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Little Footprints Guiding to Andrejsala?

One of the most committed supporters of Andrejsala's arts activity is the Rīga City Council's Department of Culture. In order to discover the capital's strategy for managing the local arts life and to discuss the newest phenomena and, in particular, the role of new arts districts, we talked to Diāna Čivle (pictured), who's the director of the department and a nominee for the City Council's 'White Sparrow' award.

 

Let's start with a review of Rīga's leading arts events in 2007 and perhaps also look into those scheduled for this year. Is there something completely new on the horizon, apart from the well-known traditions?

Last year, Rīga's arts calendar marked a number of happenings that have indeed established themselves as traditions. These are essential for the city; we have the traditional folkloristic celebrations and other types of annual public events, such as the town festival and the Pre-solstice Market. The White Night too demonstrated its stability and at the same time innovation and distinct character. The White Night helps artists to have more opportunities for showcasing their work and the public seems to develop a curiosity toward contemporary art.

 

'Garden of Light' at A. Kronvalds Park during the town festival of Rīga in August 2007. Photo by Andrejs Strokins, A.F.I.

For 2008, I would like to highlight the Festival of Light, starting on the 14th and ending on the 18th of November, the national independence day. The Garden of Light that we saw during last year's town festival was its pilot project. It's attractive and stimulating to people, therefore we believe it may become a recurring one.

 

Rīga's mayor has said that various types of aquatic and nautical sport competitions should become a recurrent tradition and that the waters of the river Daugava could be used more actively. Have any plans already been made regarding this?

Last year, the motto of the town festival referred to the use of aquatic areas, and [beside the entertainment] it was also a way of showing the hidden potentials of Rīga. The events on the Daugava embankment turned out to be a great success, therefore also the upcoming year 2008 town festival is going to keep the theme of "waters", as we will use both the Daugava and the canal. 

 

Many cities in Europe arrange their festivals on the basis of partnerships between the public and private sectors. How well does this work in Rīga?

Our last year's festival showed that this cooperation develops in a very fruitful way. I wouldn't say that the cooperation format is completely mature yet, but it is the right way for us to go. I've talked to my colleagues who are responsible for the arts life in other European cities, and they admit that more often than not these kinds of events are funded with private money. It's understandable why it's different here, because the actual state of the economy meant that, say, four or five years ago it was still pretty difficult to engage sponsors and partners. But there's a magnificent example with this year's song festival: three major businesses, Latvijas mobilais telefons, Latvijas krājbanka and Aldaris, have made significant contributions to the event's funding. It just sprung from these companies' own initiative, national pride and realisation of the importance of arts and culture. It's exactly this type of experience that fosters further cooperation.

 

Do you agree that arts events could help bring degraded territories back to the city's life? How strong an instrument is culture, when attempting a revival of neglected areas?

I think that arts and culture can indeed be a very potent tool. Quite often arts activity is what brings a problem to the foreground and adds it to our to-do list; it is a joint effort by us [officials] and by the many organisers of events. I can mention, for example, Bolderāja's art group, who keep discovering and publicising many interesting things and, being well versed in the cultural history of the district, they often show a perfect example of how to carry out proactive initiatives. Some of the projects are about documenting, but there are also get-togethers and the encouraging of people to find out more about the environs. There are actually plenty of good examples.

 

Diāna Čivle, director of the Department of Culture (left) talking with the interviewers from andrejsala.lv.

Three areas, Andrejsala, the future complex of the National Library as well as Spīķeŗi are currently regarded as potential hubs for cultured, intellectual and creative development. How should the city at large become involved in these projects? For example, what would be the main trends in the cooperation with Andrejsala in the nearest future?

When speaking about the creative industries as a way, or as a mechanism, we should talk about arts incubators, and as I can see these things have partially become the reality both in Andrejsala and at Spīķeŗi. However, their development has been rather spontaneous and the best ways of doing things have established themselves through everyday business. This year, we have applied for EU funding in order to begin a cooperation of nine European cities, during which they will exchange information regarding the creative industries and the creation of such incubators. The project is expected to result in a city-level support system and in a validation of the efficiency of the existing methods. Regardless of whether and how the current activity in Rīga will have changed, the project foresees the creation of an arts incubator's pilot project. The project also makes space for a series of seminars and campaigns that will explain to all the target groups what the creative industries really are, as the term is often used in a variety of meanings but is still not quite understood. It's a multi-layer project, and the analysis of the inception and workings of both Andrejsala and Spīķeŗi is one of its components. Not that we don't understand or don't notice the processes, but the exchange of experience would help to become more aware of the pros and cons of various methodologies and to decide on what to plan for the future.

Andrejsala is a prime example, since the project started to bear fruit very rapidly, while I, observing it at its early stages, felt that I should ask the reality-check question: "But what about later on?" From the very beginning, some amount of risk was factored in: every participating artist had to take into consideration the condition that the residency in Andrejsala would not last long. Now, the artists have begun inquiring what location they could move on, because a synergy of their joint activity has come to life and they know what they like about it and what inspires them – so they wish to be able to continue with something similar.

 

One may have noticed, however, that disused industrial buildings, such as factories and other sites, in fact abound in this city! 

I've been to a number of such locations where there are arts incubators now. They are very individualised and unlike one other, each having a distinct set of rules and practices. In some of them, the private initiative prevails; in others, it’s the arts or the communal activity. In Rīga these things were born without any particular plan, as if playing by ear. I can imagine however that this period is ending and, if we intend to build upon it, we have to set some objectives. Artists are artists... But when they intend to embark on more extensive projects, you have to learn to plan. I must remark that the planning skills among the creative circles become more and more efficient. For example, writing up project documentation was problematic for many just a few years ago; nowadays, there's experience and, as a result, a vast array of exceptional undertakings with competent management.   

 

Your department's website highlights several dozen major arts and entertainment events. What are the key evaluation criteria for events that apply for support?

The rules and objectives differ at every call for proposals. In the beginning there was one single large call, however it turned out too complicated to have one set of criteria for all of them, since the applications were rather different. In the last few years I have backed a system that allows every well-founded project to receive municipal funding. At the moment, there are five different calls, such as the smaller contest for event funding and the call for applications from organisers of traditional events; there's also a new one, the festival funding programme, which may offer financing for up to three years.

 

Visitors of the Rīga's town festival's events in Andrejsala.

The Department of Culture has backed several festivals that have been returning to Andrejsala (for instance, Skaņu mežs and the White Night). How would you describe your cooperation with Andrejsala and its artists in residence to date? Do these happenings fit in well with the rest of the city's art landscape?

We've assisted with a whole range of projects based in Andrejsala, and we're happy we can do this. In a sense, Andrejsala's events are relevant for a relatively marginal audience, however they also do have a role in developing the [respective] sector. Let's say, Skaņu mežs is part of the electronic music and multimedia movement. It's a two-way cooperation, where the city and Andrejsala contribute to one another. There have been many discussions about Andrejsala's artist groupings and on possible ways of stimulating the city's contact with it. It seems that the numbers of visitors at Andrejsala's events hasn't been growing. Likely, the comparatively small audience can be explained with the particular tastes and trends associated with Andrejsala. And yet, the White Night showed that there are intriguing ways of attracting bigger numbers of spectators.

 

Have you come to Andrejsala to any of the events?

Of course! I'm not your typical bureaucrat and, if one works with arts and culture, it would basically be impossible. Therefore, I actively take part in the organisation of events and I just can't sit still when everything's bustling around. I'm relating this from the point of view of someone who's Rigan and who's the potential consumer of these events. Maybe this is by sheer chance, but all of the Andrejsala happenings I've attended have been quite successful. The one thing that perplexes me is why there aren't more people coming to Andrejsala, since the quarter is in a mere 7 minutes' walk from the city centre. During the French Spring festival, we invited artists to create outdoor installation pieces that would serve as guideposts directing visitors from the centre to Andrejsala. One idea would be to stick some stickers of little footprints on pavements that would literally lead people to Andrejsala.

 

The 'Imanta' culture and recreation centre opened 13 years ago. It happens to be the last structure built specifically for the needs of Rīga's arts institutions.

On another topic, do you think there are enough schools in Rīga with art and arts management programmes? Also, while reviving the arts life in the outer areas of the capital, it has been proposed to create an appropriate network of public libraries.

No, there aren't enough fine art schools – for example, even if music education is among our best-managed sectors, the respective schools cannot accept all potential students. There are blind spots also in terms of the spectrum of education; in dance, you can attend higher education programmes, but secondary education is nonexistent. All of the novel genres of art – media and multimedia – still miss practice-oriented educational platforms. Regarding libraries, which also have a part in relaying arts education and offering access to information, I have to say that they are very good as libraries, which alas is not that evident from the buildings' state of repair and appearance. There exists no main building for the Rīga Central Library, potentially working as a hub for its subsidiaries. My colleagues in other European cities top their lists of cultural establishments with libraries and schools. In our case, the role of libraries, and of the city's public libraries in particular, has started to be appreciated only during the last few years.

 

In Rīga, we almost never see an arts centre or establishment move into a completely new building. The few newest examples that house institutions working under the supervision of the Department of Culture were built years ago.

The most recent one is the Imanta arts and recreation centre, completed in 1995. I'm glad that the issue of buildings has been set in motion, as there had been years upon years of investment dead zone. Currently we're renovating several architecturally and culturally meaningful buildings: the Ziemeļblāzma arts venue and the building in A. Kronvalda bulvāris 8, which is intended to be used for arts education. There are also plans for new institutions, for example in the Latgales administrative district of Rīga; our city needs not just premises to be used for arts but also new and interesting architecture. There's a new exhibition space in the underground floor below the Mayor's Office, already attracting a lot of visitors (Rīga Art Spaceeditor's note).

 

The 'Ziemeļblāzma' arts and culture venue in Vecmīlgrāvis. Photo courtesy of www.vietas.lv.

Does the decision to build new structures mean there's not enough space in the city to attract wider public to arts happenings?

It's an entire area of work, whose importance shouldn't be underestimated. There are so many other attention grabbers. How do we spend our leisure? Perhaps in an easy chair, in front of a large TV with a hundred stations, surfing the web. All that basically stops us from participating in the living culture. It is important to be present and to participate. Unfortunately, our public becomes less active, therefore we have to invent ways of reversing the process and provoking people's interest to attend events. Some major components in this process, as well as in the fostering of people's aesthetic sense, is the quality of the environment and the emergence of new buildings and architecture.

 

Rīga is a metropolis, and this kind of cities usually exhibits the development, growth and interaction of different cultures. Is there a co-existence of Latvian and non-Latvian cultures in the capital?

There has always been a presence of multiple cultures in Rīga and, being a representative of the Department of Culture, I notice also the activity of the minority cultures. I think the various cultures get along quite well. In Rīga, there has been a long-running issue of the proportion between Latvians and russophones, however the times when this problem frightened us into being silent are now gone. I do not see any acute difficulty at the moment and, besides, art is not based in language [alone].

 

If Rīga had to be compared with the other Baltic capitals, Vilnius and Tallinn, is our environment fertile enough for guaranteeing a healthy growth of arts?

I'm convinced it is. We are resourceful and Rīga is the city of inspiration. There's no more panicking and whimpering about a lack of funding. As administration in the sector of arts matures and improved management provides a sense of stability, there can be a renaissance of creativity. In other words, I'd say our development has a nice perspective.

 

Thank you for the good news and your interesting point of view.


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