’s culture to a new level in the run-up to the title-holding year.

“Each European Capital of Culture is unique and exceptional. Still, it is gratifying to receive positive comments, for example, suggesting that Kaunas has made the European Capital of Culture project fashionable once again. You will certainly be hearing more from us in the future.” The press conference ended on a high note.