Latvian Cultural Canon

Just like in other European countries, the Latvian Cultural Canon is compiled as a treasure trove that contains the most important cultural achievements of all times. The Canon will include the treasures from various branches of culture: ones that are characteristic of it; that are for us a source of pride, and that should form the basis of cultural experience of every Latvian resident, fostering his or her sense of belonging.   The Canon discourse is related to the notion of cultural memory, which can be considered as knowledge shared by a group of people, representatives of a certain culture, at a particular time. Thus Canon can be said to represent a means for creating and disseminating such common cultural memory.

Work on forming the Latvian Cultural Canon was launched in late 2007. Working groups of experts were formed in seven areas (Architecture and Design, Cinema, Literature, Music, Stage Art, National Traditions, Visual Arts). That work is now complete and we have a Cultural Canon consisting of 99 cultural treasures.  

Māra Lāce, patroness of the Latvian Cultural Canon, Director of the National Art Museum, puts it this way: "The Canon and the process of compiling it have made me realize once again that we possess great if not vast cultural treasures whose significance, history, and value is unfortunately less than common knowledge. Of course, it is impossible to know absolutely everything in this dynamic time that is so imbued with new information. But if anyone wants to know more about the foundation on which Latvian culture rests, then the Canon will provide him or her with such an opportunity. Canon highlights what we can be proud of and explains why we should be proud. As more time passes since the process of forming the Canon, my feelings about the point and significance of this project change also. If in the beginning the experts in each area had rather ambivalent feelings about their task, for the professionals found dissecting the development of culture and the treasures created by many people of outstanding talent absurd, in the late going most of those involved considered the process interesting and fruitful. The compilation of lists was quite complicated. The experts had many discussions among themselves, sometimes having a difficult time achieving a consensus on common values. I think it is a good thing, because it seems that it was these discussions that pointed thoughts in the direction of assessment. 


Now I have had many more positive experiences regarding the influence of the Canon on various processes. In informal conversations, teachers have told me that they use the list in the teaching process. A woman who heads a memorial museum dedicated to a personality included in the Canon told me that after he made the list it has become easier for her to have a dialogue with her local government and make sure that the museum is appreciated. The family of an outstanding artist are now ready to give a national museum a great number of his works – only because he has been included in the list. It I difficult to say if that is much or little. But it is clear that the Cultural Canon is something living.


To me the Cultural Canon represents something akin to punctuation marks or road markers that identify and highlight certain treasures in the expanse of culture. That does not mean that people cannot come up with their own canons. Each and every one of us can have his or her understanding regarding priorities. The Cultural Canon inspired by the Ministry of Culture represents the vision of experts in each area of culture, pointing at certain qualities as they see them. The concept of quality to me is one of the most essential things in trying to understand the Canon, related to what is unique; the mentality of the nation and certain assumptions that have formed over a longer period of time. 


The Cultural Canon should not be perceived as a petrified, unchangeable dogma. It is a process that should be subject to perpetual change and development. I think that the process of identifying the cultural treasures could captivate many people, inciting them to exchange opinions and come to certain conclusions.  


The Cultural Canon should be a source for our pride. Yet we have to acknowledge that the treasures we celebrate are just small beacons in the vast field of Latvian culture, which deserves to be learnt, preserved and, most importantly, developed creatively, so that after a while we could look over the Canon again and name new treasures that have been created and should be preserved for future generations."