Kultura Nova on the European Pavilion
Dea Vidović, Director of Kultura Nova Foundation
What is the context you work in?
The question of context is always a complex one as it could be grasped from many angles and perspectives. Croatia is a post-war country – a country that belongs to the third wave of democratisation, and the last Member State that joined the European Union. Those are the factors that have had a profound effect on the frame of reference within which Kultura Nova Foundation is working.
We can pragmatically categorise this frame of reference in three main strata – the national (local specificities), the regional (Southeast Europe) and the pan-European context. As a public body dedicated to providing support for civil society organisations in contemporary arts and culture, our work is strongly focused on observing the working conditions and framework for functioning and development of civil actors in a specific cultural niche of contemporary arts.
Those organisations in Croatia have a very important role. The importance of their role pertains to introducing new themes, modes of operation and production, redefining values and broadening the cultural debate horizon with political and critical perspectives, raising awareness about sensitive issues and announcing new tendencies in Croatian socio-political reality marked by post-transitional vulnerable democracy, and perpetual economic crisis.
Parallel to this, civil society organisations (CSOs) are facing continuous budget cuts at the national and local level, as well as the declines of physical spaces for their activities. Despite the strong potentials that CSOs have for development of cultural programmes, artistic concepts and collaborations, these organisations have been systematically driven to the threshold of their financial and organisational endurance.
The dominant project logic work in the civil sector has taken its toll on the professionals that work in this sector. Consequently, the CSOs have been chronically exposed to unstable, project and non-standard working conditions, and the state of crisis is their permanent state followed by social insecurity. Kultura Nova has been counterbalancing this situation by providing support for CSOs’ work and has matched their commitment in instigating positive changes in cultural policy provision, becoming a relevant institution on the local and regional level with distinctive resonance on a European scale in providing multidimensional perspectives and critical approaches in debating and contributing to cultural policy change.
The change that is needed encompasses systemic responses to the vital issues of instability, precariousness and distress that civil society actors are continuously exposed to. In this respect, the local, regional and European contexts merge into common aspirations, needs and goals that are slowly being achieved through collective action on all geographical scales – creating new forms of cultural policy and governance that is more emphatic, responsive and encouraging.
Why is Europe relevant?
The Covid-19 pandemic crisis has exposed the political, economic, social and cultural vulnerabilities of Europe. The list of traditional impediments has been expended by a new one, creating a variety of emergencies across the continent – from climate change, rising xenophobia and nationalism to increasing inequalities, political populism, migration crisis, rise of illiberal democracies, deficit of democratic institutions, shrinking public spaces, division among European elites and European common people, failure of cultural democracy and intercultural dialogue, to physical distancing and restrictions for public events, closing borders, health crisis management, economic crisis, etc.
The current global crisis makes the weaknesses of the existing economic and political system visible but it also calls for the reconsideration of our own positions and roles within the socio-political system. The current times are the pinnacle of a long-overlooked necessity to rethink Europe as a relevant political, social and cultural structure – Europe that wouldn’t be divided and polarised across nationalities, religions, genders, languages and all other political, economic, social and cultural differences. As one of the most developed continents, Europe should fulfil its promise to be a place where the principles of social solidarity, human rights, freedom, equality and tolerance are standard for all citizens of Europe.
Why is the European Pavilion an interesting idea and how would you like to collaborate on it?
The idea of a European Pavilion converges cross-border and trans-local perspectives that address the way people, institutions and media feel and view Europe. The European Pavilion is a fluid and open public space where people can meet, discuss, exhibit, and imagine different experiences and views. It is not envisaged as just one Pavilion, but many that would grow across Europe. A variety of forms, sizes and territories would better reflect cultural diversity in Europe.
Through our collaboration within the European Pavilion, Kultura Nova will bring the voices of our specific national/local and regional perspectives to the European scale. Collaborating with Teodor Celakoski, Iskra Gešoska, Šeila Kamerić, Višnja Kisić, Goran Tomka and Ana Žuvela, we will be exploring the future modality of European Pavilion(s), which will not be an exclusive and elitist permanent zone but a trajectory of European diversities, zones of participatory practices that engage numerous actors – especially those who have been previously marginalised. They will be zones of exchanging and sharing between peripheries and centre, zones of strategic cooperation between sectors, disciplines and territories. Together with the five collaborative platforms in Europe, that are made up of 53 organisations from 16 countries, and are supported by Kultura Nova Foundation, we are also going to explore the future of European Pavilion(s) according to the needs of those cultural actors, and the possibility of extending the Kultura Nova Grant Scheme for Collaborative platforms in Europe within the European Pavilion.
In your dream, what would the European Pavilion look like?
One of the most inspiring aspects of this initiative is the contradiction between the name and the initial idea of European Pavilion. In its name and traditional form (pavilion and even European) there is nothing new and interesting. As we all know, the current cultural system is significantly represented by a rigid, bureaucratic and hierarchical form of organisation that is built on discrimination regardless of social class, age, nationality, gender, religion, etc. But considering the initial idea of a European Pavilion as a potent platform for decolonisation and de-elitisation of the dominant culture in Europe (i.e. a platform for emerging forms of transnational collaborations, sharing and exchange of variety of marginalised voices), we hope that the European Pavilion will become a promising and emerging support scheme and initiative – a platform where diverse voices unite, where different discussions are led, where continuously challenging views are joining in and where new knowledge is produced.
We see the European Pavilion’s greatest potential as being the space of changing a dominant narrative and connotation of ingrained meaning of words, notions and concepts without creating new terminology and a new world. In that sense, the European Pavilion can become a compelling policy change-maker.