RIGA - While all cities develop in different ways, certain trends seem to be universal. One such trend features a run-down part of town becoming inhabited by poor, struggling artists who inevitably form a sort of cultural epicenter in the once-desolate neighborhood. As more and more cultural events take place there, the bourgeoisie take interest and pour money into developing the area for their own use. Property values skyrocket, the cultural events begin to cater more to the high-class newcomers, and pretty soon the poor artists are forced to find a new place to create their works.
Andrejsala, an area in northern Riga near the port, is a shining example of just this sort of development. The area is a collection of once-abandoned warehouses and port facilities that the young arts community has claimed as its own. It now has a few spontaneously thrown together bars and clubs, decorated mostly with creative graffiti and comfortable old couches. These places offer the rare chance to stroll around outside, with a relatively inexpensive drink in hand 's Andrejsala being one of the few places in town where drinking outside is tolerated 's and scope out some of the newest trends in art around the many single-room galleries scattered throughout the old warehouses.
One of the less traditional galleries, for exemple, is a giant steel cage with paintings, sculptures, or photography at the back. There are often short films or theatre productions playing at various points around the area. Almost as a testament to the artistic nature of the place, people here ride around on long, lowrider-style bicycles with large cup holders 's bikes designed right in the Andrejsala garages.
The bars and clubs in the area play mostly underground electronic music and hip-hop by local DJs, but famous musicians occasionally come through for a show. The dance halls blast music loud enough to be heard and enjoyed by the revellers outside.
On most weekends, a late night visit to Andrejsala will reveal the hundreds of pierced, tattooed, dreadlocked and baggy-clothed individuals who make up the most important part of any art community. They can be seen sitting cross-legged on the cracked concrete landscape around large 's but well controlled 's bonfires, passing around bottles of wine and large conical cigarettes that clearly contain more than just tobacco.
Near the back of the long row of old warehouses is an old Soviet boat that was harboured there for repairs that were never completed. Its outside walls are covered in intricate graffiti. While it is technically forbidden to climb on the boat, during the big parties people jump the fence and stroll along its roof. There are broken windows, just barely big enough to squeeze through, providing entrance for those who want to explore the ship's ransacked interior.
Critics of Andrejsala point to the dirty and dilapidated condition of the place, hoping that more reputable businesses will find its prime location 's an easy walk from the center and Old Town, with a long waterfront and a nice view 's enticing enough to fully develop it and drive the miscreants out. Supporters point to it as one of the only places young impoverished artists can gather together to feed off each others' creativity, not to mention throw block-wide parties. Development firms seem to be taking a sort of middle ground, willing to invest in the area but eager to keep the cutting-edge, artsy atmosphere that makes the place unique.
Signs of change are rapidly sprouting up around Andrejsala. They began with significant interest from a major real estate development agency, SIA Jaunrigas Attistibas Uznemums (NewRiga Development Enter-prise), which now has rights to work in the area. Next came a sleek, professional looking Web site, and street signs directing visitors to the area started appearing.
Then on May 3, a tourist information booth opened, marking a major step in Andrejsala's development. Valters Mazins, chairman of the board of JAU, explained the move in a press release the same day. "Establishing a dedicated information center during early stages of a project is a new trend among real estate developers. I believe that the center will serve our visitors very well and those interested in upcoming events and processes. [â€¦] We also look forward to facilitating our communication with organizers and contributors to new projects of arts and culture," he said.
In an effort to keep Andrejsala as a locally run, culturally cutting-edge area, JAU has opened certain aspects of the new design to a competition titled "Creation of Outdoor Functional Design Objects for Andrejsala." The company hopes this will be the first of a yearly series of competitions aimed at keeping Andrejsala fresh.
"The objective of our competition is the creation of design objects that are original, enhance the urban environment of Andrejsala and improve the quality of life for the local people, while also contributing to progress in the area of design in Latvia. Emphasis on arts, culture and design is the trademark of Andrejsala, which will ensure that it becomes a favoured tourism, recreation and residential area," Mazins noted in another press release.
Submissions will be taken both from professional designers and students, as long as the plans are environmentally friendly. This year's competition will focus on design plans for illuminated and un-illuminated systems of signs and guideposts, as well as designs for outdoor benches and trash bins. Submissions are to be evaluated on their originality, suitability for the environment, functionality, ease of production and material cost.
The competition will take place in two separate rounds, the first of which is already underway and will continue until June 21. The second round will run from July 9 to Sept. 14. The results of both rounds will be announced in October.
JAU's eventual plan envisages the 700,000 square meter Andrejsala peppered with modern looking, high rise buildings, about 65 percent of which will be residential space and social services. Twenty percent of the space is allocated to offices, hotels and restaurants, about 10 percent to commercial use and just 5 - 9 percent to cultural use.
Anyone interested in seeing first hand what Andrejsala is like will be interested to know that there are three major events going on there in the coming days.
From May 29 until June 14 the Powershop and Garages gallery will be hosting an exhibition showcasing the work of sixteen different artists, all students from the Latvian Academy of Art.
The night of May 31 marks the opening party for an exhibition entitled 'Urbanologic,' at the Andrejsala's Center for Contemporary Art. The exhibition, which is part of the massive French Spring festival, is themed on the conditions created by a dense urban environment and their affect on private and public space. It runs through July 1.
On June 2 there will be a one-day maritime 'water festival,' organized by JAU, with sailing, art, music and children's activities.
More information about the events can be found at Andrejsala's official Web site, www.andrejsala.lv.