Culture in regions: how to communicate without translation

What are the artistic practices and cultural projects outside of the capital, in the regions of Ukraine nowadays? Why isn’t art only about aesthetics, but also about the city — its environment and community, the transformational processes in it: spatial, mental, social, and economic? Why is art also the territory for dialogue, interaction, interdisciplinarity, a tool for reflection and rethinking of actual problems?

All these questions were debated on November 11 in Ivano-Frankivsk — at the forum "Cultural Projects: Effective Practices in the Regions". The event was organized within the framework of “Teple Misto” platform’s program “Next Project”, with the support of the Urban Space 100 public restaurant grant. Specialists of the cultural branch from different cities of Ukraine shared their own experience with participants (from Frankivsk, Lviv, Kolomyia, Gorlivka) and told about relevant cultural processes in their cities. The forum became a platform for the analysis of realized tasks, outlining problems and finding possible solutions. And also — for professional communication and, quite possibly, was a starting point of the future cooperation among representatives of the artistic environment and cultural managers.

"At the Forum, we were able to hear different stories and reveal the experience of working with cultural projects of different cities - through the program activities of organizations from Lviv, Ternopil, Chernivtsi, Dnipro and Mariupol. It was particularly valuable to learn about the practices in the last two cities, as we are not able to cooperate with them as often as we would like to, due to the long distances and inconvenient logistics. We were talking about cultural decentralization, have touched the experience of industrial cities, as well as the realities of the cities of Western Ukraine. But also we were discussing the challenges, painful topics that arise in this area; how to work with city audiences; which is rather important and this is precisely what we must strive for in implementing cultural projects”, — says the curator of the "Next Project" program Liliia Gogol.

It is difficult to attract an audience to a wide range of thinking. Mariupol

Guests from the east drew special attention of the participants. Ksenia Chepa from the art-platform "TU!" (Mariupol) told about the foundation of this platform, which aims to redefine the idea of life and the city with the help of art and culture. So, it all started with the beginning of the war: forced migrant Diana Berg proposed Ksenia (who also moved to Mariupol from Yenakiyevo) to work together on the project. By that time in Mariupol, according to Kseniya, there existed only a drama theater, several cinemas, standard creative activities, and "people knew practically anything about the contemporary art". The initiators of the project found the premises — a building in the historical part of the city (at different times there was a prayer house and a gymnasium), and made repairs. From the beginning and till now the platform exists thanks to the grant support, it is difficult to monetize such a project, says the representative of "TU!". Over the course of a year and a half, the platform has carried out more than 350 events of various topics (human rights, education, art, etc.) and of numerous formats (lectures, concerts, art residencies, presentations, etc.).

Ksenia Chepa:

"It is difficult to attract an audience to a wide range of thinking: everyone is focused on their own problems. But we are trying to give a new, unperturbed ground, which should be further understood. Some understand what it is all about and make conclusions, for others it’s rather difficult, but we do not lose hope. Initially, the platform was focused on young people who had nowhere to go, for studying and acquainting with contemporary art, but now we see that we have a very diverse audience. These are kids with their parents and, say, 80-year-old Mykola Mykolaiovych, who comes to every our event because he is always interested in something new. Of course, the topics also make an influence: someone likes a lecture on robotics, someone - a concert by Andrukhovych or Zhadan. And these are different people with relevant interests. Among our events there are concerts of Dakh Daughters, “Khamerman Znyshchuie Virusy”, Ptakh_Jung, and also Frik Reiv Cabaret, art residence “Z.mist”, performance “Albert abo Naivyshcha forma straty”.

Events take place not only in the platform space - we also conduct street promotions. For example, we had a very cool action "Barrier" - to draw attention to the problems of wheelchairs. We organized it next to a single passage with a ramp in Mariupol, where it is impossible to walk even for a person without a wheelchair. We are also the only ones in Mariupol who held the festival of equality: such sharp social issues have never been raised before. We work with different minorities, whose representatives suffer discrimination on some grounds. Interconnect with various communities of the city, as well as throughout Ukraine.

I think that for the cultural development of a small city, it is necessary to support various initiatives that arise in different niches. And implement something locally: subsidiary initiatives from major cities are not as important as local ones, because only those who live in this city know it the best and can tell about it most. Invited artists and masters, surely, can look at the city with fresh eyes, but who can help them better than local people".

(Post)industrial art. Dnipro

We had a talk about "post-industrial reality and contemporary art" with Kateryna Rusetska, the program curator of NGO "Kultura Medialna" and of the Contemporary Art Festival “Konstruktsiia”. After examining foreign revitalization practices (in Germany, Poland, as well as Art Zone 798 in Beijing — one of the commercially successful and popular example of the transformation from industrial to art zone), Katerina "made a tour" of the Dnieper. She joked that there are up to 3.5 cultural institutions in the city. She talked about the festival "Konstruktsiia", space "Scena" located on the site of the abandoned amphitheater in the park named after T. Shevchenko. In general, "Kultura Medialna" integrates artists, architects, musicians, designers, curators and aims at promoting audiovisual and multimedia art, promoting the education of young artists and social innovations, and developing creative practices in the public space.

Kateryna Rusecka:

"I think that neither Dnipro nor any other city in Ukraine can be called post-industrial. We are at the stage of transition, in the process — and this, of course, is difficult. In the context of post-industrial cities, culture, contemporary art is connected not only with the problem of the revitalization of postindustrial zones, but also with the historical rethinking, work with public space, and, in general, with a rather wide-ranging problematic of the industrial city. Usually such cities have never been concentrated on culture, but instead - on industry; appropriate specialists were also trained at local educational institutions. If not taking into account Kharkiv, where there is the strong Khudprom (Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts — "Teple Misto") and the artistic sphere as a whole, then such cities as Zaporizhia, Dnipro, and Mariupol in some ways, can be said have to start from scratch. Although, on the other hand, it is also a space for experimenting. Currently, "Kultura Medialna ", and, as I heard, the platform "TU!", are inviting others more. There are some prominent names in Dnipro, but these are people who, having received certain artistic education left the city. The percentage of artists per million in my city is rather small. Our cities are not Frankivsk or Lviv, where the cultural stratum has long been formed (in literature, performing arts, and fine arts).

In general, Dnipro is a "gray spot" on the cultural map of Ukraine now. In this regard, I do not seem to like anymore in my hometown. There's just nothing to do, it’s boring there (laughs), nowhere to draw new information. This is probably the reason why we have started working in this direction. Now the situation is better. Over the past three years, there has been around 70% more initiatives and organizations engaged in cultural projects. That is a good tendency, which, however, has stopped. This year, I have heard only about a good urban initiative and its workshop for students-architects. There is a private gallery "Artsvit” in the city, which can even be called the center of modern art, “Ya Halereia” unfortunately, is closed now. Recently the gallery-club "Modul" has also celebrated its year – it’s mainly the music field, they do a lot of experimental music too. In general, cultural activities are lacking, so I personally cannot stay in Dnipro for more than three months in a row: it is necessary for me to go to Kharkiv, Kyiv or Lviv and preferably beyond Ukraine — to recharge, talk and get a new experience.

In the capital and cities with active cultural life there is a greater chance of implementing the project, but also in others, particularly small towns, this is quite real. You need an idea, team and friends. Also, time or lack of it (sometimes it works quite well). If there is a mutual understanding of the team and enthusiasm, then I think some projects can be done without money. The audience is also important. And, of course, understanding the goal: if you want to make a multi-thousandth festival, then it must be understood that this is difficult but possible. We have examples — the Exit in Serbia, in Novy Sad — the city that was bombed in the 1990s: the festival, which was started by students, now collects almost 300 thousand people. The idea of ​​a cultural project and the highlight could be told by the city itself, by location: it seems to me that many go this way and this is probably the easiest way. But the problem of post-industrial cities is that their identification is actually industrial, and it is difficult to repulse from this. Although Berlin, based on the idea of ​​industrialism, eventually became a cultural mecca, and even in the time of existence of the wall (I mean western Berlin). Until the end, it is unknown how it happened: why the industrial city became a cultural capital. Apparently, the right people gathered at the right moment".

Between different players and different disciplines. Lviv

Christina Boyko, the coordinator of educational programs at the Center for Urban History (Lviv), focuses her attention on public history, participatory projects, educational initiatives and adaptation of academic studies to the public plane. The Center for Urban History is a private institution that has been operating since 2004 and is engaged in historical research. However, they prefer "not to stew in one's juice", but are oriented towards finding effective formats for cooperation with the local community and institutions, since everyone is a co-author of history. The center carries out research projects, seminars, public lectures and discussions, exhibitions, educational programs, etc. Interesting projects combining research, digital archiving and public history are such as “Interaktyvnyi Lviv” (a digital map platform that reproduces various aspects of the city life), “Miskyi mediaarkhiv” (digitized database of photos and videos, maps, etc.).

Christina Boyko:

"Now to be called the historical institution doesn’t mean to deal only with history. We live in such realities where we have to find a language with different actors and players: with the inhabitants of the city, with different audiences. And also - with different disciplines. Many of our projects are bordered by art, culture. There are a lot of these joints.

By combining different approaches and formats from academic to the public, in the Center for Urban History, we strive to create a space for discussion and informal educational practices, to be a public active institution. It is important for us to search for a language and involve different actors, participants in composing new knowledge, overcoming prejudices and stereotypes. Educational programs at the Center for Urban History are only a small part of its activities, so we do not have ambitions to cover all age groups, social groups or take the role of a museum, school or library. While developing educational programs, we strive to look for a simple language, the most relevant formats. Sometimes we are intuitively looking for how the topic can be best adapted to the relevant audience. At the moment, we have focused on such projects as accompanying programs for exhibitions, city games, workshops, summer schools, student programs for visual materials, and more.

What about the project's success? It can be defined by those who developed and implemented the project and, obviously, the audience to which it was targeted. It is vital to find time for analysis, reflection, discussion of how everything happened, why not as you would like, or vice versa. It is significant to be critical here, to name things accordingly, that is, to fix both problems and successful moments. This is a definite indicator of the quality of the following projects".

Art in public spaces. Chernivtsi

Andriy Tuzhikov, head of the NGO «Laboratoriia kultury», project manager of the international literary corporation Meridian Czernowitz, that has more than 6 years of experience in cultural management, devoted his speech to the theme of artistic interventions in public spaces. Such interventions in the urban environment – is a work with the sociocultural context: they are intended to draw attention to abandoned, forgotten spaces, to give the citizens a deeper understanding of where they live, what story hides behind a certain house, square or city in general. In Chernivtsi, there are a lot of abandoned objects and spaces: the cinema "Ukraina", the building of the cotton-weaving factory, the courtyard of the Regional History Museum, etc. In the opinion of Andriy, the formula for successful intervention is as follows: dialogue with the audience + specific message + correlation with the background of the place.

Andriy Tuzhykov:

"Art is an instrument that helps to penetrate as deep as possible into a person, touch the needed strings, and convey the idea. After all, if speaking in a dry academic, official language or language of journalism, it considerably restricts the area of ​​influence. And thanks to art, that is, emotions, it can access the hidden in a person. Compared with the usual verbal communication, this is, firstly, a faster path, and secondly, more understandable, because there is no double conversion, when a person translates the words expressed in his/her own way, and then tries to feel the emotions of another, in the process, eventually, gets not exactly what was in the beginning. Art is communication "without translation", in a common language. However, the work of the artist is filigree: to find artistic means and tools, to think hard so that the audience is touched, and it is not easy.

When can a project be considered successful? It depends on its specificity, on whether the goal was achieved (if specifically about the intervention, then the goal that was set by its creator). In general, people involved in the project must understand what they are doing, be able to articulate it and present the artist to the target audience, plus having the skills of project management. From the experience of Meridian Czernowitz - poetic readings by the authors, including Oksana Zabuzhko on the Kalinovsky market in 2012. It was very powerful: the very fact of the intervention in this space. The history of this place is recent, but we are already trying to rethink, interpret, and incorporate into the context of modern Europe with the help of artistic tools. Interestingly, writers, intellectuals from Western Europe, who come to our festival, consider socialist realism and our "wild 90s" as a part of the history of a new Europe.

What do I lack in Chernivtsi? The Public Institute for City Culture Management. We do not have a procedure, a mechanism of citizens' influence on cultural management in the city. Once there was a joint discussion between the representatives of the cultural administration and the inhabitants of Chernivtsi about the municipal cultural space, but it all ended with the discussion only. Meanwhile, let's recall the book "Why Nation Fail": inclusive institutions that help citizens to be engaged influence the work of government bodies, are a determining characteristic of a successful nation and country. Indeed, democracy is not only observation and critique but also dialogue, influence, direct intervention. When there is a mechanism of influence on the institutions, then they properly respond to the needs of the community, try to satisfy them".

Inventing, trying, experimenting. Ternopil

Marichka Yurchak, art director of the “Bunkermuz” restaurant and bar-gallery in Ternopil, talked about art-marketing instruments and partnerships in the cultural sphere, in particular with business. Here it is important to clearly indicate the benefits for the business involved in the cultural project: plus for the image, promotion of the brand, support for progressive ideas, etc. As Maria emphasizes, in cultural activities it is important to take into account local characteristics and communicate with the active societies of the city; you shouldn’t be limited to purely visual art and not be afraid to combine unexpected forms and ideas (a rock'n'roll party with coffee - why not?), to get knowledge from the art community and involve experts, find a balance between elitist and egalitarian.

Marichka Yurchak:

"It seems to me that Ternopil lives a stormy cultural life because I’m following this process and am inside of it. But those who are not engrossed, surely, can say that nothing happens. In any case, it would be desirable to see projects of a higher level, so that the capital will not be looking at us with contempt. People everywhere are equally eager cultural development, self-realization. Therefore, I am pleased when in Frankivsk or Kyiv I see the posters of events that are happening in Ternopil too: it is important that the regions have an opportunity to get involved with actual cultural processes.

Small cities have their own pros and cons. But I see more pluses. Since there is less goings on in this cultural desert, no matter what  you do, you will be pioneers in everything. In such circumstances, it's easier to attract attention to the event - both audiences and the media. Here, in comparison with the capital, it is cheaper and easier to find premises, etc. Direct communication with your audience is also a plus for a small city. Ukrainians are traveling today, they see a lot of things - this creates an appropriate understanding, requests, you can see that very clearly from the feedbacks, in communication with public. And this at the same time educates you and shapes your attitude to work.

At the forum, I realized that active cultural life rages in Ukraine. Some time ago, I was acquainted only with Andrew, so it was pleasant and exciting to open cultural initiatives in other cities: our potential partners are there, with whom I will be contacting in the future. This forum is about developmentalization: live communication subsequently turns into real projects. I think the audience, although it was very diverse, gained something beneficial".

We finished the forum with a discussion. Talked about the features of project planning and search for resources, the importance of the team, communication with the audience and partners, following the trends and developing of the own unique models and formats, risks and how to deal with them. Interestingly, the experts gave totally different answers to these questions.

The forum has become a good platform for sharing experiences and ideas as well as for the networking. As speakers note: the meeting is likely to have its continuation in further cooperation, in new joint projects. Representatives of the audience also shared their impressions and considerations.

Bogdan Yanchuk-Zuher, Lviv, educational expert, performer (Lviv):

"If you can read everything about certain organizations on the Internet, then here on the forum, I was expecting to hear about real practices, to see and communicate with those people who are engaged in cultural projects in Ukraine and are successful in this field. The most productive for me was the discussion between the participants and the audience. It gave an opportunity to even more expose the problems and specific nuances in the work of practitioners, but it was a little bit compressed: there was a lack of communication of the speakers with the audience, in the hall, I would like to ask specialists a little more. But in any case, such meetings are a charge of energy. And this may encourage me to communicate with the experts whom I have met here. For myself, I realized: if you want to implement a cultural project (I did not do that, although there are some ideas), then you can begin by studying the experience of others.

I am acquainted with the activities of the "Koza" art bar in Ternopil, "Kultura Medialna" in Dnipro, and I am also partly acquainted with the accomplishments of "Teple Misto". I was interested in information about Mariupol, how this region is developing, and the fact that colleagues from the east position themselves as “vypalena zemlia” ("scorched earth). To my mind, this metaphor should cover a number of Ukrainian cities, not only the biggest and not only from the eastern part of Ukraine. For example, Rivne, Dubno, Ostroh, or other small towns in the Frankivsk region. I do not consider eastern Ukraine to be a scorched earth, and western — heavenly paradise. And in the cultural field, we should work on all "fronts": art, education, and others".

Julia Rusylo, designer (Ivano-Frankivsk):

"I'm fully satisfied with this forum. The most interesting thing for me was to hear how people are united for the sake of a common idea, how they search for resources, how they work altruistically to develop their own cities and create opportunities for others. Particularly interesting is the experience of Dnipro and Mariupol".

Vitalii Hrekh, artist, designer, co-founder of Kickit Art Studio (Ivano-Frankivsk):

"It's cool to get acquainted with different tools and environments in one day. To conduct a certain review of cultural activities from all over Ukraine. Our studio implements projects in small cities. We mainly participate as performers. For example, a team of active students invited Kickit Art Studio to visit Stryi - to paint a facade of the school. When you do a project in Drohobych, Stryi or Kaniv, there are active people (though there are a few of them) and they are caring more than anywhere else: feel emotional hunger, are really eager to do something; they are bored, do not have enough places and events. Small cities have the potential, and in order to release it, you need a strategy or a certain sequence of actions, this holds people in a cultural tone".

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