The capital city allocates a part of its budget to municipality-sponsored organizations, such as Galéria mesta Bratislavy (Gallery of the City of Bratislava) or the zoo. Projects “promoting the city of Bratislava” – as if there were good activities that do not promote the city – can apply for the resources of Ars Bratislavensis grant program. Despite a non-existent support system, there are more and more cultural and artistic activities, which improve the quality of life in Bratislava. KU.BA – Kultúrna Bratislava (Cultural Bratislava) intends to contribute to the establishment of suitable conditions for survival and further development of such initiatives.
The platform was established in January 2015 as one of the activities within the Partnership for a Creative Bratislava project organized by A4 – Association for Contemporary Culture. The platform organizes discussions with the public and communicates with responsible politicians. But above all, there are regular meetings with the representatives of the cultural scene in Bratislava and together they articulate the needs of this sector and present them to municipal authorities. After the second series of discussions, we talked to the initiators of the project, Slávo Krekovič, Ľubo Burgr, Bohdan Smieško and Zuzana Ivašková.
What are your impressions from the recent platform meeting?
B: I was glad that so many people attended it. It seems that we started a certain working regime, as the first meeting was more about discussions and full of lament. Lamenting is justifiable, because the majority of people are extremely frustrated from the current situation. We also agreed to create working groups and we talked about specific issues related to the campaign, the preamble, the group discussed their opinion on the budget. So since the first meeting, which was more about ideas, we moved to actual work set-up.
Z: KU.BA meetings are not open to public for now, but we are doing our best not to exclude anyone from the cultural scene. It is a big challenge for us not to profile ourselves as a closed community, as if A4 was doing something just for themselves. We are the holders of the project supported by the Norwegian financial mechanism, but we want the whole process to be as participative as possible.
During the discussion, I felt that people are open to the topic, they are willing to join and the response of the community is really positive.
S: Somebody has finally started to promote our common interests. It was not for the first time, but now, finally, there are efforts to bring a change in the system. And it is related to the elections, too, there is a new management and new municipal deputies.
Ľ: What has also changed is the scene, it is much richer than it was 10 or 20 years ago. And then, when the people understood that this was not just a single meeting, but a long journey of 16 months, with a certain vision and people working on it, they got enthusiastic. Just like Bohdan said, the first meeting was more about “okay, let’s meet again, like we always do. We’ll see who comes, we’ll say what we have to say, drink a few beers and go home.” Then they realized there are people who have a vision. The second meeting was more about work and only those who actually wanted to do something came. We received e-mail reactions with specific notes and materials that we can use. In comparison with the past 20 years, this is significantly different from the meetings we had before. At this one, we could see a natural selection of people who want to help, who have capacities and skills. I was pleasantly surprised how many people wanted to participate.
The need has been here for a long time, so what is different now and what was the decisive moment for you to go for it? Apart from receiving a grant from the NGO Fund?
Ľ: That was an important moment. We have been working on this together with Slávo for 12 years and we always got stuck. We had certain capacity, but if we wanted to work systematically, we needed money to pay the staff, which we didn’t have. We were all frustrated and sceptic because we managed to set up two or three meetings and then we ran out of energy and resources. This grant created conditions for us to work systematically for at least 16 months, to enthuse people and create a team.
Z: Cultural scene is very specific, as it cannot complain about the lack of ideas or visions. This is definitely not an issue for us. There have always been several opinions and views on the whole situation. Right now, systematic work helps us a lot.
Ľ: Furthermore, by signing the contract, we committed to work on it. (everyone laughs) We may laugh, but truth is that there are many situations ahead of us when we may lack energy, but we will have to go on. It is a commitment, we cannot back off and that is very good for the strategy and the whole environment.
What would you like to achieve with your project? What is the ideal outcome?
S: Apart from activities which he planned, the background aim is to start an advanced stage of cultural strategy planning in the dialogue with the city, to create a development concept for the city.
The final result will depend on the cooperation with all bodies, deputies and the public. There are many parallel processes, some of them related to informing the public and raising the awareness about the whole scene standing behind culture and to inform on how it works in the city. But we will also try to engage deputies and municipal authorities in the process.
Ideally, it will all result in a concept which will not be only formal but it will be an output of a wider participative process with all people willing to say something joining the preparation. It should not be pro forma, it should be connected to a real action plan. A framework will be created to establish conditions for future cultural activities in a way that would be difficult to reverse.
There are many issues, some are related to money, others to capacities which must be defined in the course of the project – the needs of stakeholders, resources, potential of various areas. What the city can do to move things forward in the horizon of 5 – 10 years. It concerns both the independent scene and municipal institutions and it is also related to all levels of municipal districts, the region and the Ministry of Culture, which, for now, has only approved a national strategy of cultural development. Ideally, all these layers should be interconnected.
At the end of the whole process, we expect that the scene will be interconnected, the public will be well-informed and will understand why it is important and why it all happened. But we also expect that the politicians are aware of it and officials contribute to the creation of the first framework for culture in the city.
B: It is essential to change the paradigm. It is surreal that there are 300 cultural and artistic subjects and from the 300 that create cultural offer, only 5 receive financial support. From the whole package that the city invests into culture without any quality check. And all other subjects creating value don’t receive a penny. Nobody stops to think about why that is and how strange it is.
Ľ: Apart from the cultural development strategy itself, it is also important how it is created. We have an objective, but the road that we take to reach the finish line may be even more important, at least in the long-term perspective. The road we choose will cultivate the environment to such extent that it may create a more conscious, more cultured sample of people which are able to enter the system of democracy and influence it in a positive way.
Promotion towards the public, which is a part of the project, is extremely important. The public often perceives culture as a parasite. People are not aware of the influence of culture on society, why we need it or why we finance it at all. They understand waste disposal, parking lots and security, but for most people, culture is still incomprehensible or personified with some TV series, etc.
It seems that the artistic community is open to cooperation, but what has been your experience with the city, with the people responsible for its development and culture?
B: An enormous deficit of the city lies in an absolutely unskilled administrative team of responsible officers, heads of departments, etc. It is not only about deputies. Skilled people do not want to work in public administration, but they should go there and try to improve the environment. After all, deputies only approve materials that the officers prepare and if they don’t prepare anything good, what can they approve?
It is essential to create space for discussion with politicians, to engage them, open certain topics and ask them to be honest. We asked the cultural committee for an approach of partnership. We offer capacities, human potential and we ask them to join us, because we want cooperation.
L: Even the fact that the mayor organized an open table meeting in May is absolutely in line with the project. So far it has been very promising. We hope it won’t change.
In the discussion on creative industry, it was said that decision-makers are quite closed and their participation is just an illusion, pro forma. Some creative centres come up with a strategy, but the strategy is totally disconnected from reality.
S: This issue is related to the nationwide strategy prepared by various ministries, regions and cities. It is a complicated process and naturally, NGOs and subjects from the field should be involved too, but we found out that they weren’t. As the final implementation documents are not public, the whole process is very questionable.
This is not only an issue of the city, although the city will be the control body and therefore it will be up to them to harmonize the interests of the development of culture and creative industry. We also asked ourselves whether it is possible to develop entrepreneurship in creative areas without strategic thinking. If the municipal authorities do not think about the development of culture and mechanisms to support art and free creation, it is very difficult to come up with entrepreneurial thoughts, increase employment, etc.
Ľ: The situation of creative industry in Slovakia is a demonstration of the fact that Slovakia is a young democracy dealing with very basic problems and taking over ideas of a more developed Europe. In Germany, for example, there are no problems talking about financing independent culture. In Slovakia, it is interesting to discuss what is art and creation, to think of creative industry as a way of making money, only because of the huge amount of money coming from the EU. But they forget about issues that other countries have already resolved. In Slovakia we talk about fundamental questions – why we should finance culture, whether we should do it at all. And to pour money into such environment means that vultures will smell the opportunity to reconstruct buildings, invest and buy technology with a 100 or 200% profit. This is a simple explanation of the issue of implementing several ideas which are currently discussed in Europe. We take them over, but we don’t know what to do next, because we haven’t solved the basics yet.
You have all been working in this area for a long time. Do you think that the culture in Bratislava works well? What would help it the most?
S: I think that what works well are the activities that are organized. We can be proud of places unrivalled in central Europe, artists, a developed experimental music scene, etc. This means that we have productivity, people willing to do something, organizers and it is relatively viable. What we need are conditions for a long-term survival. The frameworks are important, as without them, people end up exhausted and burned-out. They leave abroad or start to work in a different area, because there is no space for professional growth in such environment. And this is the main reason why the project was created.
Z: Then there is a different problem, mentioned by the mayor. There are people belonging to the cultural scene who feel they are too independent and authentic and the grants could “spoil” them. To be honest, we would survive even without any help, because the sector is vigorous and works exquisitely. I remember writing my master’s thesis in 2005 on the development of Bratislava from the perspective of the civic sector engagement and the situation was far from the one we have now. The scene was much smaller, there were fewer activities. The situation is improving and it will continue to improve, but to pretend that we will deal with it on our own or even say that we are the independent ones, that would be very dangerous. It seems good that since the beginning we have used the expression non-established culture (note: not established or sponsored by the national or local authorities), although the term is not commonly used and we must explain what it means. But it is useful, because nobody can took us at our words. It is important to send a signal that the current status is not okay. We need transparent, open systems of support and even “independent” activities and non-established cultural subjects should have the opportunity to apply for support.
Ľ: When we presented the idea of the name KU.BA, Blaho Uhlár said that it was a very fitting name, because it captures the situation of culture in Bratislava. It got stuck in the 1940s when we lived with communists in socialism. The feeling that professional art can only be created in an institution is still predominant. Whether it is an organization financed or co-financed by the state or a state body. A freelance artist cannot be a professional. He is an amateur, he needs to have a job and he creates art on the side. This opinion still prevails and even the people in cultural committees have problems understanding that it is wrong. Culture is the last area where communistic ideas persist.
For more information, visit kulturnabratislava.sk. If you are interested in minutes from the platform meetings, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Michaela Kučová 2.04.2015