The year 2022 will be special for Kaunas: the city has won the honorable title of the European Capital of Culture and the team of professionals, who helped to achieve it, – let’s call them KECOC for short (Kaunas the European Capital of Culture) – promise not only an intensive cultural program, but also a transformation of the whole city and its citizens. Intense preparations for this occasion have already started.
What is the current status of KECOC organizers, what kind of expectations they have, what kind of partnerships they are building and how they plan to enrich the city and the district of Kaunas – all this will be answered in the interview with Ana Čižauskienė, the temporary director of the KECOC agency.Kaunas will become the European Capital of Culture only in a few years – it is a long period, how all of this time is used now and will be used in the future?
This program has a long-term perspective, and we, the KECOC team, often have to speak not even about the year 2022, but about 2023, about the impact and legacy of the European Capital of Culture project left for the city.
Five years is a long time to prepare, but as the project seeks to create changes, it requires a large involvement of the organizations and communities from all around the city. We break the preparation time into stages: the first one is devoted to the development of the program and the expansion of partnerships in Kaunas, in Lithuania and abroad. In the second stage, approximately from 2020, we are planning to involve communities more actively and grow an audience of cultural services. And in 2022, the festival itself will take place and it will mark the changes, more active vicinities, youth achievements and cultural innovations. From the end of 2022, the final phase will begin, in which we will seek to preserve the results of the program and to ensure the continuity of ideas.
Frequently, the title of the Capital of Culture is given to European cities that are experiencing certain transformations of identities or are on the verge of a former and future identity. Perhaps we all have noticed that in recent years Kaunas was on the exact same verge. Thus, the program of the European Capital of Culture is complementary and, as a horizontal tool, it helps the city to develop its own changes in various fields – through culture and art.The Capital of Culture – how much this title and the year dedicated to it contribute to the welfare of the whole city and how every citizen may benefit from it?
From the examples of other European cities which were given the title of the Capital of Culture we see that there are great, beautiful stories, and there are some less successful. We are inspired by the Belgian city – Mons, the European Capital of Culture of 2015. The population of the city is just 100,000 inhabitants, but only in one year it welcomed around 1.5 million visitors! Or one of the most commonly mentioned projects – the Liverpool ECOC project in 2008, which has been thoroughly analyzed by presenting an impact analysis of the project. It is estimated that in that year tourism in the city increased by over 30% and the city earned over £700 million. As one of its most important achievements, Liverpool mentions a dramatic change in the identity of the city: citizens began to feel more satisfied with their life in Liverpool and for the first time they were proud of their city.
However, it should be emphasized that the ECOC title is no medication or recipe in itself. This is just an opportunity for the city, and the way the city will use it depends on all of us. It depends not only on the KECOC organization, which is more like the initiator of the dialogue and the organizer of the conversation, but on the citizens themselves, the business community, hospitality, the cultural and the digital innovation sectors. Only by working together we can create great and significant changes.We are constantly talking about the KECOC team – who are the members of it?
KECOC team includes experts from various fields of culture. A large part of them is connected with the academic environment of the city coming from universities with a rich knowledge in the areas such as memory studies, recognition and development of audiences, creative industries, architectural studies and the history of art.
At present, KECOC employs 11 people. The majority of the staff consists of a creative team – mentors and coordinators of different platforms. Outside the team we have a wide range of experts – colleagues, friends, partners. Some of them live abroad and consult us. The others work in Kaunas and Lithuanian cultural organizations.
It is planned that in 2022, the team will employ 35 people – and this is just the internal structure of the organization. A lot of other people will be hired on the basis of various contracts. Is that a big number of people? Not really, compared, for example, with the Mons, which had about 130 people working with the project.What kind of work is the KECOC team doing now?
This year, we have already announced several invitations for the organizations of the city and its district to join KECOC: we invite them to sit at the roundtables and to reflect on the KECOC program, to develop mutual projects and strategies through the dialogue.
We invest a great deal of mind and time into the planning of youth platform and youth project. We have already begun the training program “Kaunas Challenge”: the young people involved in our training program should become the team that will prepare and implement the program for youth in 2022 – since almost one eighth of this huge project is dedicated to the young people.
We expect a long-term result in various city and district wards: the program of “Fluxus Laboratory” is planned – creative points will be opened in the wards where mediators of the Capital of Culture will work, helping local people to get involved in the program and spread cultural ideas in their daily environment. Works of art will appear in the wards and districts, non-profit-making cultural projects will be created, we also aim to create holiday traditions.
Currently, several websites are being created: one of them is the new Kaunas myth site, which will be officially presented at the end of this year. The site will allow anyone – any citizen – to engage in the creation of the new Kaunas myth. We will have a platform for a collective creation of myths, where you can participate, for example, by uploading your recorded video or by writing the very narrative of a myth.
Another forthcoming site presents and popularizes modernist heritage of Kaunas. This will be a significant part of the international project, linking our modernist architecture and culture with an international modernist tradition.