Earlier this year in March, we had a great opportunity to be a part of the first Trans Europe Halles Balkan Meeting in Timisoara, Romania. The event was hosted by Ambasada – a meeting place for a diverse bunch of people having on their disposal there spaces, facilities and services allowing anyone to make sustainable creative projects happen, free of cost. “It is a connection place for people that want to bring positive action and impact through creative changes.” (TEH)
It all started with the PLAI festival in 2007 – one of the biggest music festivals in Timisoara. The team behind it, a community of volunteers, later began to produce other events promoting active citizenship and enlarging the impact of the festival itself. Eventually these initiatives grew into a multi-functional space which stimulates and nourishes creativity. But it wasn’t until 2014 that this project became reality.
Ambasada is the first cultural re-conversion of an industrial site in Timisoara. At a time when many industrial buildings were being demolished, the team wanted to prove that creative and social business models can preserve industrial buildings and keep them alive. They have found potential in a former hat factory of historical significance.
Photo taken from Ambasada’s Facebook page
They rented the building, renovated it mostly through dedicated voluntary work but the need to generate income and become sustainable appeared to be rather urgent. Developing a social enterprise model was the right solution. The space consists of a bistro, coworking, meeting rooms, performance and rehearsal spaces, and an event hall accommodating between 100 and 300 people. The calendar is open meaning that anyone can propose an event and use the space. In this way they support individuals and other organizations who do not have spaces of their own.
While the facilities and services for the creative and non-profit sectors are free, the incomes from the bistro, commercial activities and corporate sponsorships are actually allowing them to offer free services for the community. What’s more, the bistro employees are people with disabilities and young people from the foster system. “The bistro not only provides employment opportunities, but a framework that is safe and structured, enabling employees to develop confidence, life skills and a much needed support network.” (Creative Lenses case study). By the way, we had the chance of trying some amazing food there, if you are ever in Timisoara don’t miss stopping by for a brunch and enjoy the sunny terrace!
Photo taken from Ambasada’s Facebook page
Ambasada is now a recognized meeting place for NGOs, freelancers, artists, musicians, social and creative entrepreneurs. Through strategic partnerships they became part of larger cultural initiatives of the City, such as the European Capital of Culture 2021. Constantly assessing needs of the community and embracing the diversity inside the teams and targeted audience, is the right way to go to achieve meaningful results. This year they are embarking on a new journey of having their own building. Ambasada joined forces with several partners and together they raised investment and bought a building. It is a much larger space (800-square-meter building on the Bega River), a part of a former paint factory which will now be their permanent home. Together with a group of partners – young creatives from Timisoara, they established FABER, a community project focusing on innovation and the sustainable development of local communities. The group aims to facilitate the development of the creative environment in the city by offering contemporary workspaces, workshops, meeting and event rooms, bistro and accommodation facilities. Even though working together, meeting obstacles on the way and trying to make it all happen is not an easy journey, sharing the same dream in the end is what really counts and what allows these people to constantly move forward against all odds. FABER will open its doors to the community in autumn 2019 by hosting the Trans Europe Halles conference, with over 200 representatives of the most important European independent cultural centers. – looking forward to that!
The Ambasada model is a proof that even in a country in which the opportunities to succeed in the creative sector are scarce and culture is not seen as something which can significantly contribute to the economy or a community as a whole, solutions do exist. We do not have to be afraid of taking a step further from our voluntary work and finding the right partners in “another world” that is the corporate one for example, often too distant from our “cultural bubble”. If we manage to keep our basic mission and values strong and uncompromised, these “unusual” partnerships can actually allow cultural workers the freedom from established systems and the power to strengthen their social impact on the ground without constantly thinking how to survive, stay independent and be able to do what you believe in. This is why Ambasada’s example is so inspiring to us, on our own journey towards a physical, sustainable creative space in Croatia.
Read more about Ambasada in a case study developed in the framework of the Creative Lenses project