Acclaimed 'Corner House' faces uncertain future

The former Riga headquarters of the despised KGB, which was transformed into a critically-acclaimed series of exhibitions as part of Riga's Capital of Culture program, faces closure in a month's time, Latvian Radio's Mara Rosenberga reported Thursday.

Despite winning international praise and generating dozens of column inches in foreign media as well as attracting thousands of visitors, the huge building on Riga's main Brivibas street is set to close its doors on October 20.

Around €60,000 was spent on the largely abandoned century-old building to prepare it for its few months in the spotlight, but the advent of the winter heating season and the lack of any effective heating system will see the building return to its previously mothballed status. 

Installation of even a basic heating system would cost at least €20,000, it is estimated, with monthly heating bills also running into thousands of euros.

"On October 20, the doors will be closed," said Riga 2014 spokeswoman Dace Vilsone.

According to Vilsone, hopes are not completely extinguished that the Corner House could be revived in some capacity next year, especially bearing in mind the huge interest it generated in a few brief months this year.

"We are very pleased that this active discussion is taking place in society today and has actually moved on from mere discussion to the actual compilation of feasibility studies in attempts to continue the project involving the Ministry of Culture, State Property Authority and the Occupation Museum," said Vilsone.

Culture Minister Dace Melbarde said she was hopeful a future could be found for the Corner House, and that the sums involved to do so were not that large when the size and age of the building were taken into account.

"This is a government issue, if it is possible to find funds from the contingency budget this year and if there can be agreement about the future concept for the Corner house. I hope so, because the costs, when compared to the benefits are not that large," Melbarde said. 

Liga Strazda of the Latvian Occupation Museum told Latvian Radio there was genuine interest in keeping the Corner House's wealth of information available to the public.

"The Occupation Museum is interested in keeping the exhibition open and allowing more people see it... If the heating problem will be solved or it's decided the building can open at least during the summer months, the Occupation Museum would love to continue to work on this exposure it's achieved this year.

"But the current exhibition is not designed for long-term use. The Corner House offers a lot more, both for research and the chance for people to remember," said Strazda.

Meanwhile, at the Corner House itself, the guides who have shown thousands of visitors around are collecting signatures online calling for the doors not to be locked for good via the website Manabalss

Guide Aija Abens says she and her colleagues are prepared to work on if given a chance, and that they are constantly uncovering previously unknown facts about the building and the events that took place there.

"We've got a lot of additional information from the visitors themselves... And if the guides would like to stay on here, they already have six months' experience in explaining things," says Abens.

One thing is certain: this is far from the end of the Corner House's story.

You can read LSM's feature about the Corner House here.

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