A guide to Riga’s Creative Districts

  • 2012-02-02
  • By Antra Feldmane

CITY GUIDE: New book shows where to go to experience the creative side of Riga.

RIGA - Do we need a decent, good quality guide to find cozy bars, French-style baguette restaurants or fancy vintage shops? Definitely. Is this all about making new things and innovations? Certainly. Thus, a discussion about how to come up with pure creativity is too complicated for a single review in a newspaper. But let’s take a simple look about what exactly is in the brochure “Creative Districts of Riga 2011-2012.”

“Creative Districts of Riga 2011-2012” is a research guide that presents creative and/or creative business ideas and participants in the city. This brochure is done by Ieva Zibarte, an architect, curator and Lukabuka brand manager together with her team members Matiss Groskaufmanis (architecture, research), Evelina Ozola (architecture, research) and Andrejs Strokins (photography). “We went to every place included in the research plan in order to test everything ourselves,” says Zibarte. She also explains that places (cafes, restaurants, clubs, shops) were chosen in order to prove a positive impact for the urban environment, also adding active event production, creative business practices and public access. The result is available online to everyone (and also in print, but for this you have to walk to Riga Congress Hall, where the Riga 2014 office is located).

The basic idea of researching and writing about creative districts in Riga began in 2009 when Zibarte was working on “Process Vol.2,” a book based on city development criticism. “It was a deep crisis period,” says Zibarte. “All big projects were stopped, a rather depressive time. At the same time, small entrepreneurs started their work by opening new places around the city and offering new products. Research results about these places were published in the same year, and new offers followed in 2011. It was sponsored by Riga City Council and included a grant from the EU in order to go further into the research. Zibarte admits that the term “district” is a general one. “It refers to different elements of city structure. Street districts, additional plots and others.”

“It’s, in fact, a good idea - to sum up city places that represent new ideas besides commercial targets,” comments Laura Brokane, journalist of Neatkariga Rita Avize. “The brochure is quite handy, geographically solid and with enjoyable visual material,” she adds.

“However, some questions appear when we talk about the target audience. If the brochure is meant for tourists, why is it not in English? If it is for the city guests, who will be attending Riga in 2014 as the European Capital of Culture, where can we see a preview for culture events?” she asks. But if the information is in Latvian, Brokane adds that she would like to know more about the history of the creative districts around the city. And some European experience, too.”

The content is divided into additional parts, for example, the industrial VEF area, Miera Street, Kalnciems district, Spikeri and many others. Photos by Andris Strokins are, no less, bright, colorful and charming portraits of people residing in those districts. Still, these pictures might be more vivid in life’s sense of impurity, but the important thing seems to be that a photo here is a marketing tool. It has to represent an idea, but the real experience comes afterwards and, no doubt, according to everyone’s own opinion. If the bar/shop/club is good, this is all worth it, it isn’t just a well produced ad, etc.

Thus, some participants appearing in the brochure are very controversial. For example, Cafe Bonera states that they sell ‘finely used’ clothes. I must admit, I do not get it! Either it’s new, or it’s used, right?
Also, what does Golden Club on Gertrudes Street mean by ‘intelligence and sexuality?’ Because, when I open their Web site, it seems to be either a gay club or some kind of a swinger’s place. Anyway, the gay scene has always got along with creativity. You see it in Berlin, London or Amsterdam, so it works. Anyway, there should not be a place for such slogans as ‘intelligence and sexuality’ when aiming to be an open-minded/creative society.

A heavy accent of the brochure’s content is an open conversation with the creative district’s residents. This makes sense when finding out answers about state support. And here comes the truth: the owners of La Kanna restaurant mention bureaucracy, the pressure. Elina Dobele, from shoes design brand ZoFa, also agrees and adds that she would like to do more in her business instead of dealing with lots of paperwork. Renate and Laura from houseplant exchange Majas Svetiba wish for an easier way to pay taxes.

There are, indeed, good examples of how an organization can make the process easier. Art center Totaldobze gets a significant discount from rent payments. In one or another way, the good value of discussion is in here, in this brochure.
It might help to make this a better city. Apparently, there are lots of things that have to be done for keeping creative districts in healthy shape, such as through common dialogue between both sides – the state and creative participants. This might be good material for the next brochure. In English, too.