RĪGAS METRS - Pt.2. Hopes and expectations of awarding a second year.

The biggest challenge for anything taking place for a second time is - to fulfil expectations and to prove its relevance. The independent urban award RĪGAS METRS had shown that there is a purpose in its presence, but it would take much more energy and nerve to prove there is a continuation following.
This is the second part of a 3-part retrospective article - how did this indie award perform during the second year, and was there anything new to strengthen their own value?
CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS
Most would agree, any second time should be a bigger bang. And for RĪGAS METRS, at some point, it was. At least, in a more personal and more networked way. First of all, the jury was supplemented with one more expert - art researcher and curator Līga Lindenbauma, that also was to blame of the award ceremony taking place in the grand Zuzeum. If not the connections of her, RĪGAS METRS would still be cosy, maybe larger in scale, but it would be pricier and not as a challenge.

The Zuzeum art space, still called "Dream factory" some 5 years ago, once was a concert hall and an office space. One part of a historical cork and then an experimental hydro-meteorological device factory was run for live popular music activities, and the other part was occupied by the Latvian "Facebook" - draugiem.lv. Around the crisis the social media group moved to new home, while the concert hall began to stagnate. Not far from now it was sold to the most famous Latvian art mecenate Jānis Zuzāns, in who's orders another famous architect Zaiga Gaile will turn the premises into an art museum of his collection. Hence the well esablished name - Zuzeum.

Let's be frank - the space was grand. It already can fit large events, say 300 - 400 people easily. An RĪGAS METRS, a really independent, even underground award at some point - took place exactly there.
Here is a moment, when another enormous thanks for letting RĪGAS METRS in should be gifted to Mr. Zuzāns and all of his team. While larger companies, awards, institutions, even initiatives would have a large decision to make and dilemmas to confront, RĪGAS METRS got total freedom with no suspicion.
It was a monstrously cold ending of February. the temperature on that evening dropped below -16°C; maybe it was the reason there were around 40 visitors. Sadly this number turned out being much smaller than planned - two times less than the first year. But then, again, the ceremony was broadcasted via Facebook and reached incredible 4 times more views than the whole initial year up to now - almost 2000. The event was opened by another great performance of a Latvian musician Vēstnieks, gifts to winners were provided by the very responsive Valmiermuiža brewery, and after-party supported by a super tasty and warming food buffet set up by "110% vegan café" Terapija.

The opening of the award ceremony. © Kristaps Bukovskis.

A SECOND YEAR - RIGAS METRS 2017
For every winner there was again a description of why they have received the title. This year it was strictly agreed between the jury for each of them to write a text to a different winner. The official laureates of the second RĪGAS METRS 2017 urban independent award were:
  • Lifetime achievement award - Pēteris Blūms. If there's anyone, who "atacs and protecs" when speaking about wooden architecture in Riga, this is architect and heritage expert Mr. Blūms.  Dedicating his whole life to protecting and understanding heritage of wooden (and not only) housing as well as bringing its stories to mass audiences, has cemented Mr.Blūms into minds of Rigans. Therefore a lifetime achievement award is only mandatory to someone, who maintains memory and presence of the real speciality of the old school city.
  • Anti-award - The temporary house of New Riga Theatre at Miera street. In Latvia there is a popular term - Euroremonts. It describes a housing repair trying to replace everything old and sanitize everything Soviet or industrial with inglorious and tasteless French ceiling, plastic windows, weird and flamboyant wall paint, composite materials, drywalls, hollow plastering etc. Everything you imagine. And, despite New Riga Theatre being possibly one of the best contemporary theatres in Europe, during their own house reconstruction the troupe got relocated to this - Eurotrash. The kitschy looking ex-tobacco factory was completely sanitized, LED-ed, and plasticized to fit all needs to a tasteless visitor.
  • Offshore award - Valmiera summer theatre festival. Only running for a couple of years, this theatre festival, gathering more than 5000 viewers, became what it really meant to be in 2017. The essence of Latvian contemporary, nonconformist, experimental, poetic and urbanist stage arts taking place on stages, in backyards, ruins and industrial areas, you name it. It was also a conformity that the award was presented to a theatre festival showcasing several premières to children and families, keeping the younger generation interested and educated.
  • RĪGAS METRS 2017 (in alphabetical order) - activist group "For trees in Riga". A spontaneously created activist group in Riga protested and protected dozens of trees along the possible "Cemetery Tram" project mentioned in the last RĪGAS METRS' article. At first, it was a direct call to action again literally pointing out one of Latvia's most important treasure - trees - been not taken care of the council in general (in fact, such activists were publicly called nincompoops by the mayor Nils Ušakovs himself). At second, "For trees in Riga" created a wave of enthusiasts protecting our largest oxygen machines in cities beyond borders of the capital.
  • RĪGAS METRS 2017 - activities and coordinators of "Saving Āgenskalns' Market" initiatives. Āgenskalns market is a work by Reinhold Schmaeling - the city architect of Riga more than 100 years ago and the man who holds the title of another last year's winners - Reinhold Schmaeling conference. Thus - this peace of architecture is, for sure, a masterwork resembling many European brick market halls now turned partly or totally into multifunctional food courts. As you might realize by now, this was not the case with Āgenskalns market. A centre point of a legendary neighbourhood, the pavilion was managed so poorly for decades it needed to be closed because of lack of decent amenities, and possible danger to visitors. Again, the city council had vicious plans to "manage" the space , that would sooner or later lead to deconstruction, privatisation and further disappearance of funding, if not the local activists, entrepreneurs and communities organizing collections of signatures, support events and, eventually, winning the rights to maintain the market. In less than a year Āgenskalns has its heart back, not in the previous glory, but it envisage a great future a-coming.
  • RĪGAS METRS 2017 - anonymous bike road on Brīvības street. In one morning suddenly there was a fragment of a well suited bike line painted on the main Brīvības street of Riga. Its creators still seem to be anonymous, yet the appearance of such element (previously being stated as impossible by the city council) took Internet by storm. Hundreds were posting photos of this "miracle" being discovered and then posting two times more Instagrams of the municipal police and road workers trying to liquidate such artwork. The point was emphasizing the crisis of non-existent bike lines in Riga (while there are large space on streets in Riga for cars not used daily) as well as Brīvības street becoming more and more degraded and uninhabited because of the massive noise and air pollution and lack of friendliness to pedestrians and cyclists.
  • RĪGAS METRS 2017 - creative space "D27". From inhabiting a floor or two in a few older houses in Lastādija last year, Free Riga rejuvenating initiative took over a completely abandoned, but well maintained 4-5 storey residential house in the city's poshest area - the Quiet "Klusais" Centre. This house soon became one of the best examples of alternative placemaking in Latvia. Very soon after the D27 building (after the address on Dzirnavu street 27) became a the main domain of vivid, colourful and sometimes weird, yet essential exhibitions, events, micro-communities and, of course, people.
  • RĪGAS METRS 2017 - Inese Andersone. Inese became a symbol of educated, enthusiastic women being possible of participating in the city council. She emphasized a positive turn entering politics of Rīga, later becoming a kingpin in resonating between the municipal mess and the residents.
  • RĪGAS METRS 2017 - conversation festival "Lampa" in Purvciems. From giving a sympathy prize to activists last year to receiving one the next - that was a road of success in RĪGAS METRS to the first and game-changing conversation festival "The Lamp". Running a free of admittance event in Cēsis town for several years, "Lampa" decided to promote the festival in Rīga, too (where the majority of visitors come from). Yet they chose a large, infamously famous and afar neighbourhood a.k.a microrayon Purvciems as their location. It became again much visited, yet began another wave of popular interest from such public events being attracted to "secondary neighbourhoods".
  • RĪGAS METRS 2017 - web page Pilsētacilvēkiem.lv + Riga Tactical Urbanists. Pilsetacilvēkiem.lv got awarded a second year in the row, this time also being accompanied by a group of interdisciplinary urban activists, thus generating a very entertaining and even satirical, yet seriously dedicated year to city life. Apart from doing the regular research and activism (just in scale several times larger than previously), in 2017 this team also began a large campaign of informing about the wasted, yet potential of Rīga's city planning to Russian speaking population. In short - in 2017 they created an atmosphere where everybody feels it's important to take part in action.
  • Community award - Organisation “Dzīvnieku brīvība” (Animal Freedom). "Dzīvnieku Brīvība" is a non-profit animal advocacy organisation in Latvia working toward ending animal suffering in industrial agriculture, fur farming and entertainment industry. In 2017 their biggest achievement, apart from organising discussions and meat-free events, was to polarize the society around wild animals being used in Circus in Latvia. Although there was a tough resistance from some post-Soviet mentality politicians, the society leaned toward such law to take place. Eventually, like in many other XXI century countries, the parliament accepted all changes, and the circus scene in Latvia became more human and finally contemporary. It has lead to younger generations of stage artists, actors, creatives, and curators taking large part into organizing such scene as well as pushing the reconstruction and preservation of the dilapidated Riga Circus House. 
  • During two weeks there were less unique public votes than on first year (401), mostly cast by people aged 21 - 43 and even more by women than before (69 %). "Dzīvnieku Brīvība" though received more votes than the previous community winner - already 166.
Again the event was important for both thanking the activists as well as giving them and other enthusiasts to meet and greet. The whole purpose of the award ceremony has always been to strengthen such relationships. But, after both events, there was something missing - all participants, nominees, visitors, fans, community, all residents needed a push to be more networking-able than before. For successful changes in the capital this seemed an essential part. That is why a new RĪGAS METRS Summer forum was created - to do so.

RĪGAS METRS SUMMER FORUM 2018
On a very hot day in August the first urban activist forum in Latvia took place in a new rejuvenated suburban post-industrial creative quarter Tallinas 10. It was a few months after the mayor of Rīga Nils Ušakovs made his infamous statement calling all activists "pajoliņi" or anything you can come up with translating fools, nincompoops, dumb asses, and similar. This served as the last drop for RĪGAS METRS to expand, not only to award some individuals, but to unite them with the community - reaching out to find new enthusiasts, developing a common sense of activism being part of urban life, not a privilege or punk deed. After such replicas from the long-term head of the city is seemed like - now or never.

At RĪGAS METRS Summer forum 2018. © Alfrēds Ulmanis.

The forum began with a little introduction speech explaining "What the FUCK is RĪGAS METRS?" and then continuing with a discussion "activism during the age of populism". Such theme was more important in the light of elections coming up the same October, and many political forces were using populism to change mindset of those not being involved into any activism at all. It turned out that counter-initiatives to fight for a fair development of the city also follows development of intelligent, demanding and interdisciplinary people.

The participants were architect and activist Oto Ozols, activist and the director of Žanis Lipke Jewish saviour memorial Lolita Tomsone, CEO of an social initiative platform Manabalss.lv Imants Breidaks, and the founder of RĪGAS METRS Mārtiņš Eņģelis. After the discussion there was a "free mic" announced for other initiatives to introduce with themselves and explain why their work matters.


After public debates, discussions and monologues the event took an informal turn. Since Tallinas 10 creative quarter began its journey to subcultural popularity last season, RĪGAS METRS Summer forum was hitting the right spot of uniting the activists and the hungry ones - new, curious minds, that happened to be around and begin forging new plans and relationships. Maybe there were no hundreds of people, but the overall atmosphere undeniably prepared new connections and projects. Or, at least, they promoted courage to the old timers of activism.

PATIENCE, INSISTENCE, AUDACITY, IRONY
At one point such event, more like the necessity of it, seemed quite depressing and demotivating. Why would a XXI century city even have such events to discuss whether activism is important? Even so - why is there a city of such size and importance in Europe still struggling with remains of 70's and 80's mindset in Europe? On the contrary, the end of it leading to informal discussions, meets-and-greets gave a powerful hope that, no matter what, it is quite impossible to kill the independent spirit of younger generations in Riga.
During the public programme most of the audience and participants on stage came down to a conclusion. If there are four features that are necessary to run successful and fierce activism in the times of political obscurantism ruling in Riga and that can save urban independence - its patience, insistence, audacity, irony.
But, let's be honest - these might be the same tools used by the municipality, only the other way round. For smothering ideals, good deeds and experiments for promoting ignorance and pushing selfishness as far a possible. Maybe the second year of RĪGAS METRS awards was not as impressive as planned, maybe the community vote was not higher than on last year, but the Summer forum proved - there is no one else to fight for the rights of residents but only the residents themselves. We, Latvians, might be proud of being exclusively introvert, but, if the burden is to heavy - we will need to carry or drop it all together.


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