Canon’s past and future
Latvia’s Cultural Canon came into being as the result of a considered decision and exchange of views. Initially, the concept was developed in 2007 by the then Minister for Culture Helēna Demakova, who urged the public and experts to think about and give in-depth consideration to the question of what the cornerstones of our culture are, how to name them, justify their status, and place them alongside each other. As a result, Latvia’s Cultural Canon took form in 2008, comprising 99 elements in seven cultural spheres.
In 2021, the seven treasure sectors were complemented by a new one – Landscapes – which features eight of Latvia’s canonical landscapes, meticulously selected by a panel of experts.
By continuing to respect, preserve and nurture these highlights – being heirs to this Canon – we are, by means of our own contribution, creating new knowledge and heritage today, increasing our own ability to see new Latvian cultural treasures in our everyday, in the people around us, in Latvia’s most beautiful places, stories, past events and important cultural turning and reference points.
The Canon is about us, the foundation of our cultural experience, our sense of belonging to Latvia, our sense of pride about our treasures. The Canon is a whole, flowing along with time and social trends, which we can replenish through our inheriting it. In the same way, the whole as which we view these treasures today flows and changes with time, influencing what we perceive and value in them.
Since 2013, a number of creative workshops have been held in Latvia’s regions on the subject of the Cultural Canon Educational programme. The Cultural canon Competition, run annually by the Latvian Academy of Culture, has also established itself as a tradition.
The National Library of Latvia (NLL) took on the task of updating the Canon’s website in 2014, and since September 2017, the updated website has been available to a wide range of users. Many NLL staff members participated in the regeneration of the website, among them Liega Piešiņa, Jānis Freimanis, Zane Zajančkauska, Jurģis Īvāns, Anda Juta Zālīte, Antra Indriksone, Indra Viļumsone, Stella Hermanovska, Mārtiņš Mintaurs, Aina Krieva, Māra Daneberga, Ruta Almane-Palmbaha, Marina Mihaileca, Lāsma Timma, Marika Karlsone, Viktorija Surska, Aira Vilka and Lāsma Meldere-Šestakova. The project Latvia’s Cultural Canon has been led by Ineta Kivle (2014–2016) and Dagnija Baltiņa (2016–2020). Since 2020 the project is led by Maija Treile. The project is coordinated by Anita Smeltere. Dace Džeriņa, Artis Tauriņš, Lolita Rūsiņa and Anda Laķe also made significant contributions to the project’s development. Many thanks to all those involved!
In 2017, a special Treasure Hunt Game at the Castle of Light (Orientēšanās spēle Gaismas pilī) was developed at the National Library of Latvia, highlighting the Cultural Canon’s connection with the Library.
In 2021, Latvia’s Cultural Canon website was updated with a Landscape section. Eight of Latvia’s canonical landscapes were selected by a panel of experts: Dr. habil. (geography) and Corresponding Member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences (LAS) Aija Melluma, University of Latvia Professor and LAS Corresponding Member Oļģerts Nicodems, and University of Latvia Associate Professor Anita Zariņa, PhD (geography).
The website is continuously updated with newly discovered material about each of the elements and is translated into English, and German. In cooperation with other Latvian cultural institutions associated with the Cultural Canon or one of its treasures, the website is being developed as a single information platform for all the news, events and processes related to Latvia’s Cultural Canon and its individual treasures.
The goal for the creation of the Latvia’s Cultural Canon in 2007−2008 was to select the most outstanding cultural treasures characterising Latvian culture in different spheres of art – to select the most outstanding and most significant examples of works of art, processes, personalities or events in their field.
Over 2007−2008, a number of specially formed expert groups worked on the creation of the Latvia’s Cultural Canon; a conference “Latvia’s Cultural Canon – Cornerstone of a United Society” (Latvijas Kultūras kanons – saliedētas sabiedrības stūrakmens) was held as part of the “Seven Sisters” (Septiņas māsas) conference series, and in 2008−2009, the Latvian Academy of Culture conducted a study on the attitudes of Latvian schoolchildren and students to the treasures of Latvian culture in terms of both knowledge and value.
As a result, the Latvia’s Cultural Canon was created, consisting of 99 features covering seven spheres – literature, film, music, architecture and design, the performing arts, visual arts and folk traditions.
For film, the expert working group was: Valentīna Freimane, film critic Dita Rietuma, philosopher Uldis Tīrons, film director Jānis Putnins, film writer Kristīne Matīsa.
For architecture and design, the expert working group was: Rīga City architects Jānis Dripe, Jānis Lejnieks and Ieva Zībārte, Inese Pētersone, head of the Ceramics Design programme at the Rīga School of Design and Art; Ilze Martinsone, head of the Latvian Architectural Museum.
For literature, the expert working group was: author and literary critic Guntis Berelis, literary scholar Raimonds Briedis, literary scholar and critic Gunārs Bībers, author Nora Ikstena, publisher and editor Reinis Tukišs.
For music, the expert working group was: Radio 3 Latvia Director Gunda Vaivode, musicologist Mikus Čeže, composers Juris Karlsons and Roland Kronlaks, editor-in-chief of the Mūzikas Saule magazine Orests Silabriedis.
For the performing arts, the expert working group was: the director of the Latvian Academy of Culture Theatre Museum Jānis Siliņš, theatre scholars and critics Silvija Radzobe, Lilija Dzene, Guna Zeltiņa and Līga Ulberte, ballet artist and choreographer Gunta Bāliņa.
For the visual arts, the expert working group was: director of the Latvian National Museum of Art Māra Lāce, professor of the Art Academy of Latvia, art scholar Eduards Kļaviņš, director of the Rundāle Palace Museum Imants Lancmanis, art historians Laima Slava and Kristiāna Ābele.
For folk traditions, the expert working group was: head of the Archives of Latvian Folklore, folklore researcher Dace Bula, academician of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, professor of Folklore at the University of Latvia Janīna Kursīte; artistic director of the Latvian children’s and youth folklore movement, philosopher Māra Mellēna, associate professor at the University of Latvia, ethnomusicologist Valdis Muktupāvels, director of the Latvian National Centre for Culture, Signe Pujāte.