Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Juozas Žitkauskas: “I Wish for Professional Art to Expand into the Regions as Much as Possible”

Poet Birutė Ona Grašytė discussed literary events and how they have changed with Juozas Žitkauskas, organizer of the events “TAI-AŠ,” “Purpurinis vakaras,” “Dainų dailogai” and head of the cultural association Slinktys.

Juozas ŽitkauskasJuozas Žitkauskas
Photo by Mariam Paluszkiewicz
Birutė Ona GrašytėBirutė Ona Grašytė
Photo by Vytautas Grašys


You’ve been active in the field of cultural events for more than one decade: you are the organizer of the festivals “TAI-AŠ, Purpurinis vakaras, Literatūrinės slinktys, Dainų dialogaie, etc., and you participate in much of the events yourself. I’m curious as to your first events. What were those, and when did they take place?

It all began in Kapčiamiestis: I was interested in the émigré poet V. Kazokas and I established a museum for him; this lead to the need for organizing relevant events. I later organized events in cultural houses myself, but from 1994 and onward I was employed at a cultural institution, which specialized, among other things, in educational cultural events. At that time, just like now, the events were quite varied – from chamber events to massive festivities, so I would have a hard time trying to fit them all in one drawer.

The very beginning rose from the need to realize my potential and show myself. I couldn’t possibly limit myself to the school paper. I later realized that it may be interesting to others, not only me. Especially after I was hired and began to get paid for what I do, I had to organize events according to the format of the institution. But you won’t find me dancing to the tune of commissions or orders – neither then, nor now. I managed to tailor what I do to what I feel passionate about.

There’s not a large number of events that I participated in. It began in the cultural house of my native town of Kapčiamiestis; we later went to the surrounding towns. I began to frequent events on my own since I was 14. I remember feeling like the best events ended too soon, as soon as they began, while I felt like I could be there forever.

I speak of the events that had a cultural impact on me. I pay no regard to the “exotic” Soviet pioneer events with the pompous “I serve the Soviet Union” chants – these were part of everyday life.


You wrote the following in one of your interviews: “If I could count all of the events that I organized during my 20+ years, I would think that 70 percent of them were literary ones.” I would be very glad to speak about those. How did these events change over time?

I would say that during this time, the literary events remained the same instead of changing. I don’t see anything inherently bad about it either. At that time, private initiative was only emerging, and many events were still organized institutionally. Today, the realization of individual ideas as grown much more; these ideas are not dependent on institutions, cultural centers, libraries, etc. This is a good thing, because it gives way to more variation, more open thinking and flexibility. Perhaps for this reason our capital city boasts such a colorful and vibrant cultural landscape. Even the traditional chamber events are becoming more playful and less formal, people tend to discuss more and review less. In the recent years I see the trend that literary events do not need musical accompaniment anymore.

Literary festivals sometimes become more like interdisciplinary art festivals, as they house many genres with equal exposure under their wing. Sometimes they even have a lack of simple readings or calm conversations, so typical of literary happenings.

The financing aspect changed as well; now there is a system for funding the events, which serves to strengthen them. Step by step, we see the emergence of literary events with tickets, while writers are sometimes paid “decent” royalties (even though the actors reading their works are still getting paid more). I hope that these positive trends will continue developing in the future.


Would you agree that Lithuanian cultural institutions are still clinging to the forms they have learned during the Soviet era, that they lack an imaginative and innovative effort, and that is the reason why people frequent these events less, leaving the major part of the audience to the writers themselves?

Sometimes the major part of the writers are absent too… But I could not state wholly that all cultural institutions (the cultural centers, the libraries, and the individual organizations) are still clinging to “Soviet forms.” It all depends on the creative efforts of the staff of those institutions. If the effort is there, the event will be interesting and attractive to visitors. If not – the event will be a matter of statistics, not much more. And this I mean of all periods and organizers of all age groups.


Owing to the events, you have visited many Lithuanian cities and towns. How is the cultural landscape there, in comparison to the bigger cities?

Their communality is, I suppose, the biggest difference. The bigger cities have no sense of it – the audience is gathered by means of the media outlets and social media. The smaller cities and towns utilize the power of the individual invitation issued by the organizer. The usual participants coming from the capital city do not realize that those several tens of audience members sitting in the little hall are there because the local cultural staffer called each of them individually, sometimes more than once. Sometimes I overhear something of this sort: “Alright, Birutė is already here, Alvydas too, but we should wait until Alytė shows up.” You can plaster the whole wall with posters and invitations, but they have no power over there – the people want to be invited personally.

Sadly, there are still many towns were professional art and prominent writers are unheard of. The local writers are living in a closed community, interested only in what they do and keen on presenting themselves as one of the best. For that reason, I wish for professional art to expand into the regions as much as possible. Even if it takes a dozen attempts to be decently welcomed there.


Lastly, I would like to speak of the necessity and impact of literary events. Who needs them?

Well, these events are needed for the dissemination of literature itself, of course, both of the author’s persona and their creative work in all possible forms.







Lietuvos kultūros taryba
Lietuvos Respublikos kutūros ministerija
EU: Creative Europe