Where? Why? With whom? Introducing Kuldīga, Latvia

“DemArt” commissioners introduce the locations and communities they want to work with, mentioning historical, economic and geopolitical aspects and social context. They share their dreams and expectatios that cultural activities, visibility and public engagement can bring to the actual lives of the residents.

Where we are?

Origin of the ancient Kuldīga can be explained by its location on the crossroads of waterways and routes. Today the town is popular with tourists, known for its restaurants, landscape and cultural offer, the picturesque urban environment has been appreciated for many decades by artists. Families also move here from the capital, since various social services are available, various vulnerable communities are supported. Kuldīga has Europe’s widest waterfall – the Ventas Rumba with a Blue Flag beach and nightly open-air cinema in summers.

The number of inhabitants in Kuldīga is 10,710, however the population has decreased within the last years by 12,5 %. In the age group 16-18 years, the number of inhabitants decreased by 35%. It is expected that by 2040, the number of chasers will drop by 30%. At the end of 2020, the proportion of long-term unemployed people in Kuldīgas county was 28%. The proportion of people of pre-retirement age who were unemployed totaled approximately 17%.

Employment sectors: Manufacturing (23.4%) (production of wood products, food, clothing); Retail and wholesale trade (20.9%): • Agriculture, forestry and fishing (15.9%), Construction (8.0%).

Priorities of the municipality of Kuldīgas county: well-being and safety of the residents, business development, sustainable living environment in the city and parishes, quality education, culture and heritage. The cultural and entertainment priorities provided by the municipality are oriented towards the involvement of families, promotion of tourism, and celebration of holidays. The operation of the library and museum is ensured.

The education of interests is mainly related to 64% of the cultural sector. In 2022, a branch of the Latvian Art Academy opened in Kuldīga with a new international study program in service design. NGOs have been organizing the Democracy Festival for several years, and an artists’ residency provided by the municipality also operates in Kuldīga.

Local values and untold stories

The communities of Kuldīga would need to create a new environment where they can come together, create a place where local communities would have the opportunity to meet contemporary art. The cultural activities provided by the municipality of Kuldīga are oriented towards the involvement of families, promotion of tourism, and national holidays. The activities include events such as City festival Feast in Kuldīga, Spring show “Flying fish in Kuldīga”, Family car adventure ‘Dullā maijvabole’, Kuldīga picnic by Māras pond; • Herzog Jēkabs city fair, Art kaleidoscope ‘Fire and Night’,  Bee Day, Independence Day of the Republic of Latvia, etc. Only a small part of it touches the quality, diverse offer of contemporary art and it could be improved significantly.

One of the promising initiatives is Kuldīgas Artists’ Residence with art exhibitions of various genres are held periodically. The artists’ residence was established in 2013, and yearly around 20 international, professional artists, as well as more than 40 art students can participate in various residency projects. In general, this project is a good example of successful cooperation between the municipality and the non-governmental sector. Artists’ Residence supports the process of creating works of art and residency programs in cooperation with Latvian and foreign art academies, characterized by professionalism, creativity and the philosophical message. It attracts new talents and energetically strong ideas, which are reflected in the exhibitions in the Gallery of the Artists’ Residency with possible far-reaching national and international resonance. They focus on visual art projects and art gallery activities, as well as creative industry (design, architecture) projects. Currently, the selection of artists in the residency programs is by invitation only.

Also various cultural events take place in the quarter of Kalku Street – such as concerts, fairs, DJ nights. The legendary ‘Kļaviņš  Piano Concert Hall’ invites visitors to concerts, establishing new and unusual traditions. The new concert hall is a space for creative innovations and experiments, which hosts virtuoso world-class artists, hosts internationally important concert programs, amazing visual art exhibitions and theater performances. It is unique place with the piano “M189” created by Dāvids Kļaviņš, a master piano builder. The 88-key, single-string, open-body concert-sized musical instrument of the “Una Corda” series, intended for concerts and recordings of compositions. At the moment, “M189” is the only piano of its kind in the world.

In 2023, a decision was made to include the old town of Kuldīga in the UNESCO World Heritage List and this aspect has become very central to the Region. Although it is important to local residents and they feel proud for their town, it is important not only to find a place for tourism and UNESCO, but also for us local residents to feel at home in Kuldīga and invite guests – tourists from other cities and countries. There are not many such places that are not related to UNESCO  in Kuldiga at the moment.

The Festival of Democratic Arts is one of the good examples that promotes community cooperation with the festival. The festival consists of a self-created celebration of democracy, during which democratic values are highlighted and skills are trained for life in a democratic society. It raises various socially important issues and will also focus on greener, more environmentally friendly living today and in the future. The events are educational, entertaining and family friendly. And also shows great interest of the local society to engage in such events and a great number of enthusiastic people willing to host it. But the festival only takes two days in summer, attracting visitors from the capital and other socially active public. Kuldiga should be able to maintain such a focus longer and to systematically continue the conversation in which, with the help of art, new ideas are sought for how to live together, to be authentic, speak openly and be accepted for who you are.

The recently opened branch of the Latvian Academy of Arts, alongside the Democracy Festival shows the activity of the residents and expresses the self-awareness of their region. From a long-term perspective, we would need a place dedicated for such activities, maybe even create a new art quarter – combining diverse art objects and genres.

While the local museum and institutions focus on historical regional research, restoration, and the public’s understanding of the historical urban environment of Kuldīga, we would like to address the question: what Kuldīga and its people are today? If we want to establish an attractive place for culture, a meeting place for like-minded people and individual development, where people meet to communicate, work and relax together, it has to be made in close collaboration with the needs and ideas of local people.

The 2022 Dynamic University study on the educational and demographic situation in Kuldīga shows that many residents of Kuldīga are interested in the cultural sector in the broadest spectrum. The number of students at Kuldīga Technology and Tourism Technical School is constantly increasing. Also, schools practice inclusive education – individual growth of each student. Attracting new pedagogues is being achieved, and the ‘situation’ of education is assessed as good.

People appreciate the clean and orderly environment, safety, infrastructures, but there is a strong lack of the material and moral motivation for students, teachers, artists, and active citizens to continue their endeavors. In our opinion, people of Kuldīga are still affected and tired of loneliness and isolation brought by Covid time and the new geopolitical upheavals, inflation and social insecurity. They need a constant moral boost and places where to gather, meet and socialize – in communities of different age groups – to see and support each other.