19.05.2020 Thuesday

“Wrocław Cultural Guide”: Seven voices from the world

The crisis caused by the coronavirus epidemic caught us by surprise while we were right in the middle of our preparations. Closed borders, cancelled flights and trains, misinformation and unclear predictions forced us to suspend many meticulously planned international events. After the initial shock, we decided to reach out to the foreign partners of Culture Zone Wrocław, asking them about their current situation, operations, and plans going forward.

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fot. Brian Scott Peterson

Shuji Kogi

– Secretary General of the EU-Japan Fest Japan Committee, organisation which has a close relationship with European Capitals of Culture. For many years now it’s been a partner of Culture Zone Wrocław for example the artist-in-residence initiatives.

The coronavirus pandemic has made everyone – even those opposing globalisation – realise, that we live in a global village, where cultures and economies are intertwined. More than 200 years ago Goethe said that There is no such thing as patriotic art or patriotic science. Like all good things, both belong to the whole world, becoming the legacy of our past. Inspired by the present, they are our future. I agree with that concept wholeheartedly. Coronavirus is a threat to the entire human race. That is why we need the whole world to work together, despite the differences, and borders, that separate us. The morale of the people is also very important. Artistic expression is a fine way to reach people’s hearts and bolster their courage.

We will see the rise of totalitarian, strongly nationalistic forms of government. To limit the transmission of coronavirus, it will be necessary to monitor and manage civil population by powerful government authorities. With everything being regulated, we must remember, what democracy, freedom of speech, rule of law and human rights stand for, and defend those ideas.

It’s also clear, that digitalisation and artificial intelligence technologies will have an even greater impact on societies around the world. However, in the pursuit of technological progress, we must never forget human dignity and the value of a person. I do want democracy to win against IT-based totalitarianism and nationalism.

 fot. Yaroslav Nepyk

Yuliia Khomchyn

– director of the Culture Strategy Institute in Lviv, which is supported by Culture Zone Wrocław in their efforts to win the European Capital of Culture elections. Since 2017, in partnership with the Culture Strategy Institute, a series of networking seminars and workshops (the LWOWRO project) for culture managers from Wrocław and Lviv have been held.

A terrible storm is raging right now around the world. It is clear, that major changes will affect all aspects of our lives: from geopolitics, to international landscape, to interpersonal relationships.  There is a risk, that international relations will fall apart. The epidemic has become a significant challenge to Europe’s liberal democracy and the world’s strongest economies. In such circumstances, a global resource redistribution is likely. Security measures will change, new professions will emerge, and more services will be available online. Slower economy will have a positive impact on the environment. It’s an opportunity to re-think humanity’s actions on a global scale.

Culture is the basis of all civilization processes. Mankind’s development is an almost continuous series of challenges, mistakes and pursuits. Culture provides new concepts, meaning and paradigms to help people endure. And as it reshapes the world, it makes its own future unpredictable.

Ukraine is a country with a weak economy. It’s been ravaged by war for 6 years now. As a result it has far less opportunity for financial support programmes for its culture initiatives and institutions. Other countries, such as Germany, USA, and France, are immediately eligible for such aid. It is quite difficult to protest and criticize the government while there’s a quarantine in effect. However, recently first rallies for support of culture were held online, which is encouraging. 

I wish that the whole world learns from this. I urge all of us – people: we must never forfeit our ability to think for ourselves and help others.

fot. Tatiana Takáčová

Petra Housková

– project manager of the K.A.I.R. Košice Artist in Residence programme in Slovakia. K.A.I.R. and AIR Wro regularly organise exchange programs for artists in different fields.

A parliamentary election was recently held in Slovakia. The scope of support from the Ministry of Culture is anyone’s guess. There’s one initiative in progress: a survey, where we to collect information from organisations, institutions and people working in culture. The results will be forwarded to the ministry, which should then take all measures necessary to resolve the reported issues. What will those measures be? Nobody knows as of yet. On the other hand there are many projects in Slovakia that have the support of the Slovakia’s Council of Culture, which has already provided new guidelines for grant beneficiaries. These should help somewhat alleviate the current situation.

The future of culture depends on when the threat of coronavirus will be over.  The longer the situation stays as is, the more damaging its consequences will be. That said – looking on the bright side – I am almost certain, that many cultural initiatives and artists will adapt to the circumstances we find ourselves in, resulting in extraordinary and innovative projects.

I have several concerns regarding economic instability, as well as political, social and environmental issues. I am hoping for a fundamental social change – pessimism only makes matters worse. I would like to see more solidarity and conscious decision-making that leads to combating the impact of global warming.

fot. Ksenia Les

Ewa Stróżczyńska-Wille, Natalie Wasserman, Oliver Spatz

– creative team of Kulturzug Berlin–Wrocław [eng. Culture Train Berlin–Wrocław] initiative, a train connection established between the two cities in 2016, where the passengers can participate in various culture events on board. Since 2018 Culture Zone Wrocław and the Culture Train together organise the Culture Forum – meetings of artists from Wrocław and Berlin and their study trips to both cities.

Culture is one of the pillars of our life. People involved in culture have a significant impact on the society: they leverage the potential of our diversity; they see social challenges not as obstacles, but as catalysts for learning and understanding; thanks to their efforts we can find joy, happiness and dialogue together. The coronavirus pandemic has made their role even more apparent to the society.

At the same time, we also feel a little ashamed due to the privileges we enjoy here in Germany. Federal and local governments provide non-bureaucratic and nearly immediate support – not only for large companies, but freelancers as well. Hearing about hundreds of thousands of Indian workers, who lost their jobs and homes due to the lockdown is very difficult.

The situation we find ourselves in would be overwhelming, if we didn’t believe, that our efforts are meaningful. Knowing, that our projects help facilitate dialogue that transcends borders is not only helpful, but rather fuels our enthusiasm. Hopefully we will all appreciate the benefits of open borders and will make the best of the opportunities, that the cross-border cooperation brings. This gives us strength, so we won’t capitulate in our global fight against injustice and inequality. We’re hopeful, that the current circumstances – very difficult for many people – will make it clear, that a united Europe is stronger and safer.

We look to the future with optimism. The period of isolation, working from home, and doing everything online has shown us the importance of personal contact. Even before the current crisis social media were an important aspect of many people’s lives. Now, that our relations have been for the most part reduced to such means, we’ve realised, that being able to talk to someone face to face is irreplaceable. Home office means you don’t get to chat with your colleagues during lunch, crack jokes together at a desk, or trade gossip, when you’re making coffee. We all start realising (or at least we consider) the reasons and meaning behind our professional careers. Is my job merely a means to pay my rent? Do I feel satisfied with it? Is it something I wish to do for the rest of my life? World is always in a hurry. We ask ourselves: what is my place in it? What role I want or can play in it? Nowadays it’s difficult to run away from answers to these questions. Sure, many of us are struggling with existential problems and anxiety. But there is something that gives us all courage. Solidarity. People join each other in struggle, not thinking just about themselves, but those around them. We sympathise with other professional groups, that are usually unnoticed in our daily hassles.

And we do that with no regard to borders. People can’t stand complete isolation: we need our neighbours, and not just the ones down the hall. Because without them, we don’t feel complete. That is true for the entire world, and frankly that’s the way it has always been. Now we’re simply more aware of this „weave” that spans the planet.

fot. Marius Vizbaras

Ana Čižauskienė

– Head of International Relations and Programming of the Kaunas 2022 European Capital of Culture  bureau. In 2020 it was organised first interdisciplinary workshops, where artists and creators from Wrocław and Kaunas worked on the art projects inspired for example by the history of Kaunas and the Polish-Lithuanian heritage.

Generally speaking, in times of struggle art and culture become more important. Cancelled events do not mean, that the whole industry ceases to exist. Culture is necessary, so that the people can find peace despite the epidemic, and to maintain their sense of community and optimism. The cultural sector as a whole is adapting to our new circumstances, while at the same struggling with the impact on economy. It doesn’t matter, if we’re talking about private or public sector – government’s support is obviously necessary to keep culture alive. Our individual contributions are also very important. Ministry of Culture and the Lithuanian Council for Culture have introduced special means and programmes that help provide financial support for artists and culture organisations that are in dire economic situation. However completely opposite actions are taken by local governments negatively impacting hundreds of people working in culture sector in Kaunas, resulting in severe criticism.

Our future now depends on how long the current situation – which on one hand is difficult for us, but on the other hand shows us the beauty of simple things – will last. At least for the time being we will be focused on our homes, our families, learning to live with one another, spending time together, exploring our surroundings, doing things by ourselves. In a more global perspective the social distancing will increase, but at the same time the sense of community will be strengthened.

We must create and pursue new opportunities: the world (especially now) needs good ideas. That’s what will help us survive.

 mat. Narodni Dom Maribor

Vladimir Rukavina, Barbara Švrljuga Hergovich, Marko Brumen

– team representing the Narodni Dom Maribor , an institution that has retained its cultural importance after the Maribor 2012 European Capital of Culture election (similar to how Culture Zone Wrocław was created due to the Wrocław 2016 European Capital of Culture election). The team is an active member of an informal association of representatives from the previous and future European Capitals of Culture.

Providing fresh artistic perspective on the past, present, and future, is both their privilege and their burden. We should listen to their opinions and support their work. Culture is what has survived the most difficult times in mankind’s history. We don’t know when and if this threat is eradicated. In the meantime however the institutions will have to adapt to our current situation.

We do not know the specifics at the country or city level. However it seems that government support for the culture sector looks less than promising. Co-financing of publishing and film-making projects has been suspended in order to the stem economic bleeding. It’s ironic, since so many people read books and watch movies during quarantine. Also over 50% of self-employed freelancers will not be eligible for benefits based on the new emergency legislation measures.

We’re hoping, that once the pandemic ends, people won’t be afraid to meet together. Then they will surely appreciate the importance of live events. Because travelling is now limited, institutions will focus on supporting their local artists. At the same time we are quite worried about the pandemic’s “casualties” in the culture sector, which for the most part means the NGOs. However, we remain optimistic, that this will not lead to an unhealthy competition, resulting in commercial initiatives severely outnumbering those that will be available to the public for free.

One thing is certain: well financed medical care is and should remain the basis of any developed county. And the same also holds true for culture. After all, art and medicine is what makes humanity special. When Winston Churchill was asked to reduce culture funding during World War II, he asked a very simple question: “So what will we be fighting for?”

We are closely following the spread of COVID-19 in other countries, where the infection curve is steeper than that of Slovenia. On that basis we formulate alternatives for continuation of projects and regular schedules, with future dates and unclear limitations. Just as it is true for the virus itself – there are too many factors to predict the future. We are preparing however for positive scenarios.

fot. Agnes Preslmayr

Philipp Dietachmair

– Head of Programmes at the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) in Amsterdam , which is a co-organiser of the Tandem Ukraine project. Culture Zone Wrocław participates “in tandem” with Insha Osvita (Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine), Naš most Zenica (Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Kino Usmev (Košice, Slovakia) institutions.

European Cultural Foundation changed its whole programming for 2020. The foundation supports many initiatives crossing Europeans borders – which are currently closed. ECF’s goal is to facilitate collaboration of people, to experience, imagine, and share Europe as a public space open to everyone. Needless to say, the current crisis has had a significant impact on its operations. The current situation also raises fundamental questions about the  value of ECF’s historical achievements and what to focus on as the only purely cultural foundation with a pan-European mission.

For the time being we can participate in our partners online. However we remain hopeful, that one day soon Europeans will once again be able to travel, experience different cultures, and appreciate them even more than before. These new times also show us the need for a stronger sense of belonging to Europe, a European ‘sentiment’ (term used by the founders of ECF), and that we need a culture of mutual support and solidarity, instead of nationalist interests. To that end we’ve joined most of our 2020 funds with the new Culture of Solidarity Fund.

It’s too early to determine the exact impact of these changes on our work, lives, Europe as a whole – and more importantly the world itself. As artists, and people working for cultural institutions and organisations, we should be wary of premature decisions and hasty conclusions. Considering, that so many individual tragedies and dramas that are happening here and in other parts of the world, our role should be to slow down, listen, critically observe, understand and share stories about what is really going on and how it affects people and communities around the globe.

Collected by: Paulina Brelińska, Paulina Maloy, Katarzyna Zielińska

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