11 / 02 / 2020

Coordination of Cultural Life in Tukums: An Outsider's Take

Author: Emīls Ķīlis

Last week Anda and I attended the third seminar dedicated to the cultural strategy of Tukums. As far as I understand, this will likely be the last seminar for a good while, unless additional input from stakeholders is necessary to develop the document. The next event in this series will probably be the presentation of the first draft of the cultural strategy, and it will take place sometime in June 2020.

The first thing that struck me was that this event was much better attended than the previous one in January. I tried to count the number of people in attendance, and I stopped counting at around 20. Some left before the end, while others arrived late. My best guess is that the number was somewhere in the range of 20-25. Many of the participants had also attended the previous seminars, so it appears that the process is still hugely reliant on self-motivated stakeholders.

The event began with a quick update from Jolanta (BALTKONSULTS). She said that several people had sent her written feedback after the previous event. The comments will be considered when working on the strategic framework, which was presented in January. On a more negative note, Jolanta mentioned that no more thematic group discussions will be organised because the last one was rather poorly attended.

The focus of this event was the calendar of cultural events for the municipality, though a discussion on international cooperation had also been planned. The calendar was one of the first ideas that emerged in the discussion between the ROBUST research partner (us) and the practice partner (Tukums). It might appear to be a trivial and uncontentious issue at first glance, but, surprisingly enough, the inability to agree on a common cultural calendar is indicative of several frustratingly sticky obstacles within the municipality.

The moderators/researchers from BALTKONSULTS presented their assessment of the existing plan and calendar of cultural events. Both the calendar and the plan are available on the website of the municipality. However, it seems that the information provided can leave one feeling somewhat confused. Public events organised by public institutions are listed, though there is not enough information to give the potential attendee a good sense of the nature, scope and target audience of these events. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the information is intended for “insiders” (for people who already know about the event and simply want to know the time and date), or “outsiders” (people who are not from Tukums). It quickly emerged that the plan made available on the municipality’s website is for internal use, rather than public consumption. Consequently, the fact that some information is missing is not surprising. This, however, brings up the question of why this plan is publicly available. Apparently, this is because some members of the municipal government have requested it.

The conversation eventually touched upon the fragmented nature of the publicly available information on cultural life in the municipality. In addition to the website of the municipality, the tourism information centre also provides information about cultural events in Tukums. Furthermore, the information centre receives information from many institutions (incl. private ones). At this point, a participant stepped in and noted that incomplete and occasionally conflicting calendars in different places can be a problem. A kind of structure should be imposed so that the cultural offer of Tukums is clear and transparent to both insiders and outsiders. While there was disagreement over the specifics, it was generally agreed that fragmentation of information is a problem, and a single calendar would be preferable.

One of the potential benefits of a unified calendar would be that there would be relatively little overlap. The overall sentiment was that private events can overlap, though the organisers could get in touch with the municipality to check that there are no clashes with big public events. Public events, on the other hand, should not overlap. This, however, brings us back to the question of the target audience. Some sporting events have a cultural element (e.g. singing, dancing), and it is quite possible that a clash with a different event would not be an issue, because there is little or no competition over the same audience.

It was noted that some solutions have been tried, but they did not seem to work for the simple reason that planning is complicated. For example, who would be responsible for making sure that the calendar was up to date? Should employees of the municipality keep track of everything that is going on? Should the organisers inform the municipality? Furthermore, which event should be included in the calendar? Should a pottery class, which is, in principle, open to everyone, be advertised on the calendar? Who gets to decide which events should be listed? Finally, there was an interesting discussion about whether choir and band practices should be listed. At first, it appeared like the obvious answer would be – no, of course not. These are not public event. However, it was indicated that making sure that people know about them is important because it shows that the facilities of cultural institutions are being used even if they do not host public events. A further illustration of the problems associated with planning was the simple fact that cultural houses do not communicate about their plans for the coming year, though it was acknowledged that this would be an easy thing to fix.

In view of the above, it does not seem surprising that the participants were ambivalent about the solutions proposed during the meeting. Specifically, the idea of a new position (coordinator of cultural events) was floated, and an online platform was also suggested. I cannot say that there was resistance to these ideas, but there was certainly palpable scepticism as to their viability.

Finally, the seminar once again showcased the fact that there are different perceptions of cultural life. There is no outright conflict, but there were signs of disagreement as to whether the cultural offer was sufficiently diverse and struck a good balance between “high” culture and “popular” culture. Are there enough activities and events for younger people? Do they even need a separate cultural offer, or should the same event simply be marketed in a different way?

In summary, the people invested in a unified cultural strategy for the municipality broadly agree on the need to coordinate cultural life in Tukums. What is more, to an outsider at least it does not seem like the obstacles that are preventing the municipality from doing so are insurmountable. Certainly, new routines would have to be established to exchange information, inform others about planned events in a timely manner and maintain an up-to-date calendar with sufficiently detailed entries on cultural events. However, the number of agents involved would surely be small enough to keep track off. Nonetheless, I got the impression that there is a kind of ill-defined pessimism and passive reluctance to change things that I fear might get in the way. Let’s hope I’m wrong.