Interview: Vilnius Festival important trendsetter in the Baltic countries

24 June 2009

In its 13-year-long history, the Vilnius Festival was an important setter of “social and cultural trends in cultural life in Lithuania,” says Ruta Pruseviciene, Executive Director Vilnius Festival, in an interview at the occasion of the 2009 EFA General Assembly and Conference on “Artistic Trends in Festivals” in Vilnius - European Capital of Culture 2009. European Festivals Association (EFA): “Artistic Trends in Festivals”: Where do you see the relevance of this topic in the broader creative ecology? Ruta Pruseviciene (RP): Trends are about choices, choices are about taste, taste is very individual. One could spend days discussing artistic phenomena and trends. Organising festivals and other musical events means debate and communication. It happens often that one experiences some artistic events that one does not like but it raises a lot of debate about the ideas that are expressed. In Vilnius – European Capital of Culture – festival organisers participate in a fierce political and social and cultural debate. In 2009, every artistic event in Vilnius has inspired the debate, not just about the budget, but also about the value of culture and its added value in the long term of every artistic phenomenon. It is important to ensure sustainability. EFA: To be creative and innovative is only possible in an environment that is favouring these developments. How can you, as a festival organiser, cope with the challenges imposed by the current situation? Do you have to go mainstream in order to secure sponsors, win the support of politicians and attract large audiences? RP: Festival organisers take the risk that the choice, individual taste and trends do not correspond with the ones of the audiences. One does not have to indulge the audiences; one does not have to shape the programmes according to some of the general cultural trends. The Vilnius Festival is an excellent example: 13 years ago, when the festival was founded, it set a social and cultural trend in the cultural life of Lithuania. That period was marked by a huge decrease in audiences, especially in the field of music. It was risk taking and a huge challenge to invite world celebrities in the field of music and ask them to work together with young Lithuanian artist. Without the support of some very wise politicians – long-term thinking politicians – this would not have been so successful. The Vilnius Festival has been working on filling some of the niches, on winning back audiences, commissioning works to Lithuanian composers; it has produced several contemporary operas and ballets, oratorios and symphonies. The Festival survived the big criticism from some of the listeners and sponsors. Today, the festival still chooses the artists itself and sets trends; its courage has inspired many festivals in Lithuania. Today, in Lithuania almost every artistic niche is covered. EFA: The Vilnius Festival also hosted the second FestLabCeremony. Why is it important for your festival to engage in this kind of activity? RP: The Vilnius Festival is honoured that it was able to host the second awarding ceremony of the FestLabPass. It is very important to our Festival to give impulses to the FestLab for Creativity and Innovation. It is crucial for us to be present and active in the European culture arena. The FestLab not only makes the voice and mission of festivals heard all over Europe. It practically stimulates collaboration and co-production among festivals from EFA membership and beyond. With our creative approaches, the inclusion of unusual venues, the work with young artists etc. we succeed in reaching new audiences and thus raise awareness. Ruta Pruseviciene Ruta Pruseviciene has been the Executive Director of the Vilnius Festival since 2001, and General Director of the National Philharmonic Society of Lithuania since 2006. Since January 2007, she has been a Member of the Lithuanian National Board on Culture and Arts and a member of the governmental coordination committee of Vilnius – European Culture Capital 2009 and Millenium of Lithuania. She started working for the National Philharmonic Society of Lithuania and Vilnius Festival in 1997. • FestFlash on Creativity and Innovation No 2/June 2009