Riga – European Capital of Culture (ECoC) in 2014
The main objective of Riga as a ECoC was on growing the cultural offer in the city and alongside this, a desire to increase the profile of Riga as a key destination for tourists as well as cultural players (including visiting artists, theatres and orchestras). Linked to this was the Riga City Council’s focus on ‘expanding’ the cultural diversity of the city towards different genres, difficult types of audiences and different parts of the city so that a wider range of local people could become involved in the cultural agenda. The overall programme for Riga 2014 was divided into 6 ‘topical’ lines- these lines represent themes that helped shape the different activities attached to the ECoC programme. A total of 488 individual activities or projects fell under these 6 lines and made up the programme. Open calls for the project ideas were launched to ensure that the cultural programme was developed from the ‘bottom up’. The European dimension in Riga was reflected in a range of different events and activities within the Riga 2014 cultural programme. This included support for a variety of exchanges and other mobility programmes from across different EU MS. There were also a range of artists and exhibitions which used Riga 2014 as a ‘meeting place’ for international artists to come together and work collaboratively on different activities. Furthermore, 40% of all activities had an international (mostly European) dimension. The Riga ECoC can be seen as being successful in terms of widening the participation of local residents in culture as it carried out a number of specific activities and methods to ensure that it was not simply those interested in high end culture who participated and attended ECoC activities. A key strength of the cultural programme in Riga was its diversity and in particular the balance between large and small activities, high profile international events and small scale local events, different types of artistic forms and levels of artistic quality, delivered in different parts of the city.
The overall programme for Riga 2014 was divided into six ‘topical’ lines – these lines represent themes that helped shape the different activities attached to the ECoC programme. Six lines are as follows: 1)Freedom Street: Issues of power and freedom, as well as commemorating the centenary of World War I – exhibitions, art and music events, theatrical tours, literary readings, open-air cinema, digital laboratories and trade fairs. 2)Survival Kit: Ancient skills and modern knowledge in various cultural forms – creative workshops, seminars, research projects, interactive ecological events, art in public spaces, fairs, competitions, talent shows, performances, discussions. 3)Road Map: Visions of city development – excursions, bicycle routes, open house days, interdisciplinary events, creative areas in the urban environment, circus performances, happenings in unusual places, anthropological documentary films. 4)Amber Vein: The historical Amber Route from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and new European networks – interdisciplinary expeditions, presentations, international photography campaigns. 5)Thirst for the Ocean: Intellectual themes, spirituality and wisdom – international conferences and exhibitions, multimedia events, concerts and cinema. 6)Rīga Carnival: Celebrations, festivals, seasonal rites, concerts, traditional and unusual events and interactive games. The Road Map line contained 117 projects that aimed to stimulate wider participation and was the line with the highest number of projects among all theme lines. Many of the projects that fell under this line took place in places and for people that did not usually experience culture. The Road Map line contained the neighbourhoods programme that ensured ECoC activity was to be found also in industrial zones of Rīga as well as in neighbourhoods and community spaces that traditionally had little in the way of a cultural offer.
Riga, as a ECoC, is regarded as one of the most successful Capitals of Culture, with an unchanging team and resolutely implemented artistic concept; the programme approved in advance by the international jury was implemented and involved 90 different countries. The programmes implemented by Riga municipal and non-government bodies and institutions were of high artistic quality and achieved a high profile both in the local community and internationally; new cultural traditions were established; the numbers of people attending cultural events increased; initiatives were implemented and issues raised with the intention of having a positive, long-term impact on the cultural, social and economic environments in Riga and Latvia. The 488 activities included in the programme ranged from world class events such as the World Choir Games through to ‘pop-up’ street theatre productions found in one of Riga’s 58 neighbourhoods. This diverse programme brought a number of benefits including allowing the programme to be accessible to all of Riga’s population and different types of visitors regardless of whether they were interested in high end culture or more alternative ‘popular’ cultural experiences such as street art or amateur neighbourhood choirs. Putting together and implementing the ECoC programme throughout 2014 involved more than 12,000 participants from nearly a hundred different cultural bodies, national and municipal cultural institutions, and non-government cultural organisations. More than 1,900 artists and representatives of creative groups took part in implementing the ECoC artistic programme. Riga 2014 is characterized by a very high attendance at ECoC events – around 2 million people. Latvian Television viewing figures show that broadcasts of Riga 2014 events, concerts, opera and other activities reached a total of 6.2 million views. More than 3,700 volunteers made a huge contribution to the smooth running of the Riga 2014 Programme.
An arm’s length organisation, the Riga 2014 Foundation, was set up by Riga City Council to coordinate the application and development stages. The Foundation played a central role in the design and implementation of the ECoC programme.
The total expenditure for the Riga 2014 ECoC programme between 2012 and 2014 was 27.3 million euros. 45% came from the National State Government whilst 44% originated from Riga City Council. Funding from ‘other sources’ (including funding from the project delivery organisations themselves) was relatively low. Funding from the private sector (mainly in the form of sponsorship) only constituted a very small proportion of the finance which can be explained by a consequence of the economic crisis. The majority of the Riga 2014 budget (77%) was spent on programme expenditure whilst 16% was spent on communication and a 6% was on administration.
Riga 2014 achieved high levels of activity with relatively small budget. The programme of ECoC was well balanced between different cultural genres, a mix of high end and popular culture, an equal balance of free and ticketed events. Activities were run by large and reputable cultural players, as well as by small community NGOs. Riga 2014 also had a large amount of success spreading the activities and benefits of its cultural programme throughout the city and to a set of residents and neighbourhoods that were not the ‘usual suspects’ when it came to consuming culture on a regular basis. The final key success of the Riga approach to ECoC was around the overall continuity of the delivery team in the Foundation but also the continuity of the support that the Foundation team received from its partners and projects. Data collected in an impact assessment study of the European Capital of Culture programme by an expert working group shows that a weaker aspect was the communication work of Rīga 2014, due to the lack of activity linked to raising the international profile of the city in order to attract visitors from abroad to attend and visit ECoC activities. Audience figures from the Foundation show that only 1.4% of audiences attending ECoC projects were international (i.e. lived outside of Latvia). The number of foreign tourists in Latvia increased by 18.9% in the first half of the year, the second largest increase in Europe in that period. Up to 1 December 2014, there were 1503 foreign articles, reports or TV spots about Riga as a ECoC, created by media representatives from 66 countries (in total, 460 foreign journalists visited Latvia plus around 100 foreign journalists visited Riga for the European Film Academy Awards ceremony).