(LT) Samogitia and Aukštaitija – Jane Goetzee’s reflective diary (UK)
27th June 2012
Nida Art Colony
Contemporary art practice and art-based radio broadcasts – Neringa FM – on-line to the world but is in Lithuanian language only.
The colony is a department of Kaunas University – the ‘Klaipeda dept’. Linus = manager for 5.5 years, but the new centre opened only 1.5 years ago.
The centre is aimed at 20 – 30 year old art students, and provides live-in facilities and studio space. Artist residencies available here – eg present artist is Polish but lives in Edinburgh.
Students create a themed publication each year – eg on ‘remoteness’. The building is accessible in terms of wheelchair users.
Population in Neringa is 40% older people and the rest mostly people over 35 with families. There is no remit or funding to attract the local community into the centre – although there are regular cinema nights, when maybe 20 or so locals come and watch a film.
Relationships with locals are mainly practical rather than artistic. ‘Elders’ would be expected to receive services from Social Services, rather than from an art centre. Also, they practice their ‘volk’ arts, which are not pursued or taken seriously in any way by the centre. Linus himself has no interest in ‘preservation’. There was a sense of a desire to disassociate from the past. This centre is for and about contemporary art and the art community not about the community it is located in.
The centre is at the tip of the long narrow spit that follows the west coast of Lithuania, on the Baltic Sea. We walked to the beach nearby – it is beautiful, unspoilt, clean and free of any commercialism. The sea was wild and choppy. We climbed up through the forest to see a giant sun dial at the top of the hill. There were sculptures carved into it and engraved slabs underfoot. One read ‘Lux demonstrandum ombram’ or something similar (Light illuminates shadow?) We walked in the woods to a rustic restaurant, all the furniture outside was hewn from the trees around it, with lots of chainsaw sculptures. Peace, trees, unexploited natural grandeur.
28th June 2012
Klaipeda Culture Centre
In Klaipeda city centre, a restored old building – previously a ‘culture house’ – very spacious exhibition areas, and small living spaces for artist in residence, studios and social areas.
Art workshops open to the public but not free. Local as well as visiting artists are invited to exhibit their work. An example of the artworks on show was an interesting cafuffle of coloured tights with balls inside them.
4 staff met with us and spent over an hour answering our questions and listening patiently to our thoughts and suggestions. They openly shared concerns about low attendance to events and activities. They faced a barrage of questioning from us about their operations, without once getting defensive. The communications officer said the locals were ‘passive’ and bemoaned the fact that no matter what was offered people wouldn’t come . He conceded it was sometimes due to clashes with other providers’ events and expressed the need for more communication between organisations. One of the UK participants said the key to getting people involved may lie in participants gaining a sense of ownership of a project. Others from UK said that they recognised the problem, and experienced the same disappointment when there was low attendance at a project.
Afterwards we lunched at a nearby restaurant. The visit to Fish Eye was next… (but sadly I developed a migraine!)
Friday 29th June 2012
Youth Round Table – NGO – in Klaipeda
We met Vita, a volunteer with the Youth Round Table on the top floor of a very modern building belonging to the University’s Social sciences department. The Youth Round Table is actually housed in another smaller building further down the street. It is the umbrella organisation for about 25 smaller and developing youth NGOs. It is 14 years old (or 4?). To become an NGO organisations need only to pay a certain legal fee, but to to join the YRT, they need to have a minimum number of members on their books. The NGOs meet twice a year for seminars. The YRT provides courses in business management, setting up an NGO, publicity and promotion. The member NGOs often collaborate on projects, particularly those focused on youth problems in the city. In this way they are stronger when facing the government with the issues and when asking for changes. The YRT is run by volunteers although the Lithuanian Youth Councillors get paid. Member NGOs receive help in applying for funding from the government or from European sources. Members are voted on to the main round table, where they have the right to vote regarding decisions, activities, policies. Projects typically involve sport and culture with an emphasis on co-operation and mutual support. A twice-monthly interactive radio show is broadcast by the YRT, highlighting particular projects that involve young musicians.
NGOs with members older than 35 tend to join business groups elsewhere. Longer-standing member NGOs mentor their newer counterparts. University and college students’ NGOs are well-represented within the YRT – as are young parents. They may specialise in anything from sailing and basketball to elder-befriending groups. NGOs with inter-generational projects are rare (although Vita seemed very interested in the concept), as is funding for older or disabled people’s projects generally. There are some international collaborations eg with Belarus and Finland, Cyprus and Greece – create a huge database of youth organisations across Europe. There have also been some youth exchange programmes. The YRT is keen to learn from its European neighbours and to share ideas and culture.
Regarding the idea of intergenerational projects, Vita said that they would have to target young people mainly, rather than the elders, to attract funding. She added that reminiscence work was mainly done in schools (eg the ‘packing a suitcase for Siberia’ project).
Getting funding and finding and keeping volunteers is difficult for all NGOs. Youngsters are demotivated. Many move from the city straight after education. Some are too busy studying to take part in projects. The YRT has an annual recruitment fair and school roadshow. They support the member NGOs to make short promotional films to try and get young people interested. The Scouts NGO has good numbers as a result of such advertising.
Vilnius Round Table was created first and is the biggest as well as the oldest member – it is also where the Youth council is based.
After Vita’s lengthy presentation she took some questions one to one after which we went straight into our Lithuanian hosts’ team-building workshop……great fun! Then lunch.
Kulturos Centras in Kretinga
After lunch we visited the culture centre in Kretinga and met its director. We were taken through a very large old building that is being very pleasantly refurbished. Tea and cakes and chocolates were provided for us as we sat around tables, headed by the director and another centre manager. The director addressed us for about an hour – all translated for us by our Lithuanian hosts.
He said that activity in the cultural world did not change throughout the transition from Soviet occupation. The people who were culturally active then are so now. The change is in the content – for example nationalist/communist songs have been dropped from festivals. The centre in Kretinga is home to a 45 year old choir and a 40 year old drama group but new NGOs are encouraged to use the building.
The 16 other centres around the area, in the countryside, are run by volunteers although directors are paid. Centres are often found where the old collective farming buildings had been. Centres in Soviet times were more directive and controlling. Now NGOs work to attract participants, not to force them. NGO project participants and volunteers are often poached by community cultural activists – this affects funding streams. Audiences seems bigger for children’s performances rather than theatre because all the family are involved. People over 30 often use the centre after work, to take part in community activities. The Cultural Centre supports festivals and invites groups to use its spaces on a ‘quid pro quo’ basis but groups from further afield pay to use it, for parties and events. A UK participant asked if a gay event would be supported by the centre. It was felt that it would not be allowed – Lithuania is a catholic country and an event seen to promote any sort of sexuality would not be supported. The Municipality (like UK city council) funds the centre and ultimately decides who is to use it and what it is to be used for.
Saturday 30th June 2012
Molëtai Kulturos Centras
We arrived in Molëtai during a town festival. We met Violeta, who was in traditional dress for the occasion, at the cultural centre just off the high street. Violeta is the centre manager and a community worker.
We sat around her as she told us that the centre attracts about 600 people a year. Among these are 2 art groups, a folk band and a folk-dancing group for young girls. However, events are often under-attended, numbers are sometimes as low as 20. Children’s events, such as a recent Easter one, attracted about 60 people. Happily, some of the country festivals attract about 500. There are 11 other centres in the area, and they often collaborate on projects. Each centre has a committee of representatives from schools and libraries and the public.
We were joined by Irana, another centre manager. She told us how some centres are left to rot. Often it is left to a few individuals to do the work – although the new local priest had let them do activities in the church – where the people were congregated anyway – which ignited community involvement generally.
We made comments and asked questions – our hosts again interpreting continuously. Concern was shown for how Violeta’s whole life seemed taken up with her job, even though she got only part-time pay. She conceded that gossip and lack of boundaries between work and private life was stressful. It was observed that all activities at the centres seem very church-related. It was thought this might limit the scope of projects, and possibly make them exclusive rather an inclusive. There seemed no link between public services and the centres’ activities – eg health services, even though both managers said there were serious health problems in the villages, such as alcoholism. They seemed very open to ideas regarding basing projects around such issues.
We left feeling very aware of the dedication and hard work put into cultural activities by these two nice women.
Sunday 1st July 2012
We drove back into the festival at Molëtai where some of us were to be part of the open-air Living Library. This entails making yourself available – as a book – to members of the public, who can choose to ‘borrow’ you for around 15 mins. Each ‘book’ represented a common stereotypical identity, such as ‘gay man’ or ‘disabled woman’, autistic person’ or ‘Syrian’. When you are ‘borrowed’, you find a comfortable place to sit with your borrower, where you can chat together and where, with any luck, the stereotype is unpicked and jettisoned. We were positioned in the middle of the high street, during a festival, so happily borrowers came and borrowed – and really good conversations took place. Some ‘books’ among us even borrowed other books. Lots of minds were opened, and views shared. We were very impressed with the simplicity and directness of this approach and vowed to launch it in UK asap.
Unfortunately, torrential rain interrupted what was a really interesting afternoon. We had to run for shelter, like the rest of the stall holders. Later on though, we ate together with other Living Library members and settled into a comfortable and very inclusive feedback session in a bar. Email addresses were exchanged and a real sense of comradeship followed us back to our accommodation and our final meal in Lithuania….