The former soviet states are littered with half-finished buildings and projects cut short by the collapse of the Soviet Union. High schools, factories, apartment complexes: some of the buildings stand abandoned for years, stripped of their valuables and left bare to the elements. In some scenarios, they at least become playgrounds for explorers and artists. But occasionally, a lucky building will be reborn as a center for culture. In Latvia there are several examples of this: Karosta, an abandoned naval port which now includes a movie hall and artist training ground, The Dream Factory, which is well known as an alternative performance and party space, and most recently, a proposal for the new Contemporary Art Museum of Latvia.
The current Latvian National Art Museum, in the capital of Riga, is a beautiful Art Nouveau wedding-cake of a building, an example of the kind of early twentieth century architecture the city is famous for. But its exhibition space is limited. The new museum, which will incorporate a former power plant, will feature 4,000 square meters of exhibition space as well as a lecture hall, cafe, library, and a few workshop spaces. The new museum will be located along the river Daugava in Andrejsala, an old port (and a veritable smorgasboard of orphaned lots adopted by cultural ambitions) in Riga.
Andrejsala, which includes amongst its old lots an old garage, a grain silo, a train station and an old customs building, has been host to a number of cultural events and happenings. This past Earth Day the port held an eco-mural painting party on the side of a long brick shed. Many of the sites there have been transformed into art spaces, including a theater, a hostel, a painter’s studio and screenprinting facility. It seems that Latvian culture has done well in embracing many skeletons of the old regime as cultural resources, not wastelands.