I am currently attending Institute for Public Art-Research Network meeting in China, where I’ve been invited to talk about my work in Kaunas. I am very grateful to College of Fine Arts, Shanghai University for the opportunity to share my work and meet colleagues who share the passion for public art. You may read an abstract from my speech below.
‘Šilainiai Project’: Connecting people and places through art
The microdistrict of Šilainiai is the largest residential complex in the city of Kaunas, Lithuania. Built in 1980s, the area and its residents make up more than 50,000 people, however there are currently no space or centre for cultural events or activities. The local library is the only non-commercial space for residents to come together or to have any sense of a community gathering. They usually have to travel to the town centre or the countryside in order to spend any leisurely time.
During my research into the history of Šilainiai, I had discovered a large number of creative people living and producing work within this area, but later found out that none of them had any recognition whatsoever. I found that young people of whom desire to follow a creative path were unable to pursue their ambitions, due to the lack of support and space for them to practice and share ideas. Even a larger number of residents who simply want to engage in activities closer to home or after work, there is no place for. Having lived in Šilainiai myself, I have noticed that the people within this district have become disconnected and the communities fragmented.
In 2015, I started the ‘Šilainiai Project’ in order to address some of these issues. The project has 5 branches of activity:
• Šilainiai Archive
• Walks and Talks
• Events in Unconventional Spaces
• Artist Residences
The project is ongoing, but already some positive changes have came as a result, e.g. A growing number of people actively participating in local events, new creative support networks being formed, abandoned and unused spaces are being utilised for creative activities and new artworks inspired by Šilainiai are being created. What is also important is that the volunteers and team members from this project are all developing the talents within their field as well as learning new skill sets via practice and social interaction. But what I found most interesting and rewarding at the same time, is that the residents of Šilainiai are starting to reconnect and are finding new connections with the place they live in. Through creative activities, they have the opportunity to re-examine their personal histories and the relationships they have with this place.
This process can affect each and every person in a different way. It can evoke such feelings of nostalgia, curiosity or even be part of the healing process from past trauma. This is invaluable for each participant as they in return will be a lot more connected, encouraged, inspired, and ultimately content living in Šilainiai, and that is a lot.
Since the start of this project, culture de-centralisation and better access to cultural activities has become an important part of the official strategy within the culture sector for the city of Kaunas.