Making sense of 2020. What’s next for CHC?
© Glorija Lizde
2020 started very well for CHC. Right before Christmas last year, we have received amazing news from Allianz Kulturstiftung who decided to support our action for temporary activation of closed spaces in the historical center of Split. The wish to reactivate the sleepy city in winter came true. We welcomed 2020 and expected this will be the best year for us so far. And it actually is, regardless of the crazy pandemic no one was prepared for. Being transparent in what we do, we are writing this post for our members, collaborators and everyone who is following our work, as a short summary of the hectic year, the achievements we made but also fears and challenges we face.
“Praznine2020” (Voids) initiative was a great success. In a very short time, we gathered eight artists from Croatia and the neighbouring countries who used several small and challenging spaces (souvenir shops) as their studios. The local community – citizens, civil society organisations and collectives were invited to join through an open calendar and shape the city they wish to live in. Those were intense three weeks, full of positive energy that we all desperately need. During more than 30 community events and artist talks we discovered contemporary artistic production of the region, learned new skills and connected on many different levels. It is the proof that we strive for sincere human connections and engaging in creative actions together as a community. For us, this was an experiment. Our long-term goal is to have our own space, a creative hub that would be used for the same purpose of bringing together the creatives and changing our reality through small actions that resonate with many and that create paths for growth. It was one of the actions that contributes to our efforts of building a community in an organic way.
Why is this important? As members of the European Creative Hubs Network, in the past few years, we have learned a lot from other more experienced members and had the opportunity to participate in many amazing events and encounters, including a peer-to-peer scheme. We learned early on that it is important to first build a solid community and then take the step of actually getting the space. A very inspiring was this post by the creative hub Atolye in which they explain their journey and the reasoning behind such approach.
Adapting some of these methods applied in much larger and vibrant cities and making them work in our local context in Split, is of course a challenge. Not everything that is successful elsewhere will work for us in the same way. Being deeply rooted in the local community, knowing how people think, what drives them and what impedes creation, and at the same time learning from others, is the key. We come from a very particular city that has so much potential and yet so little aspirations. Not to go deeper into this, in our style, we are going to focus on concrete actions rather than complaining 🙂
“Voids” were recognized also by the Ministry of Culture and other donors which enabled us to cover the fees for the artists in residency (opening a space for discussion about the so often upaid artistic work…) and invest in making us more visible. This opened up a lot for us. The initial support by the German foundation and the Ministry allows us now to continue fundraising and gives us more credibility when applying to grants at the national and international levels. We are currently preparing the new edition of “Voids” for 2021 and the recently established collaboration with one of the local entrepreneurs will allow us to acquire new amazing spaces in the historical center! More about this coming soon.
Our last physical event was held on the 7th of March. Right before the lockdown. The locals were already preparing for the long-waited touristic season, but the voids remained and actually continued, leaving so many without the income they rely so much on, coming uniquely from the tourism sector. If COVID-19 showed us anything in Croatia it is how fragile our mass tourism is and how desperate we all are for better governance. During this time, we launched the call for stories from the creative community “Kultura na pauzi” (Culture on a break) and published all of them on our blog, rewarding the best one. There was something in reading the reflections from others while being in our homes and living in uncertainty. We were having more community calls, informal “afterwork drinks” sessions that were particularly useful to connect, see each other in the virtual world and just share thoughts. Some beautiful ideas came out of that. One of our dear members, the artist Andrea Resner, launched the art-works sales on the basis of donations, to support both the artists and the local association working with the victims of domestic violence. We gladly supported it as the platform, making this individual initative more visible.
Finally, we launched an open call for graphic designer of our “Voids2020” catalogue (now available in print and in online version) and on the basis of the received proposals, selected young designer from Zagreb Paula Šobat.
During this period, it also became so clear that the strategy of focusing more on people and collaborative projects rather than depend on the hub as a space, is the right one. We were seeing so many creative spaces struggling to survive as the pandemic hit, leaving them with almost no income at all and with very little support coming from the state. Innovating in terms of the business model that includes the space but does not consider it as the main revenue stream is now more necessary than ever. On the other hand, the space itself is so important when it comes to sharing the human connections without which the hubs don’t have meaning.
As a small team of three, we were investing a lot of time during the lockdown to apply for new European funded projects. We are now establishing more meaningful partnerships at the international level and are able to choose our partners wisely. Meanwhile in August, we were in the rural part of Croatia, in Podravina, for the first physical gathering after March, implementing the international heritage workshop. It was in a much smaller group than usual, but we are very happy with the programme, the outcomes and the local engagement thanks to our main partner – Interpretation Center Petar Preradović.
Towards the end of the summer, the good news started pouring in. Four new partner projects were approved by the European Commission – one from the Creative Europe programme and three other from Erasmus+. After the first excitement, we realized we need to sit down, put everything on paper (or the excel spreadsheet 🙂 ) and start planning. It is for the first time for us that we will be working on a larger number of projects at the same time – it is a challenge and a great opportunity! We are finally able to think strategically looking at a couple of years time and manage our finances better. This is big. It might seem, for an outsider, that it is possible for a small organization to live well from the public funding, but the reality is, our work during the last four years was mostly on the voluntary basis. This means we have to have side-jobs to be able to survive and at the same time, invest lots of time in making this organization grow. Working in culture goes hand-in-hand with living in precarity. Is it possible otherwise? We think it is, even at times it is not easy, we are driven by our beliefs in CHC as an organisation and the impact it can generate. It is a long process, but the most difficult is behind us because now more than ever, that physical space is so much closer. The aim (and hope) is to rent the space by Spring 2021. Side note: if you are the owner of an empty (especially warehouse-like) space in Split or you know one – contact us!
So, what’s next? We will start presenting the EU projects to our community and use every opportunity there is to engage them in the upcoming activities. For now, here’s a short recap of approved projects:
- Young Artists Refreshing Heritage Sites and Legends (REFRESH+), Creative Europe Programme / also supported by the Croatian Ministry of Culture
- Creative Repurposing of Educational Spaces for Innovative Student-centered Environments (CREST), Erasmus+ (KA203)
- Volunteering for Heritage – best practice exchange, Erasmus+ (KA204)
- Creative Hub: Continuous Audio-Visual Upskilling among Cultural Operators, Erasmus+ (KA204) – more info soon.
As we do not wish that our existence depends on grants (neither on the local or the national levels), although we will always participate in these partner projects, our goal (and dream) is to develop the business model based on social entrepreneurship principles and in future become self-sustainable independent organization. Join us on this journey!
We hope you enjoyed reading these reflections. Contact us for any collaboration, suggestion or feedback. If you wish to make your own projects happen using CHC as an “umbrella” or to participate in any activity described above, reach out.
Thanks for all the support,