First impressions. Feedback from the youngest curators

The Shake Down team of young curators who programmed part of this year’s festival of contemporary theatre Homo Novus are currently programming the Bastard Festival that will take place at the Rosendal Theatre in Trondheim in April 2023. We asked the teenage curators from Latvia to share their experiences of getting to know international artists and how they chose them for their festival framework.

What were your criteria when choosing artists for the longlist of the programme?

Samuels: I tried to consider artists whom I already knew, who were not completely new to me, whom I have either seen or heard about or with whom I have already spoken to while working on the first festival Shakedown Homo Novus – about whom I already have some in-depth knowledge. Then I tried to sort the ones I liked according to the keywords of the festival concept: community, shelter, power, environment.

Ikars: I nominated an artist whose work I have experienced. I didn’t want to choose someone whose art I hadn’t seen at all. It often occurs to me that I read something about an artist and there is a certain picture that appears in my head, but when I attend that event or exhibition… I wouldn’t say it is always worse than I had imagined, but it is different. Personally, I am very interested in how visual art and theatre connect and how they can mutually enrich each other, and there are many of them, of course. But I remember that we’ve had discussions with our Norwegian colleagues about conservatism in art in Norway, and I tried to take that into account. I wouldn’t choose such a criterion for my festival, which is aimed at me, but I tried to take it into account. I like the contemporaneity and silliness in art, and also artists who highlight those people who are not so often represented in arts. And choosing from the local artists, of course, there was also the practical aspect – how it is possible to make them travel and adapt their work in another place.

Alberts: I was making my choice not really by going through the lists of artists, but through the festivals I know. When we were preparing for the first festival in May, we were given many brochures from the international festivals. I have seen the names of many interesting theatre companies, and then I explored what associations or platforms they have joined, and through them I discovered other interesting artists. For me, mainly the starting point was the homepage of the Homo Novus and Sirenos festivals. It was mainly associative jumping from the artist’s name to the companies, to the places and cooperative projects they have worked on.

Karu: I looked at artists who had already been at Homo Novus in previous years or at other festivals they have worked on. In every link, I found a new link that would take me to another artist. It was important for me to think about what the Norwegian team expects from us, the framework and the keywords of the festival. I didn’t want to put something on the longlist that is cool, but not really related to the concept. Also, I paid attention to whether the artist was too famous, because then they would be out of our league and we just couldn’t afford it. How do I know if they are out of our league? Mostly, you can’t find the costs on the internet, but you can check the number of followers on their social media and how often they make new works and where they are shown.

Estere: There is so much information that it is easy to get confused. So, I stuck to the works that I had really seen myself, and since I haven’t seen that many, it wasn’t that difficult to choose. I mainly looked at candidates from Estonia and Lithuania, because it is easier to connect with something that is closer… it is somehow closer to my heart, also I really want to show some Latvian work in Norway. Therefore, my votes mainly went to Latvia and the Baltic States. I also wanted a dance work, so I chose a couple of choreographers. I just wanted it so… And dancers often don’t need any big scenography space, well, it is less complicated in terms of resources and transportation.

How much can you learn about the artist from their websites?

Ikars: There were some websites that maybe even had a nice and interesting visual design, but if the content suddenly doesn’t work, I can’t open the video or picture gallery, then I’m – uhh, ok… I can’t share it with others. You read the description, you try to open the video and there is just a black screen. That annoyed me the most! There was one website on our longlist that I didn’t really like visually, but I assumed it was simply a different style – it wasn’t objectively bad. So, I tried not to vote solely on my personal taste, which is hard…

Samuels: Quite a few of the websites that were on the list did not give the impression that this artist wanted me to click on their website, that I should see them, that their work was important. If I open a website and can’t figure out where to click to see their biography or a list of their works – I’m not really motivated to try any further. It seems funny, why would the artist not want a curator or producer to be able to see them not only at the live festival, but also through the website… I don’t know. I hate searching through 3 separate sections to get to what I need.

Karu: I don’t have such strong emotions about websites. As a person I respect not using the Internet, all respect, but as a curator – not so much. Also, I agree, if looking for my candidates, I saw that someone’s website was designed like it was 2006, I would go on to the next one. I don’t like websites that are difficult to use. If they are ugly, it is ok, but if they are difficult to understand, I just have the feeling that the person doesn’t want to work together.

Alberts: For me no website gives a better impression than a bad one. I do not agree that it gives the impression of a person who does not want to cooperate. I think that it is the artist’s free choice, it can show that they know their value or where they emotionally stand. If someone wants to find them, then they will have found them. Then you have to look for the reviews and find out who this person is. I respect that some people don’t like creating websites. Often websites are like an artist’s portfolio, and maybe they don’t want to be perceived now as a reproduction of who they were before. But I agree with Karu that a website form from 2006 makes the eyes hurt.

Estere: When choosing my candidates from the common longlist, there were many names I didn’t know, so I read the short description and then clicked on the website. And if I don’t like the website, then I don’t think it’s good. A website is often the only first impression I have of an artist if I haven’t seen them in person, so for me it is very important. Just like when I talk about elections with my friends – if the party’s website is terrible and you can’t understand anything, then I don’t like the party either. For those parties, which had everything very cool written on their websites, more trust was formed.

About the Shake Down project: The New Theatre Institute of Latvia and Rosendal Teater in Norway with the support of EEA Grants in 2022 launched a new international cooperation project with the aim to develop a new generation of cultural leaders, who, given the right time and resources, can shift the way we consider young people as collaborators and put them in charge of the creation of culture. Within the programme, 10 teenagers from Norway and Latvia participate in a 15 month mentoring program and co-curate two international performing arts festivals – Homo Novus Shake Down in September of 2022 in Riga and a festival Rosendal Teater, Trondheim, in April of 2023. The project has been created with the support of the European Economic Area (EEA) Grants Financial Mechanism funding period 2014. – 2021. program “Local Development, Poverty Reduction, and Cultural Cooperation” open call “Support for the Creation of Professional Art and Cultural Products for Children and Youth”.