Aistė Ulubey: “Full integration is not possible without involvement in culture”

Journalist Ieva Šepetytė

In Lithuania, access to housing, good work and quality health care for refugees are not always easy to get. But is food and a bed enough for an educated 21st century person with higher education to feel like a full part of the community? In modern society, integration means a lot more. It is the freedom to join the majority and participate in scientific, artistic and cultural activities together, to develop and realize himself as an equal part of the community.

“Artscape” is the second home for art lovers from abroad

One of the most direct routes to the art world for foreigners is run by the “Artscape” organization. Its members carry out artistic, cultural, social and educational projects, and immigrants are often an integral part.

“Artscape” archive

“Our future is openness and integration through art. Integration without involvement in culture is not full-fledged”, – says Aistė Ulubey, co-founder and head of the arts agency “Artscape”, “Lithuania is changing and diversifying. Cultural organizations need to adapt and think about all minorities in Lithuania, not only, for example, the disabled, but also foreigners. True accessibility will exist when we take into account the people who do not speak Lithuanian and need more information or an invitation. We encourage organizations to ensure audience diversity and audience reach when developing programs and marketing.”

“Artscape” brings together art lovers from all over the world. There you will meet Belarusians, Sri Lankans, Syrians, Afghans, Tajiks and other immigrants living in Lithuania. The agency works in different directions and has three programs. The first is art production: contemporary dance, documentary and applied theatre, visual arts. The second program is integration through art. Its participants work with communities and increase access to culture. The third is an education and communication program in which “Artscape” members train artists and help bring about social change. The agency pays special attention to the possibility for foreigners to participate in cultural activities together with Lithuanian artists. Tolerance in the Lithuanian community increases, and newcomers establish useful contacts.

“If we want to seek change in the world, in Lithuania, we must work in both directions. We, as an organization, focus not only on vulnerable groups. Since 2016 we drive to the centers and create spaces where people can increase their creativity and meet and talk to Lithuanian artists. We invite people to meet newcomers at events or even on stage. An example would be the documentary “Dreamland”, which we did with the National Drama Theater. The performance featured refugees on a professional stage. It was one of the most significant projects that created a lot of discussions. Before creating this performance, we guessed that if the viewer comes and listens to stories for an hour and a half, looks at the living person, laughs at his stories, it will be a good start to dialogue and break the existing stereotypes,” A. Ulubey recalls.

Special attention to art-indifferent children and adolescents

The project manager also says that “Artscape”, together with its partners, is working to increase the network of cultural organizations in Lithuania that would be able to accept the migrant communities. This means that staff will be trained in understanding the needs of newcomers, and should be able to understand what content is attractive to them.

“Artscape” archive

“A great example could be two organizations – Kaunas Artists’ House and the Center for Contemporary Art. Together we have prepared camps for children for the second year in a row. During the camps, artistic activities take place and the venue becomes a home for young people. The Center for Contemporary Art is no longer just a building. It is a house where children know every corner. They invite their families to visit there as well. In other words, through such activities, a deep connection is established and the accessibility of culture increases,” says A. Ulubey.

Unaccompanied minors arriving in Lithuania also have a unique opportunity to join artistic activities in the „Artscape“ community. The agency has five cultural organizations in which, together with mentors, fifteen juvenile refugees and asylum seekers currently volunteer. Children participate in programs, help organize events and educational activities. After a year, young people are already leading tours and inviting their peers to join as a significant part of the organization.

Integration must not become segregation

A. Ulubey assures that there are many stories when art and cultural activities are not only a way for immigrants to feel more accepted in society, but also to become an integral part of their lives in Lithuania.

“We have volunteers, educators who have been asylum seekers or emigrants themselves and just want to help newcomers who live in the centers because they know how difficult it is. Together with our artists and educators, they lead classes. There are many examples where people facilitate the share of newcomers through creativity. Art becomes a tool to start talking. People who work on exhibitions, take part in educations, give interviews, have a common goal – to reduce stereotypes and increase the cultural diversity in our society,” says A. Ulubey.

The project manager assures that cultural organizations do not have to radically redesign all their programs so that foreigners can join. Language is not always a barrier, and art is not always verbal. According to A. Ulubey, to exclude foreigners and create individual conditions is not only inadvisable, but also disastrous:

“Based on mine and our organisation‘s philosophy, there is no need to specifically distribute events to refugees. All you have to do is invite them. No special conditions required, just reach out to people. Improper integration can lead to segregation. So we invite the community to participate together. Let‘s not separate people out into separate groups. Let‘s not allow the language barrier to stop people from communication. And as I said, the right invitation and attention to content is very important.”

At the “ArtVilnius” fair, foreign languages ​​are heard more often than Lithuanian

Diana Stomienė, a member of Vilnius City Municipality, is the manager of „ArtVilnius“, one of the most important art events in Lithuania, and believes that humanity is an integral part of culture, so if necessary, the fair could become more financially accessible to migrants. “ArtVilnius” is attractive to foreigners in that almost 50 percent of its participants come from foreign countries, so the events are mostly in English, and artists can often be heard speaking in their native language as well.

D. Stomienė

“We have very good relations with the French, neighboring Latvian, Estonian, Polish and Ukrainian artists. The event speaks in different ways, but we usually pay attention to what kind of language the participant is most comfortable with. If the message is not in English, then we have an interpreter.

The most important thing for us is the quality of art, not nationality and not gender. We are very open, we have a wide range of foreign participants. One gallery can contain 5-8 artists of different nationalities. It brings together international teams,” says D. Stomienė.

The main area of ​​“ArtVilnius” is the expositions of art galleries. There are presentations of artists, collectors and ordinary visitors. The fair also has a project-educational area, many discussions, announcements and conferences take place. A competitive project “Takas” allows artists the opportunity to exhibit works of an extremely large format.

“Night at the Gallery” – a crowded exhibition until midnight

D. Stomienė singles out another significant cultural event – “Night in the Gallery” – where linguistic diversity also prevails.

“The fair starts on Friday night. We interact with the Center for Contemporary Art, the Mo Museum, where guests can register and visit the exhibitions. You can visit the National Gallery, if you want to go to Kaunas, we organize a trip to Čiurlionis’ or other museums. Although the fair must end at eleven o’clock in the evening, hundreds of people visit during the evening and the events last until midnight,” says D. Stomienė.

Let’s join foreign teams, but let’s not forget national events

Paulius Jurkutis, the director of Vilnius Culture Center, invites foreigners to join the winners of active national and international festivals, song festivals and many competitions.

“Vilnius Culture Center is the headquarters of twelve different groups of art lovers, helping them to develop creative activities. Out of twelve ensembles – five are foreign: Jewish song and dance ensemble “Fajerlech”, Russian children’s and youth theater “Green Lantern”, Polish song and dance ensemble “Vilija”, Vilnius Polish theater, Polish ensemble “Kapela Vilenska”. These art amateur groups are well-known and valued both in Lithuania and abroad. Individuals who would like to join the above-mentioned groups should contact the administration of Vilnius Culture Center or e-mail indicated in the contact section of the institution’s website, write a request to the head of the selected team”, invites P. Jurkutis.

Polish folk ensemble “Kapela Vilenska”

The director of Vilnius Culture Center states that the capital of Lithuania is a multicultural, multinational and multilingual city, where people of different origins and different faiths find their place. There is no shortage of events in the city where we can hear different languages. The Lithuanian Russian Drama Theater, the Vilnius Polish Theater, the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater and other cultural and artistic institutions are rich in multilingual performances. Cultural life is also active in Vilnius communities.

In addition to special events adapted for foreigners, P. Jurkutis urges foreigners not to forget about public holidays, the authentic folk music festival “Skamba skamba kankliai”, Kaziukas fair, where people sell their folk products, traditional song and dance festivals and modern city festivals such as “Days of the Capital, Vilnius Festival”, “Sirens”, “Vilnius Film Festival”, “Christmas in the Capital”, “Vilnius Festival of Lights”. We will hear English or other foreign languages ​​less often, but such events help to get to know Lithuanian traditions better.

Cultural and artistic events, exhibitions and communities for foreigners:
„Artscape“ – initiates and implements artistic, cultural, social and educational projects, provides cultural management services.  http://artscape.lt/en/
„ArtVilnius“ – largest visual arts event in the entire Eastern region. https://artvilnius.com/lt/
Center for Contemporary Art http://www.cac.lt/en
Kaunas Artists’ House http://kmn.lt/en/
Vilnius Cultural Center a multifunctional cultural institution that implements various art and cultural projects in the capital and has five foreign teams engaged in artistic activities. https://www.vilniuskc.lt/en/
Lithuanian Russian Drama Theater https://www.rusudrama.lt/ru/
Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre https://www.opera.lt/en