Kaunas in Lithuania brought out some fierce measures while competing for the title of European Capital of Culture. As the city’s existing mythology wasn’t fascinating enough, Kaunas invented a new one. Out of thin air.
One of the themes for Kaunas 2026 is The Mythical Beast of Kaunas. It is not a joke relegated to footnotes, but one of the central themes of the city’s entire year as Capital of Culture.
The monster, more specifically a water dragon, is the guardian and protector of Kaunas, who lives in the flooded caves underneath the city. The monster is not bad, but it is stern. The monster has made a deal with the city and a special secret society treasures this eternal contract.
The fierce measures proved worthwhile; the madness was rewarded. Kaunas was selected as the European Capital of Culture of 2022.
The example set by Kaunas offers a strong clue to winning the title of Capital of Culture. Mega-sized concerts or grand international productions aren’t the answer, but it takes creative innovation and community involvement. And it does not always have to be deadly serious.
Can we find madness in Tampere Region? Where can we find an idea that is big and crazy enough? What would be an idea to bring the whole region together? This is one of the things to be resolved by the open call for programme proposals, ending on 15 October.
Fairy-tales and Robots
The Beast or monster of Kaunas was invented in one of the city’s artists’ brainstorming sessions, perhaps after a few pints of Kalnapilis Beer.
The basic characteristics of the Beast have been defined, but Kaunas expects the people to complete its story during the year.
What is agreed on is, for example, that the Beast indeed lives in the caves underneath the city, guarding it. The city and the Beast have a contract supervised by a secret society. This contract has since been broken, and now the Beast should be awakened to renew the contract – with the year ending with a grand renewal of this friendship contract.
And, at the end of the year, “the Beast will appear over the Aleksotas Hills, then descend and dive into the River Nemunas. This is where the Beast will stay, guarding the City.”
The Kaunas bid doesn’t specify how this is going to be realized, but I doubt they know themselves quite yet.
The Beast is a Platform
Kaunas describes its invention with the fashionable term ‘platform.’ In other words, over the year, various activities will be developed around the monster.
Naturally enough, there will be children’s books about the Beast. Everyone is invited to create portraits of the Beast via every possible media. There are also plans to make robots. Digitality is of course desired – hence, creators of augmented reality are challenged to take this idea forward.
The programme includes writing workshops and professional visual artists are also called upon to create art inspired by the Beast.
Artists have already started to create graphic renditions of what the Beast of Kaunas actually looks like. On Thursday, 10 October, the result of the public vote was announced. The competition was won by a proposal from Darius Petreikis. It was considered modern and very energetic. As we see, the Beast is well-suited for graphic elements. The main photo in this article displays more renditions by Petreikis.
It is hoped that the Beast would live on in the city’s mythology even after the Capital of Culture year.
And, in the end, it is about involvement. Kaunas almost waxes poetic in its bid-book:
“The creation of the Beast and its story will involve citizens of all ages and from all walks of life and includes spectacular events for people from near and far away. The Mythical Beast/Water Dragon of Kaunas will become the avatar or allegory for the City, where the Beast = Kaunas. Its story is the story of the City told allegorically, and it will become an important part of common consciousness. We feel that a European City that creates an identity-changing myth has the potential to make the news.”
As the diagram shows, the Mythical Beast is a central part of Kaunas 2022 programme.