Government supports street musicians in Kaunas

Article published on April 8, 2009
community published
Article published on April 8, 2009
The municipal government in Kaunas decided to offer special places for street musicians playing on the "artery" of the city - Laisves aleja (Freedom lane). These places will be elevated a little and marked with a sign of a green guitar. It should make the musicians more visible and more comfortable as they play on the street.
Musicians must not use any amplifiers or other kinds of technological equipment, as the lane only welcomes live music.

The municipal government in Kaunas decided to offer special places for street musicians playing on the "artery" of the city - Laisves aleja (Freedom lane). These places will be elevated a little and marked with a sign of a green guitar. It should make the musicians more visible and more comfortable as they play on the street. Musicians must not use any amplifiers or other kinds of technological equipment, as the lane only welcomes live music.

I really welcome the government's attention to street musicians AND the lane. Musicians have been an inseparable part of it. I just hope that these new installations will not serve to filter musicians, and that others will still be allowed to play, even if they don't get one of these special places.

I believe some context should be added here for non-Lithuanian readers. The Laisves lane used to be the main street of Kaunas for a very long time. In the previous century it was remade into a pedestrian street. Between the two world wars, when Kaunas was the capital of Lithuania, it was a place where people would socialise and experience the cultural life of the city. Theatres, restaurants and bookstores created a pleasant atmosphere for cultural consumption. Laisves lane embodied the very heart of Kaunas - not as classy as Vilnius, rather petty-bourgeois, and rather prone to show-off, the city nonetheless was one of the refreshing sparks of science and culture at that time. It is said that this pre-war atmosphere is so strongly rooted in the character of Kaunas people that it results in a peculiar type of conservatism and patriotism prevalent in Kaunas today. Although critical of these two, I, as a child of Kaunas, really enjoy the spaces where this atmosphere is still attempted to be kept.

However, those who have been to Kaunas during the recent years will probably agree that the spirit of the Laisves lane has drained during the recent years of aggressive Baltic monopoly capitalism. First, as the main street of Kaunas, it became overcrowded with shoe stores. Tiny cosy cafes had to be looked for, and much of the cultural atmosphere ran away to the street nearby, paradoxically named Vilnius street. The fountains, big trees and open spaces of Laisves lane still attracted many people who wanted to rest or were waiting for someone. The legendary fountain in the middle of the lane still serves as probably the most popular spot for having appointments and dates. I used to hang out there a lot when I was 16, as I was taking Japanese classes there.

What happened next was that the Maxima group built a huge shopping mall which, according to one known architect, shows its ass to the river Nemunas and reveals indifferent disdain for the Laisves lane. As expected, the shopping mall sucked in most of the stores from Laisves lane, some of the cafes as well, and, even more importantly, the people. Centrally located shopping malls are very much an Eastern European phenomenon (I include Hungary in Eastern Europe this time). They boast that one can find "all under one roof", although the "roof" may be bigger in area than an average shopping street. Yet people feel somewhat secure and even homely in shopping malls - it's warm, there's enough light and security (unlike in poorly-lit streets), so why not hang out an hour or two after shopping? While I was in Hungary, my friends in Kaunas were complaining that Laisves lane faintly convulsing before its slow death. However, when I went back to Lithuania, my impression was not as negative as I expected. There were still some people, and my friends A&L organised a fun street event a year ago, in which I also took part. I was trying to be optimistic and say to everyone that maybe Kaunas should use the chance to clean up its main street of this uniform consumerism, embodied in dozens of shoe stores, all looking alike. Maybe it's the chance for more alternative culture to step into Laisves lane, as rent is plummetting. I think the government is taking the right response in this situation - support grassroots art in Laisves lane. Let's see what happens.