After months of preparation for so many people, the day finally came. We arrived in Vilnius yesterday, and after exploring the area surrounding the NEU NOW Live venues - the old town, the markets - we saw not only the opening of the NEU NOW Festival, but also of The Titanic, the new Design Innovations Centre of Vilnius Academy of Arts.
Literally just completed, The Titanic is a lone beacon of contemporary architecture nestled amongst the historic landmarks, the great Cathedral Square, the University buildings and cobbled streets of the old town.
As Mantautas Krukauskas, Director of the Saltinis Foundation explains, "The nickname of the building The Titanic for more than ten years, it ws a printing house in Soviet times and it was given to the Vilnius Academy of Arts and the Arts Printing House, an NGO for performing arts. For ten years it was an abandoned building where they tried to do artistic projects. Then they finally received European funding to rebuild it. It was nicknamed the Ttanic because it there was always the question of "will sink or swim?"
And swim it has. What better way to christen an incubator of creative innovation than by adorning it's walls and filling it's rooms with the work of some of the most talented creative graduates from across Europe, all participating in The NEU NOW Festival, which, as its name suggests, aims to present some of the most exciting and creative NEU artistic talent NOW emerging from across the European Higher Education Area.
It was all hands on deck throughout the day (and no doubt the previous weeks), to get the building completed and the works installed on time for the opening. While 12 out of the 30 students exhibiting in the live show were from Vilnius Academy of Arts, more students from the Vilnius Academy of Arts pitched in to help bring it all together at the 11th hour.
"The students are overwhelmed with happiness." said Arunas Gelunas, Vice Rector Vilnius Academy of Arts, tonight after the opening. "even those who were not selected are happy to see there is opportunity."
It really has been a big year for Vilnius, Arunas said that their selection as a European Capital of Culture has seen so much great culture come to the city, and of course with it an international spotlight.
Tonight at the opening of NEU NOW the students I spoke to were exhausted but excited, looking forward to four days of multi-disciplinary exhibitions, performance, round table discussions, and ultimately meeting and introducing their work to an international audience.