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Gintaras Karosas, artist, creator of Europos Parkas and Liubavas Museums
On May 18th, 2012 Europos Parkas museum participated in the fair Museums without Boarders in the Vilnius Town Hall square
The museum's pick-up with the grass in the Town Hall square
THE CHALLENGING ESTABLISHMENT OF EUROPOS PARKAS, LITHUANIA’S FIRST NON-GOVERNMENTAL MUSEUM
Gintaras Karosas’s speech in the Scientific Conference Lithuanian Museums: from Dionizas Poška’s Bitterns to The Palace of Grand Dukes held at the Town Hall on May 18th, 2012 .
The endeavour to be the first in the post-independence Lithuania to open a museum by a non-governmental organisation presented a challenge, the experience and problems of which I would like to share with you. The establishment of a new museum, just like any other creative undertaking, is first of all related with the concepts of intuition, dream, vision, artist’s self-fulfilment and the will to embody an idea. This is reminiscent with a long and exhaustive mountain climbing, expecting to see the promised wonderful landscape. On the way up we discover a whole variety of sights.
In the process of creating Europos Parkas museum there were two main fields of activity: the institutional, or the managerial, and that of the aesthetic value, or the artistic landscape creation-embodiment. The essence and value of a modern and contemporary art museum in the open air is the artistic landscape, which is now under development. This is not a cultural heritage that we inherit but rather the heritage that we want to develop and pass on to the coming generations. An open-air museum has its peculiarities as it is a museum of aesthetic landscape. It is always in a particular place in situ, nowhere else, and its essence lies in its genius loci. The spirit of the place, or the aura of the landscape, takes time to create as it requires thorough acquaintance with the location and polishing it for years. It takes hundreds or even thousands of times to pay a visit to the place that you are designing, getting to know the space in different seasons and times of the day, and constantly learning from your mistakes. The most efficient way to achieve this is for the artist-creator to submerge in the environment under development and the creative activity to become the project of his life.
The nature is perfect in itself but it is not a cultural value and it is not adapted for people. We are bringing in the cultural element to it. Being a landscape artist, I have set myself the goal of turning an abandoned forest in the valley of the River Neris into a cultural object that would represent modern Lithuania by infusing it with the semantic idea of a cultural polylogue taking place in the European geographical centre. It was my aspiration to create a landscape with aesthetics and musicality, so that the choreography of the environment and art objects gained the effect of surprise, while retaining the aura of the initial naturalness that would give the viewer the pleasure of discovery.
Sometimes landscape design is unreasonably underestimated. While at Europos Parkas, viewers often do not pause to think that nature by itself does not create an adjusted and comfortable relief and it lacks the aesthetic factor. The same applies to the British style parks, which give the impression of naturalness although history tells us their development cost no less than the construction of the estate itself. Sometimes transportation of large art objects requires building roads so that machinery weighing several tens of tons would be able to reach the site. Later the roads are covered with soil and sown with grass in order not to disturb the feeling of naturalness. Also, a lot of other infrastructure is not visible to the eye, such as the drainage, sluices or ground reinforcement – everything is covered by the grass.
We are one of Lithuania’s first non-governmental organisations. I recall the complicated process of registering a non-profit organisation: the articles of association were examined by the Ministry of Finance. A long period of sustained effort led to the registration of the first non-governmental institution in the district of Vilnius on 9 March 1993. A bank account was opened and we have tried collecting support. My parents were the first sponsors of Europos Parkas and after the institution was registered, we used the funds of the first USD 500 aid to acquire a printing machine and tools for the first international symposium of sculpture.
The evolution of Europos Parkas reminds of the road that Lithuania had to walk from the restoration of independence to the present day. The difference is that upon the receipt of some support, we had quite limited resources. It was a time when the institutional process was underway and simultaneously we had to convert an area of wild nature into an artistic park landscape and introduce the project to the public. We must admit that the beginning was much easier: low environment maintenance, salary and tax costs depending on the number of people employed, etc. Now the burden of landscape maintenance, (open-air) art object restoration, salaries and taxes of several tens of employees, without which the activity of the museum is unimaginable, rests heavy on us. Every year, taxes to the national budget alone constitute around one-quarter of a million litas.
I am convinced that employees of any museum are hard-working people who are dedicated to their occupation. We also work hard, not counting our work hours, performing many tasks to save museum’s funds at the expense of new staff members, otherwise we would not survive. For instance, personally I head the institution and also work as a landscape, architecture, painting, photography, paste-up artist, an engineer, and now the researcher of the estate of Liubavas. Similarly, every employee of the museum performs many tasks, sometimes very different ones.
If created by the state, a museum like the Europos Parkas would have cost the taxpayers several tens of millions of litas. In this case, the state barely had any expenses with regard to the project. The non-governmental museum’s taxes and cultural tourism promotion brought the state, i.e. all of its citizens, a benefit of several thousand million litas, not to mention the subject of the country’s image. Thus, the state benefits significantly from non-governmental museums.
It should be borne in mind that the state is obliged to implement fair redistribution. European experience shows that a museum that provides the society with a high culture product cannot survive without state support. Unfortunately, in Lithuania the green light is given to never-ending events, majority of which fail to create any lasting value whatsoever. We create a sustainable cultural value for the generations to come. The museum, which has become the country's business card, is now suggested to address a fund which does not support what is the foundation of such a museum, i.e. the material for pieces of art and environmental design, the lease of technical facilities, the salaries, etc.
The Ministry of Culture has a programme for financing continuous events from state funds but up to now there is no programme that would be suitable to support the development of Europos Parkas. Paradoxically, although some events are held annually, they are not as continuous as the activity of the open-air museum. Nothing happens if the succession in a festival’s routine is interrupted; if one stopped taking care of the park, on the other hand, it would turn into a forest again.
The Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania has announced 2012 the Year of Museums and the fact that the Europos Parkas is already counting over two decades of activity is a reasonable factor to bring to light the issues faced by non-governmental museum. The third non-governmental sector operates in the field of museums, too, and is the guarantee of democracy and efficient use of national funds. The state, however, must co-operate on the premise that it is not a private but rather a public sector (just like the budget institutions), and it cannot exist without support. The accessibility of its cultural product is essential to the entire society. The public sector does not seek profit and caters for the public interest.
I am extremely hopeful that I will be heard. It does not require much for Lithuania to have at least 50 non-governmental museums in the next two decades instead of 5 that we have now. Dear Ministry of Culture, please promote and create programmes not just for anyone but present programmes that are suitable for non-governmental organisations which have proved the meaning of their activity. We, the third sector, have voluntarily assumed and stand by our commitment to perform the state’s function in the field of museums with the aim of spiritually enriching our country and ensuring that national budget expenses for support would be minimal. After we reach our retirement age and become no longer able to do the work, we will leave the museums created thanks to our consistent effort to the state as our creative contribution to the culture of Lithuania.
I would like to conclude my report with a story I heard from a person heading a non-governmental museum in the south-western part of Lithuania. While on a visit, a group of people from Mosėdis museum expressed regret that there is no one to act now as it was Vaclovas Intas himself who put all the stones in their places. Should the creator of the museum received state support back then, he would have created much more. The state support is needed now that the museums are being created and not in the future when the state only has the obligation to take care of their maintenance.
Whatever the challenges, the creation of a new museum is an extraordinary act, the meaning of which overshadows any hardships. The thought of our creations of today living for many years to come and serving the cognitive resources for future generations raises our hopes.
artist, creator of Europos Parkas and Liubavas Museums
12 May 2012