City festival season gets underway in Latvia with value for money in focus

Nearly every town and city in Latvia has a local festival of some sort each year, but Latvian Radio has been looking at whether they offer good value for municipal money.

These festive events cost municipalities from tens to hundreds of thousands of euros, and in the case of Rīga, well over a million euros. 

In Daugavpils, the celebration will culminate with fireworks which in eight minutes will burn through almost 39,000 euros.

Concerts with pop stars popular in Latvia and beyond its borders, laser shows or firework events have become integral events of city holidays in Latvia. Having fallen silent during the Covid-19 pandemic, they are once again back on the calendars of municipal events.

"The scope of the festivities has always been great in Daugavpils, because we always provide several stages, so that we can invite more well-known guests who could please the visitors to our city, and at the same time provide enough concert space," said the Daugavpils festival organizer, Diāna Soldāne.

In Daugavpils, the city festival is definitely the biggest event of the year, noted Soldāne, and this year's celebration will also be grandiose, with a budget exceeding 200,000 euros.

Daugavpils 749th birthday celebration with the motto "Mana pils – Daugavpils!" ("My castle – Daugavpils!") will run from May 31 to June 2.

"The holidays for us start on the evening of May 31, when the market starts, and concerts by "Raxtu Raxti" and "Dagamba" take place in Vienības Square, and Saturday is the main holiday day, when there is both a procession and the opening concert of the city, and then the concert of "A-Europa" and the Ukrainian singer Loboda. I understand that not everyone can agree with the choices made by Daugavpils, but we cannot ignore the ethnic composition of the city," said Soldāne.

The culmination of the festivities in Daugavpils will end with fireworks, though probably, holiday fireworks would be one of the things that could be given up to save money, said people interviewed by Latvian Radio on the streets of Daugavpils.

Daugavpils residents said: 

"Of course, you can always save money, and you can replace the fireworks with a cheaper fire show, live fire. Replace it with something different, because it's such a waste of money, a bit too much."

"Fireworks, I think, are already past phenomenon of history, a laser or illuminated fountain show is better. Those firework shows are no longer so relevant. And it's always money in the wind. Besides, we're already used to fireworks. They're nothing new – big displays won't surprise us anymore."

"Nothing new will happen there, but it requires a lot of money, it could be spent on something else."

The fireworks worth almost 40,000 euros in Daugavpils in Daugavmala will last 8 minutes.

Elsewhere in Latvia, fireworks have been replaced by light shows

The municipality of Ventspils has also included a pyrotechnical show in its city festival events, which will traditionally take place at the beginning of August. Similar to Daugavpils, it is an important celebration event, admitted Ventspils Culture Center director Māris Valtenbergs.

"We won't have that long a display because every minute costs quite a lot of money. It will definitely be cheaper for us and it won't be longer than 4 minutes. The firework art show is always carefully prepared and designed and is also very popular. Several tens of thousands [of people] gather at the city's festival on the port promenade to watch the performance there," said Valtenbergs.

In general, the Ventspils holiday budget will be up to 150,000 euros.

On the other hand, Valmiera, as confirmed by the head of the city's cultural administration, Toms Upners, does not organize holiday fireworks, but funds have been earmarked for the events of the city's festivities, which will take place at the end of July. "We have not held a firework display for many years during the city's festivities. The funding allocated by the municipality for the organization of the festivities is around 130,000 euros this year," said Upners.

The Sea Festival in July and the traditional Liv village festival, which took place in the middle of May, are the most extensive summer festival events in Liepāja. The total budget, as Juris Jirgens, the head of Liepāja's Culture Board, said, also amounts to 130,000 euros and is without fireworks.

"The specificity of Liepāja is that we don't have one specific city holiday, we have several big events during the summer season. The budget for the Sea Festival is 70,000 euros and for the Liv village festival - 63,000 euros. Liepāja has declined to have fireworks for several years," Jirgens said.

The capital Rīga plans a laser performance instead of fireworks for its birthday celebrations in August, but the total budget for these celebrations is planned to be 1,468,000 euros.

On the other hand, for example, in Grobiņa, the city festival has already been held. The 329th anniversary of Grobiņa was celebrated with four bright days of celebration, during which, for the first time in the history of the city of Grobiņa, an international amateur theater festival was held.

Showing off or an opportunity for advertising? 

Ināra Mukāne, the head of the cultural administration of the Upper Daugava region, calls these city and county celebrations a show-off of the municipal purse, and this municipality has decided not to hold such a celebration at all, citing the cost as the reason.

Mukāne said: "City or county celebrations, there should be pride in the achievements of your city, but what we see in these programs is bragging about the purse and how many and which artists the city or county can afford to hire. This has led to the fact that there is bankruptcy in Rēzekne."

But celebrations do not have to come directly from the municipality's budget in all cases. The already mentioned fireworks display in Daugavpils is funded via a levy on the street vendors selling their goods at the festival. Ilga Samarina, Acting Head of the Public Relations and Tourism Department of Daugavpils revealed: "The fireworks with 40,000 [euros] are not covered from the municipality's budget, but from the participation fee , which is paid by street vendors. In this case, these vendors pay for this display. It does not affect the city's budget."

"The city festival is a quality marketing campaign with which we can support local entrepreneurs working in the tourism industry, caterers and hotel industry entrepreneurs. It is also an opportunity to show our city to tourists and provide a wider range of offers. It is not unique to organize festivals and various measures to bring tourists to the city," said Samarina.

For tourism and catering service providers, entrepreneurs, city holidays are like a magnet for attracting customers, confirmed Andrejs Nariškins, director of Daugavpils' "Park hotel Latgola" and "Solo" shopping center.

"Money has to be spent and as a businessman, I will support the city's festivities with both hands. This is additional income and additional advertising for the city. I'm just for it and let it be. Let people be happy, let them feel some kind of excitement and be excited at least once a year. You have to spend money for fireworks, songs and dances, and everything," says Nariškins.

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