Diaspora art to exhibit in Cesis

  • 2013-12-18
  • By Lelde Kalmite

RETURN HOME: View of first PLMS traveling exhibit, which opened in Valmiera in 2008

CESIS - For countries to regain their independence after half a century of foreign occupation, as was the experience of the Baltic States in the 20th Century, it is an unusual historical event that has a number of important cultural ramifications. Today, these countries are re-building their cultural and political institutions, often with substantial support from compatriots who became political refugees at the end of the Second World War.

According to distinguished diaspora artist Niklavs Strunke, writing in 1948, the majority of Latvia’s finest artists found themselves in exile at the end of WWII. Latvian artists living outside the country have grown increasingly aware of the often precarious existence of so many artworks created since that time by immigrant Latvian artists throughout the world. Such work has been found in garage sales or has been discarded by people who do not understand its cultural value.

In response to this situation, in 2004 a dream was born that a special center/museum for Latvian diaspora art could be established in Latvia. The Global Society for Latvian Art (PLMS) was founded as a United States nonprofit with a mission to develop an outstanding collection of Latvian diaspora art from around the world and to establish a center for the collection in Latvia.

Today PLMS is on the verge of establishing its center in Cesis, Latvia, where it will preserve, exhibit and make available to scholars, critics, curators and the general public a high quality collection of art created by Latvian artists who have lived, and are living, outside of the country. Cesis is known for its strong support of all the arts, and its annual summer Art and Music Festival is the largest event of its kind in Latvia, attracting many thousands of visitors.

The initial capital for renovation of a suitable space in Cesis (two wings of the former school complex at Lielas Skolas iela 6), directly across from the historic 13th-century St. John’s Church, has been raised through several major donations as well as smaller gifts. American architect Janis Ripa and his sisters Aija and Ruta generously donated family property in Latvia, which was sold to provide $50,000, while another major anonymous gift of $25,000 has been pledged. Additional large and smaller gifts have been received, bringing the total funds raised to date close to the goal of $100,000 for this first phase of the project. The second phase will entail less extensive renovation of another wing of the complex, for additional exhibition space, library, archive and offices.

For younger artists of Latvian descent, the PLMC offers an exciting opportunity to get to know not only the country of their ancestors, but also many of their ethnic compatriots living scattered all over the world. The Center will become a focus of Latvian art internationally, a connection between Latvia and the rest of the art world.
The collection of art is growing. Stored there are now some 400 artworks, some of which were loaned to the National Museum in Riga for the major exhibition of Latvian Exile Art held last spring at the Arsenals Hall, and to other smaller museums for their exhibits.

The Global Society for Latvian Art is governed by a board of directors, including its president, Lelde Kalmite, in Chicago, Illinois, and Ojars Greste, in Lilyfield, Australia. The honorary board includes Daris Delins, honorary consul in New York and former First Lady of Latvia Lilita Zatlere.
PLMS invites the public to help with the renovation project and the ongoing operating expenses that will be incurred in developing the space in Cesis, and the opening of the center to the general public in the coming year through contributions. Contributions are a valuable gift to Latvia to a project that will benefit coming generations of artists and art lovers.

For a list of works in the collection, see: www.latviandiasporaart.org. For more information, and to donate, contact president and curator Lelde Kalmite, leldekalmite81@gmail.com