Lithuania’s ‘Little Paris’ Ready to Show Off Its Cultural Prowess

On a Saturday in January, over 40,000 spectators crowded into the streets of Kaunas, despite the freezing temperatures, to take part in a music, video, dance, and light-filled kick-off celebration of the city’s year as a European Capital of Culture 2022.

The European Capital of Culture kaunas lithuania
Kaunas, Lithuania was chosen as a 2022 European Capital of Culture. The celebration will feature hundreds of events highlighting the cultural marvels of the city. Photo: Martynas Plepys

Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania after the country’s capital Vilnius, is ready for its time in the spotlight. For opening night, the massive glass façade of the Žalgiris Arena near the city center was turned into one of the largest projection screens ever in Europe. The air rang with the sounds of music written by the internationally renowned Lithuanian composer Antanas Jasenka and performed by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra and Vilnius Choir.

Five years in the making since the city’s nomination, the initial offering of this yearlong celebration of art and culture brought together more than 300 musicians, dancers, and poets to tell the story of Kaunas as a living, evolving marvel. The opening production, “Confusion,” was part 1 of the Contemporary Myth of Kaunas Trilogy, which was created for the program. The second and third editions will premiere later this year.

Chris Baldwin, director of “Confusion,” explains, “The opening show has a positive message at its core; that we face the struggles of life through the cultures we share and the stories we tell one another! So, although this show is a story of Kaunas, it is also a story for Lithuania and Europe. It contains the voices of Kaunas, the buildings of Kaunas, and the stories of Kaunas past and present – but they are stories we can all relate to.”

The European Capital of Culture is an EU initiative to highlight the culture at the heart of European cities by supporting a year-long celebration of art and culture. For 2022, three capitals were chosen: Kaunas, Lithuania, Esch-Sur-Alzette, Luxembourg, and Novi Sad, Serbia. Each location will feature various cultural events to emphasize the richness and diversity of their cities.

Between 1920 and 1939, Kaunas was not only the capital but also the largest city in Lithuania. It was even nicknamed’ Little Paris’ at the time, thanks to its rich cultural life. Architecture and design played a significant role in this designation, and the city later received a European Heritage Label. Kaunas was also the first city in Central and Eastern Europe to be designated as a UNESCO City of Design. Today, it remains an important center of Lithuanian economic, academic, and cultural life.

While the yearlong fete started with a bang, the rest of the year promises even more to come. There are over 1000 events planned in total, including over 40 festivals, 60 exhibitions, 250 performing arts events, and 250 concerts. The organizers’ ultimate goal seems to be on track: to inspire a creative renaissance and a new post-pandemic future in Kaunas.

Cynthia Sklodowski

freelance editor and writer from Dallas, Texas, who has been living in Warsaw, Poland for over a decade with her husband and 2 kids. She has worked for publications such as Cosmopolitan and Seventeen, and is still hard at work trying to figure out the Polish language.

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