Arūnas Gelūnas – the Ambassador, the Permanent Representative of Lithuania to UNESCO (2012), a former Lithuanian Minister of Culture (2010-2012), one of the founders and the first president of the Lithuania Creative and Cultural Industries Association. A. Gelūnas has been a longtime teacher at the Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts and other Lithuanian, Latvian and Swedish high school teachers (1997-2010), and the vice rector for studies at the Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts (2004-2010). He received a degree in Arts in Lithuania and Japan, defended his PhD thesis in Vytautas Magnus University, and wrote a lot of publications in the field of philosophy, culture and education in Lithuanian and English in Lithuanian and foreign academic press.

Throughout 1998-2008, he held a personal exhibition of graphics, participated in a number of personal graphics exhibitions and participated in group graphics and painting exhibitions all over the world, and he received awards for graphics and graphic design in Lithuania, France and Japan. In 2013, A. Gelūnas was awarded an honorary doctorate by Aalto University (Helsinki, Finland).

Here are 7 theses which justify the opinion that Kaunas would be a great European Capital of Culture of 2022 | Arūnas Gelūnas

1. Historical/economic thesis. As early as the beginning of the 15th century, Kaunas was granted Magdeburg rights and a firm of Hanseatic merchants was established in the city. Active trade with the Hanseatic League – the great European trade network (at the same time – a material culture transmission network) started.

2. Architectural/historical thesis. Today’s modern Kaunas, the Temporary Capital, is a living testimony of the efforts made to re-establish Lithuania as closer to Europe, and to borrow its scientific and cultural knowledge. During the period of 1919-1940, hundreds of modernist public and private buildings were erected in Kaunas, and Lithuanian architects left Lithuania for studies in Europe and German while Swiss architects came to design buildings in Lithuania. According to Vaidas Petrulis, an archaeologist, the interwar architecture “carries a very clear message – not as separate buildings, but the entire city testifies to the newly-established European capital, about the unique European modernism school filled with local mentality”. In 1939, a sports hall was built, where the Lithuanian men’s basketball team won the European Championship for the second time. In 2015, the interwar modernist architecture of Kaunas was awarded a European Heritage Label.

3. Educational/University thesis. Kaunas is definitely a city of universities and academic youth – there are five major universities, two university branches and four colleges. These schools of higher education have many programs related to culture, cultural research, arts, and the training of professional artists. A number of representatives of the Kaunas academic world have already become ‘generators of ideas’ for KEKS (Kaunas European Capital of Culture) 2022. Volunteering is becoming increasingly popular among students.

4. Geographical/logistical thesis. Kaunas is located in a geographically unique place – in the confluence of the two longest Lithuanian rivers, the Nemunas and Neris, and just 57 kilometres away from the geographical centre of Lithuania. Kaunas Oak Grove (Lithuanian: Ąžuolynas) is one of the largest oak parks in Europe. You can also call the Panemunė and Kleboniškis pinewood forests, which are located at different sides of the city, the “lungs of the city”, and the Kaunas Lagoon Regional Park is a great recreational place for residents. The road to Kaunas is convenient – both from Karmėlava Airport by a great motorway and from Vilnius Airport by a modern train. It is fun to travel around the city on foot – it is possible to go from Santaka, the confluence of rivers, to the Kaunas Zoo almost without crossing any traffic.

5. The infrastructure/service quality thesis. There are great hotels, restaurants and cafes in Kaunas, and new ones appear every year. City transport is convenient, and there are two cable cars that offer a unique opportunity to rise to the viewpoints of the city in a “historic way”. River transport is quite underdeveloped, but it has great potential. There are several television and radio stations in Kaunas.

6. Cultural thesis. In addition to the interwar modernist architecture, there are valuable heritage sites in Kaunas – especially “Perkūno namai” (lit. House of Perkūnas), the magnificent Town Hall and a true masterpiece of baroque architecture, the Pažaislis monastery. Kaunas has a large number of museums, theatres, concert halls and cinemas, libraries, publishers and printers. In the city, well-known international arts festivals are held, such as “Kaunas Jazz”, “Kauno bienalė”, “KAFe – Kaunas Architecture Festival, “Aura” contemporary dance festival, Kaunas Operetta Festival and others. Kaunas Žalgirio Arena is the largest arena in Lithuania with room for an audience of 17,000 people. And most importantly, a large community of recognized artists live and work in Kaunas – poets and novelists, painters and sculptors, graphic artists and photographers, actors and dancers, architects and designers, musicians and composers, representatives of contemporary media arts and a quite small, but faithful audience of art lovers. It is also very important that there are talented cultural managers, event organizers, journalists and advertising professionals in Kaunas.

7. The human/emotional thesis. Kaunas residents love their city and are proud of it. The idea of Kaunas being a European Cultural Capital in 2022 is actively supported by the city government. Even those Kaunas residents who were born in Kaunas but live in other Lithuanian cities or abroad, still have emotional bonds and cooperative relationships with their hometown, and maintain these relationships in one or another way useful for the city (come to consult, arrange performances, organize exhibitions, lectures, develop business relations, etc.). The residents of Kaunas are ambassadors of their hometown in other countries. There are many more of such people than you might think!

Kaunas and I

Of course, my Kaunas means much more to me than these seven paragraphs that I apparently wrote to convince myself. For me, Kaunas is a true Homeland (yes, in the traditional sense of a native village). For me, Kaunas is an integral part of my being with its views, flavours and sounds. It is a PLACE where I search for my own time long ago. Red and yellow maple leaves rustle underfoot in the streets of Žaliakalnis, on the way to the Four-year children’s art school, the blinding white snow that sparkles at the ski slopes of Ąžuolynas, the unmistakable smell of the rubber running track at the Track and Field Athletics Hall, the taste of First Communion in the heart of the Brezhnev epoch, the voice of Vytautas Kernagis at a teenage party in the Žemuogių St. or Žemaičių St., the disturbing sacred thrill at the entrance of the Kaunas Drama Theatre lobby, the strong smell of oil paint in the studio of Kaunas artists, meditation sessions with Vytautas Magnus University philosophers and the Franciscan brothers…

These are the origins. I also believe in the future of Kaunas.