European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Cultural program - some questions (2013)

The city has just been awarded by the European Commission the Melina Mercouri Prize which amounts to 1.5 Million Euro. The award is given due to having developed, so the reason given by the European Commission, for 2014 a rich cultural program (see press release).

The program has following broad categories:



Some questions


Would it be possible to bring together composers? Certainly they seem to be the key for putting texts into music, whether now just for a musical performance or for an opera. The question is why so often ECoC cities conceive themselves to be a national platform to show their own talents, as if the legacy of Bob Scott continues to prevail. Bob Scott insisted on each ECoC to be the national representative, but this amounts to a negation of the European dimension.

See interview Interview with composer Jānis Lūsēns:


World Choir Games

It will be held in Riga, from 9 to 19 July, 2014.

Again two opposite poles are being created as if Europe is by now too small for the global outreach and at the same time, the need to develop a national cultural identity comes through insofar as a main quote stands out on the webpage announcing the event:

„Singing in Latvia is not just a symbol of its independence. It's an important part of every Latvian's soul. Riga is an excellent place to organise this event.” - statement made by Günter Titsch, president of German culture organisation „Interkultur” (organisers of World Choir Games)

Whatever outstretches the 'soul', it is brought home as if Europe and its musical tradition can be reduced to that. At the same time, it reminds of a saying by Jeal Paul Sartre when describing the Blues as a soul music. He maintained this music reaches so many because it touches upon an universal human pain. Since Sartre 'universal truths' have been negated as if they do not exist while soulless words are used to suggest something never coming close to what the word 'soul' originally meant.

Also the word 'Games' suggests an imitation of the Olympic Games. Any Games have to endorsed by some kind of spirit. Of course, a choir is a strong category in music and can be linked to church music but also to what used to be the chorus in Ancient Greek Drama. Exactly the nature of a choir is to intensify the human voice by many singing together and in chorus. 'Ave Maria' would be one such song which resonates when many voices sing it. Said simplier, it recalls as well singing in a group, of singing together a song.


In preparation for 2014 several European films shall be shown to become acquainted with European film directors. They shall be shown at Esplanade 2014: the meeting point of the ECoC in Riga.

A part of next year's program shall be the European Film Academy Awards Ceremony in Riga. Naturally by then the EU/USA Free Trade agreement will be known in terms of what impact it will have upon the European film industry. There is the main interest in France to consider its cultural products as 'exceptionelle', and not to be treated as ordinary commercial products. The European Parliament has heeded the advice of the Cultural Committee and asked the European Commission to exempt culture from the Free Trade Agreement. As Strauss-Kahn would put it, the European side has to stop being naive about the intentions of the US negotiators as they aim to have American standards be accepted, and then everything else will follow from that. The fight for having culture exempted may, therefore, be undermined by precisely another mechanism once agreed upon. It would be interesting to see what discussion about European film will reflect the new realities, given crowd funding schemes for many films by now, and a film industry deploying ever more technological devices for virtual reality effects. Thus the categories being proposed to familiarize the audience with European film appear to be very traditional and out of date compared to what reading is required to relate to the newest film take and trend.

Literature as theatre

Like in a take for making a film, after clicking under the category 'theatre', only two highlights are mentioned, and when clicking on one, up comes not theatre but an interview with a poet and writer who has just received the highest Literature prize in Latvia. Interesting is what answer the poetess / translator Ingmāra Balode gives to following question:

How do Latvian poetry and Latvian poets look in the context of contemporary European poetry?

"It seems there is no shortage of shared themes and concerns. I perceive a peculiar balancing between hope bestowed by a historic time no longer burdened by so many authoritarian regimes and being able to enjoy more freedom, many more technological possibilities and a great insecurity at the same time about the thinness of the ice we are actually standing on. If you listen to poets of roughly one generation in festivals, this theme is pervasive, as well as inability to perceive things in perspective. Everyone inhabits their small spot in the present. ‘I am here and now, but what’s to come next, I don’t know.’"


Yet is that not precisely the theme of Riga, namely to transform uncertainty into trust into creativity?


Now the confusion reigns. Under this category can be found references to sculpture, photography, even Warhol on film, but no where in sight a writer. Perhaps the website needs some re-working.

If desorientation is rapdily becoming a first impression, it matters to find out if this reflects more an inner state of turmoils with great uncertainty on how to keep a balance between various forces. Latvia has no easy stand, politically speaking. There is the ever presence of Russia, and it can easily lead to either over or under reaction. And it creates triple if not even more tasks: emancipation of the Russian dominance, finding the own national identity while integrating into the European space. As if not enough, these national categories would all do damage to artists, for then he or she would not be recognized for the own sake of being a good artist, but because of being Latvian or Polish or Russian. Yet how can an artist be treated as if a part of the national flag? 


Here museums appear, but also a 'walk over roofs to get a bird eye view of Riga, and then Riga being introduced in Italy. The latter is done in collaboration with the Italian Embassy in Riga and the Latvian Tourism Development Agency. Two events will take place in Ravenna and San Marino. Reason given is interesting for following reason, since it indicates to what extent the ECoC concept becomes a marketing concept in terms of 'cultural tourism', and thus the highest possible art is a successful public relations strategy. Thus it is stated quite clearly that

"Italy was included into top priority incoming tourism markets in 2013 while Emilia-Romagna is one of the biggest tourism regions in Italy. Besides, 80 000 tourists from Italy have visited Latvia, therefore, for Latvia this is a serious input. The number of Italian tourists visiting Latvia is increasing from year to year.
While attending both seminars, Aiva Rozenberga, the programme director of "Rīga 2014" foundation and Linda Penka, a representative from Latvian Tourism Development Agency, plan to introduce Riga as the destination for culture and entertainment tourism. Also representatives from tourism institutions, tour operators, journalists are planning to attend seminars. Delegates from Italian cities standing for the European Capital of Culture in 2019 will join them, too.
"Rīga 2014" presentation in San Marino is curated in cooperation with The Secretary for Foreign Affairs in San Marino.
Official contract signing between Ravenna community and The National Library of Latvia is planned during Ravenna visit in order to curate Ravenna cultural heritage –  traditional mosaic, display at the Library in 2014. Italy will hold the EU Presidency in 2014 while Riga will be The European Capital of Culture."


Naturally things have to be funded, and there exit statistics about tourists coming to particular destinations. Hence it is only natural to target an outstanding group. Also no objection against combining this with some representative art works e.g. traditional mosaic. If that gives access to people in Latvia to Italian culture, fine, but there is a need to go beyond the commercialization of culture and be critical as to what tourism does itself to cities at risk to become something like a museum. This pertains in the widest sense to how cultural heritage is being treated in Europe and what forms the dialectic between preservation and promotion. As this is not an easy question to answer, the concept behind the Riga program needs to be explored, best done when looking at the bid Riga did to acquire the designation. Otherwise the European Commission has to be questioned when always claiming a rich program when in fact it is a commercial adventure which is realized while the real efforts for the arts are forsaken. 



Perhaps one answer to the above question about the concept can be found in what appears first of all an overview as to what will create the atmosphere / environment of Riga 2014. And then it is announced that following discussions shall take place Saturdays as to following crucial quesiton:

"How can we change our life around the neighbour area by taking an active participation? How do we see the environment we live in?"

Aim: "The aim of The European Capital of Culture programme is to obtain the accents change in society from a passive culture consumer to an active participant of various society movements."

Again, with regards to the previous remark about the danger of over commercialization of a program, especially when reduced to that of a cultural tourist one, this stands in a healthy contradiction at first sight. Of course, the question is if a question can initiate the kind of participation which will not only involve local residents in preparing for the cultural year (given now the time limit of six months before the crucial official year starts in January 2014), or if not some clear impulse must already enemate from the Riga 2014 foundation by signaling a clear understanding on how it wants to contribute to a 'culture of sustainability'.

As to the methodology envisioned, of interest is that the term 'creative hub' is not used, but direct engagements of neighbors is sought:

""Rīga 2014" event organizers will share their knowledge at "Esplanāde 2014". It will be a conversation about next-door neighbours, flower planting and common work on improving courtyards, help for idea collecting when residents are able to make impact with their thoughts on city environment. It's a story of those people who have not learned how to express themselves. Latvian Foundation for Landscape Architecture "Rijada", The National Film Centre of Latvia, projects "Lielā talka" ("The Great Help") and "Ideju talka" ("The Help for Ideas") and "Iesakņotāji"  ("The Help for Enrooting") as well as City Development Department of Riga City Council will share their knowledges."




Hatto Fischer

Athens 19.7.2013


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