Kaunas, the Šančiai cabbage field project – small scale seeks big transformation

1. Context

Kaunas City Municipality owns the 13,000 sq. metre Cabbage Field. Kaunas itself was the birth place of George Maciunas, the founder of the Fluxus movement and is located in the centre of Lithuania. Šanciai (20,000 inhabitants) built by Tsar Alexander II is the district of this derelict and contaminated former 19th century army barracks that at different periods was home to invading armies. While the world celebrated liberation in 1945, Lithuania returned to Soviet domination. With the Singing Revolution of 1989 hopes shifted towards the desire for national identity and the fear of privatization, corruption and emigration. During Lithuanian independence neither the community nor state affected any positive change on the site. Since 2003 the site, despite having urban heritage significance, is home to decay, disintegration and loss, which continues to affect and construct a negative identity and leads to economic, social and cultural decline. The increased incidents of illegal dumping and collapsing buildings causes health and safety issues for the site users; it leads to a destruction of urban heritage, which erases a core part of indigenous identity; the no‒man’s‒land status fosters criminal activities and leads to a aggressive privatization of a precious and erosion of public space.

The cultural vision of Kaunas City – is to create a centre of modern and inclusive culture, a home of learning and happy people.

Lithuanian/Irish artists Vita Gelūniene and Ed Carroll were prompted by a message for tourists on a notice board: Welcome to the friendly city of Kaunas. Kaunas wants a modern and inclusive culture. Friendly Zone was conceived as the art and public programme of Kaunas Biennial. In its various manifestations it focused on public spaces that appeared frozen or as urbanist, Keller Easterling’s suggests, ‘stones in the water’ e.g. the dilapidated Old Town Bus Station at Kaunas Castle. Too much rhetoric of urban development and regeneration allows, what Saskia Sasson calls the Esperanto of quality management standards i.e. a special stupidity that is the common tool of power. Put simply, how can Kaunas be a city developing in tandem with its people?

Herein the artist duo sought out to excavate new channels to transmit experiences of publicness. The learning from the first cycle in 2007/8 suggested the urgency to be grounded, to work from the bottom-up with people and place and to be creative by making sites productive over a much longer duration than short term project work. The decision to locate activity in Šanciai emerged from a feasibility study about how to engage and mobilise local culture involving among a team of artists and non-artists. The feasibility study, funded by a Creative Europe grant, created a conversation between the Šančiai work and other cutting edge community work in Rotterdam, Cork and Belfast. Tactics were shared about how to mobilise the lived lives of communities that can help us live together sustainably, peacefully and with the environment. A strategy was formed to work with the city authorities test the conditions in which to achieve a long term sustainable practice that could deliver big transformation. The core part of the challenge was community mobilisation and development. This happened through establishing a core team of volunteers, stakeholders meetings, volunteer cleaning days, visioning workshops, dialogue with Municipality, visioning workshops with residents, etc. The Šančiai district was a part of the city imaginary that had too many walls (left over from the mentality of the Iron Curtain) and too few bridges between citizens. There was clearly a disconnect experienced between democratic policies that did nothing to halt the increasing poverty of inhabitants, the hidden privatization and gentrification, the secrecy of top down decision making and haemorrhaging effect of emigration. The changed environment could strengthen the community’s capacity in decision and place‒making, promote values and cultural rights, and foster inclusion and social justice.


2. Kaunas and culture

Culture is integrated into the Kaunas Development Plan. The strategic measures for cultural development are based on the results of detailed SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. The systemic view has been applied - the interrelations of separate elements of the system have been taken into account. In addition, suggestions constitute vertical approach ranging from planning of culture policy to provision of services in particular cultural institutions. The challenge encountered at district level is how to raise the need of the neighbourhood via grassroot initiatives that are durational and sustainable. The cultural vision of Kaunas City – is to create a centre of modern and inclusive culture, a home of learning and happy people. Priorities set to bring this vision about include:

Strengthening cooperation culture

  • Providing more opportunities for dialogue and development of joint solutions of culture policy
  • Opening more opportunities for all providers of cultural services and providing more support for cultural initiatives e.g grassroot actions.
  • Increasing access to public resources of the city for all providers of cultural services
  • Enhancing the scope and availability of (partial) financing for cultural projects
  • Adapting public spaces and infrastructure for cultural activities

Supporting cultural initiatives in the city

  • Implementing joint marketing measures
  • Providing methodological assistance for new cultural initiatives
  • Enhancing quality and availability of cultural services
  • Optimizing network of cultural institutions and implementing joint cultural projects
  • Optimizing network of cultural institutions
  • Developing and implementing joint cultural programmes and projects

Enhancing performance efficiency of municipal cultural institutions

  • Improving management of municipal cultural institutions
  • Renewing the infrastructure and equipment of municipal cultural institutions

By supporting the Cabbage Field bid our ambition is to develop models that can tackle the activation of neighbourhoods in the city so that we can celebrate its distinctiveness as a place of communities. In addition developing models for sustainable communities means address the problem of emigration where all roads lead to Ireland, UK and Norway. We support the model under development in the Cabbage Field because it proffers a new way community-led way to engage culturally with the 10+ twinned cities with whom the city already has an agreement.

Agenda 21 for Culture contends that cities need vitality, identity and innovation and citizens need to widen their freedoms. Without culture there is no future for cities.

Culture is now recognised by cities as a key innovation in the new urban agenda. The words are easy but the drama is how to make it happen. Agenda 21 for Culture contends that cities need vitality, identity and innovation and citizens need to widen their freedoms. Without culture there is no future for cities. Yet there is too a crisis of agency that trumps culture in social, economic and environmental development. What is now urgently required are co-creation methodologies that cross-cut culture with different dimensions of humanity and benefits for the good of the human person. This is the big picture. It can’t just be about competitive city league tables. This project sets out to find solutions to the question: how can culture be at the heart of sustainable urban development of marginal communities? Šančiai Cabbage Field clearly signals a new infrastructure channel for culture by shifting from top-down institutional led approaches to culturing civil society and community (as a supply side of culture). The move towards overlapping local cultural process with sustainable economic, social and environmental development demands a new interface. What this means is to work the local ground, to transfer valuable models in order to use the potency of culture in micro economics. In effect to use home grown and home spun cultural activities and see how to create export channels for the work of makers i.e. performatists, craftivists, artivists and other cultural risk-takers. A21 becomes meaningful by putting real emphasis on the role of culture-in-publicness. New cultural infrastructure seeded in public space might develop participatory approaches. Public space is a place of interaction of citizens with local government – a key to the vitality of a city. Culture helps to create conditions to nurture the community as a producer of a better quality of life, of urban space, of territorial planning and decision-making. This leads directly to the role of culture-in-democracy. The crisis of democracy is a crisis of agency made complex e.g. by nation, gender, refugees, capital, diversity and emigration. Culture was often deployed to build the new nations. Now our global context needs top notch cultural clusters like the Šančiai Cabbage Field to be deployed to re-root bonds between people and across communities through solidarity, equality and freedom. This is about building the capacity and up-skilling community to act for the growth and development of all people in the neighbourhood.


3. Objectives and implementation of the project

3.1. Overall and specific objectives

General Goals

To link culture, values and rights with democratic governance, citizen participation and sustainability by

  • transformative approaches to the design of communities in the city that can be scaled-up and deliver an international model of good practice for the human good.
  • finding new tactics to measure the cultural vitality of communities.
  • seeking new ‘trade’ routes to import and export lessons and learning by establishing ‘Cultural Contacts’ with twinned city sites and to calibrate the international dimensions with the distinctive local features.

The learning from the first cycle suggested the urgency to be grounded, to work from the bottom-up with people and place, and to be creative by making productive over a much longer duration that short term project work.

Why a bottom-up community project?

Culture needs Community. The Cabbage Field is a place of meaning-making, out of which objects, artefacts and spaces as diverse as pagan rebirth narratives, the soviet kitchen table exchanges, faith and love, the soldier’s shirt and the Facebook post emerge.

Community + Culture = Politics. The Cabbage Field gives expression to the invisible dimensions; the unheard voice; utopian designs and the silent/radical contradictions. It pushes beyond stale nomenclatures and prevents the drift to passivity and consumerism and all the democratic deficits this engenders.

Community + Culture = Rebirth. Cabbage Field performativists, craftivists and artivists are bringing about the rebirth of Kaunas at community level. This offers the power to feel and transform one’s self in relation to others, to renew and reframe institutions, and to shape and reshape the value base of European society.

Goal 1 Circulation between local and g-local

This involved work with global partners to create the basis (knowledge, relationships and history of shared action) for an Observatory of Local Faculties through community arts conversations in St Louis, Rotterdam, Chicago, St Louis, Dublin, Cork and Belfast. Together 15 specialists took part in City (Re) Searches which is documented on a wiki that helped to frame ideas for a Community Culture Contact. This twinning agreement is not yet realised between communities but looks to identify common interests and agree pathways for cultural, scientific and technological cooperation.


  • City (Re)Searches inquiry in 3 countries from 2012-2014
  • Residencies in St Louis (Regional Arts Commission) and Dublin (Charlemont Regeneration Board) seeded ideas for a mobility programme for local: glocal contact.
  • Founding of the Lower Šančiai Community Foundation assembled a circle of key activists and leaders who wanted to ‘do-it-together- strategies for the neighbourhood.
  • Agreed key cooperative actions e.g. conference, exchanges, showcasing, exhibitions, performances, research and modelling.


  • Engaged with the leadership of global practitioners i.e. artist, Jeanne van Heeswijk, curator, Mary Jane Jacob and theatre director, Peter Sellars.
  • Attracted critical reviews of the work of Cabbage Field from Hull House in Chicago and Vytatus the Great University Kaunas Art Critics Department in Kaunas and film documentary on the national TV LRT
  • New Cultural Contact twinning programme focused on Agenda 21’s with a specific focus on values and equality as a way to deliver a community right to creative expression and .heritage.
  • Challenge nomenclatures of power to shift to a culture of cooperation.



Goal 2: Communicate and showcase by archiving and curating documents, images and audio.


  • Realised various public talks, lectures and key note talks in 15 public venues in Lithuania, Ireland, Rotterdam, Berlin and St Louis.
  • Produced significant footage of all activities in still/moving images, audio recordings of meetings/workshops/ conversations and site specific installations.
  • Exhibited work in international conferences organised in St Louis, VDU University Kaunas, and Šančiai Library. –Explored how to curate the materials and piggy back on major international exhibition.
  • Developed learning methodology focused on values and equality as drivers of cultural change.
  • Received multiple in-depth articles in the local city newspaper Kauno Diena


  • Community cultura links to a new set of bottom-up stakeholders interested in delivering a joined-up approach with top-down actions at community level.
  • Achieve a new visibility and dissemination of lessons and learning for community culture.



Goal 3: Local agency grown by co-creating a radical deep experiment into resilient community in which to test local potency and deliver sustainable networked transformation.


  • Re-invest in the infrastructure of the 19th century storage units as sites for community culture and development.
  • Removal of tons of dumped materials and reclamation of public space.


  • Community-led development strategies and core group established.
  • Community association established and clear indication that the neighbourhood is backing the plans.
  • Production of a Visioning Document See Annex Visioning Document.



Goal 4: Promoted listening to help gather information on the role of culture in visioning the future of the Cabbage Field and identified local experts to deliver neighbourhood planning workshops with residents to identify new inclusive ways to decide upon the future of place.


  • Deep listening to residents and passers-by and visioning workshops completed.
  • Engaged the experts who can respond to the issues of the site.
  • Created a public space for cultural activities throughout the year.
  • Address local authorities with a proposal how to develop a new public space in the wasteland.
  • Explored scientifically, technological and culturally SMART signals emerging from community e.g. grow dome.
  • Displayed local findings back to community and gather further refinement of ideas by feedback loop.


  • Created the ecology for growing a sustainable future from the ground-up in which culture was the channel for communication.
  • Actively involved people who would never participate because of social background.
  • Increased awareness and desire for open democracy
  • Changed mentality of citizens about their involvement in the city and new confidence for further conscientization.



Methodology delivered involved

COCREATION: new role for the creativity of the citizen and community culture that can bring creativity to processes of socially responsible transformation;

COOPERATION: social model based on inter-disciplinary work between communities, municipal agencies, cultural producers and the wider set of collaborator;

DISCOVER: ways in which community culture can act in society as contributors to planning, development and innovation;

TEST: new skills and tools that community members can bring to the social field that add value to planning (creativity) and production (innovation) processes.

The project activities help to refresh arts and cultural work that is community driven and linked to renewing civil society. this formed the conditions for a constituency around creative community and culture.

Target Groups

  • Working between the 'agency' of communities, municipal and cultural institutions and individual artists and community leaders. To engage with private companies and local entrepreneurs.
  • City: Lower Šančiai Community Association, Šančiai Elderate and Library, Kaunas Municipality, private enterprises in the area,
  • International: Agenda 21 Secretariat, Afrikaaner Cooperative, Cricklewood Farm, School of Art Institute, Chicago, Blue Drum Agency.


  • Community mobilisation faces huge indifference and suspicion about public space;
  • Traction from institutional partners to consider cultural rights as possible driver for transformation in communities of place, interest and identity in place of what urbanist Keller Easterling refers to as the pornography of the existing city development models;
  • Resistance of the community to act;
  • Preservation of the reclaimed territory and avoiding privitisation;
  • Agreement with the stakeholders;
  • Financing.


4. Impacts

4.1. Direct impacts

Impacts on the local government

  • This project has brought sharp focus to the Agenda 21 for Culture by the City.
  • It has fore-grounded culture as a catalyst to roll together and enable different elements of sustainable development;
  • It has opened up debate about the public value of culture and made institutions rethink how to engage locally;
  • It has built new connectivity between people, culture and the political process;
  • It has re-imagined culture as contributor to new forms of equality, solidarity, subsidiarity and subjectivity.

Impact on culture and local cultural actors of the city/territory

The most important impact is how work in the community over five years ones grows sensitivity to peoples culture that is far from the radar of official culture. In this arena there has been a significant impact on cultural actors minds. Cabbage Field is highly visible in the cultural sphere in Kaunas. At all levels there is an understanding of what can be achieved by working deeply in one site and not just out-reaching. Evidence has been gathered, relationships enhanced with cultural players and city authorities. For cultural actors the value of long term sustainable community practice is evident even in the face of short term funding. Risk taking is a key indicator of impact if change in

  • it is about the agency of free and independent artists attempting unauthorized artistic interventions in public space and faced with restricted public laws to do with the ownership of cultural heritage in the city.
  • it is about navigating between illegal occupation and finding the legal instruments for legitimacy of the work
  • it is about finding ways to express the rights of citizens to their city.

Impact on the territory and its population

Participants (30) are those involved directly in the roll-out and will increase their capacity to be reflective practitioners. New irrigation channels in which artists, cultural players, cultural institutions and multidisciplinary teams are active players co-operating in the process of nurturing new audiences of culturing culture and new community-led models of cultural production and distribution.

Partner organisations like Lower Šančiai Community Association, Šančiai Elderate, private companies and local and international cultural partners are key advocates and showcasing partners re-inventing how community arts can reset, renew and refresh communities experiencing exclusion. We envisage enhanced interagency engagement and activity for the well being of communities. We also envision new alliances and new forms of organisational structure for community arts learning. politics written small concerns organisations and policy makers who have the potential to influence wider public debates and policy orientations.

4.2. Transversal impacts

The Project activities help to refresh arts and cultural work that is community driven and linked to renewing civil society. This formed the conditions for a constituency around creative community and culture. Together, we had to re-learn how to cooperate and co-create in ways that are community driven and prioritise rights and values which can be acted-upon together. Links were established to other practices in Vilnius, Rotterdam, Dublin, London, St Louis and Chicago to exchange bottom-up actions to support the cultural rights of people and place.The Project has submitted a plan to develop a Community Culture Hub with communities across the city an initiative balancing the international dimensions with the distinctive local features as a co-creative model that could distinguish Kaunas on the global stage. By working with values and equality we identify opportunities to advance a cultural rights plan for Kaunas as part of the bid process for the European Capital of Culture process.

4.3. Evaluation

An evaluation process will be part and parcel of the process. Data will be gathered during all activities and data inputs will be managed. The data will be helpful in clarifying outcomes and priorities, evaluate progress and identify any issues arising through the work. Opportunities for regular review of the lessons and learning as we move from from goal to goal via exchanges and online communication. Feedback from local community will also be gathered and analysed in a deliberation event. Target groups listed are key stakeholders of the evaluation. Peer review will be sought via critical reflections on the outcomes from experts, dissemination actions. A final evaluation review will be published.

4.4. Key aspects

  • Creating an interface between top-down culture and the local infrastructure (human and physical) required for real flows to occur. i.e. in/out of communities.
  • Highlighting that new intelligence is required and new instruments designed to tap into the potency of community culture.
  • Identifying the need for further research and learning for conscientization as Freire identified which shifts the culture of cultural provision to values of equality, inclusion and cultural rights.
  • Highlighting the agency of cultural players to uncover recuperative forces at community level in which to turn the tide of negative progress and low participation in the drama of city.
  • Finding an ecology that values complementary bottom-up approaches from within the community and open and responsive dispositions from the institutional cultural context.
  • Connecting, as art critic Grant Kester argues, to the ways in which people respond to, and resolve, the struggles they confront in everyday life and to grasp the complex imbrications of the local and the global, of individual consciousness and collective action.

4.5. Continuity

  • By ongoing provision of unemployed who are required to undertake community service work;
  • By organising the removal of rubble, rubbish and other materials
  • By a dedicated site visit by the Mayor of Kaunas and the follow-up meetings to identify needs and responses of required.
  • By agreeing to fund and work towards developing a new public park through undertaking site work to establish the conditions for this to occur.


5. Further information

The city of Kaunas was nominated for the second 'UCLG International Award - Mexico City - Culture 21' (January-May 2016). The awards jury produced a final report in June 2016 and asked the UCLG Committee on Culture to promote this project as a practical example of the implementation of Agenda 21 for Culture, and as a special mention of the second edition of the Award.

Text approved in July 2016.

Good practice published in July 2016.

This factsheet was put together by Albinas Vilčinskas, Head of Culture division, Kaunas, Lithuania.

Contact: albinas.vilcinskas (at) kaunas.lt

Main website: www.kaunas.lt

Video: https://vimeo.com/315132686

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Kaunas, the Šančiai cabbage field project – small scale seeks big transformation