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Capital of culture under threat

  • 2008-12-17
  • By Justinas Vainilavicius

CULTURE PAYS: The widely advertized Capital of Culture project may face drastic budget cuts as the government tries to slash spending.

VILNIUS - The European Capital of Culture 2009 (VECC) project financing may cut in half due to the economic crisis. The government has announced that its cost cutting effort will seriously affect the national budget, including the funding for the VECC project.
VECC, the public institution responsible for commissioning and implementing the Capital of Culture events, proposed a 12 percent saving plan. This, however, may not meet the Ministry of Culture's position, which aims to reduce the financing by 50 percent. The Vilnius City Municipality, which is another sponsor, would also reduce financing as a result.

"Reducing the funding by 12 percent is the most optimal way, as we could still hold the status of Capital of Culture. If we lose more money, this name will make no sense anymore," said Albertas Baranauskas, press officer of VECC.

If the 12 percent cut passes, organizers could call off some of the events and projects that are still not signed and sealed, such as Cramfields festival. But they would have to squeeze the program into 5 to 7 projects, if the funding was brought down to the minimum. The opening events alone will cost 3.5 million litas.

The original VECC 2008-2010 budget was set at 105 million litas. This included 41.9 million litas from the Ministry of Culture and about 16 million from the municipality. Private companies are also supporting the event.
"The municipality is responsible for administration and marketing financing, whereas the Ministry of Culture finances the cultural part. If they cut funding, there will be fewer events, therefore less expenses on administration and marketing," said Gintautas Paluckas, Vilnius Municipality Administration director.
Paluckas also said that municipality representatives are going to meet with government and Seimas (Lithuanian parliament) members in the united session of the Seimas Committee on European Affairs and Committee on Science and Education, where he expects the state will decide to keep the planned financing for VECC.

"The same financing of this event should have been included into the new budget automatically. We have to save and we can do this by saving up to 8 or even 10 million litas, but such a drastic cut means the conception itself of the Culture Live Vilnius will fail. People think that half of events would still take place after reorganized financing, but actually much more wouldn't be held," he said.
"The government found money for rebuilding the Royal Palace of Lithuania and for Lithuania's 1,000 year anniversary events, I don't understand what stops them from doing the same with this one, as it is a good opportunity for a city and a country to advertise around the world," Paluckas said.
Vilnius is expecting up to 15 percent more tourists in 2009, but the global financial crisis has affected the tourism industry as well.

"This is an issue, but cultural tourists usually bring more money with them," Paluckas said.
The Austrian city of Linz, another European Capital of Culture 2009, does not face these kinds of problems. 
"Linz has a different situation. They decided their budget on the project three years ago and it has remained unchanged. The financing they have is almost twice as big as ours," Baranauskas said.

"The purpose Linz and Vilnius seek is also different. Linz's program is more Austria-oriented in order to show the country that there is more in that country than only Vienna or Graz. Linz was an industrial city and now it is a capital of culture. Vilnius, on the other hand, is seeking international attention both for itself and Lithuania, as these names are still not widely known," he said.