In autumn 2021, the mapping of the needs of future users and partners of the planned Creative Centre of the Košice Region took place in Košice. The mapping was part of the CINEMA (Creative Industries for New Urban Economies in the Danube Region) project. Its aim was to restore neglected and abandoned premises in the city centre with the help of creative industries. It also tested the method of building spaces for a creative learning community. Its authors were Hana Skljarszka and Zuzana Kupcová.
Hana Skljarszka graduated in Sociology at the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University in Brno with a specialisation in qualitative methods. She is a facilitator, testing and creating alternative methods of participatory processes for public institutions. She worked in the Slovak Debate Association and founded the LEAF Academy, an international secondary boarding school. Currently, she is a lecturer in critical thinking and communication at the Critical Thinking Academy. We talked to Hana Skljarszka about the aforementioned mapping.
You are the co-author of the mapping, the aim of which was to define the conditions for and possibilities of creating a cultural and creative centre in Košice. It was important research also due to the fact that the creative industry is still in its early stages in our country. In recent years, cultural and creative centres have been established under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic. What is the aim of these centres?
Various creative centres fall under the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic, with different objectives set by their organisers. In Nitra, for example, the aim has been to promote creativity and the creative sector, especially in the field of crafts, which is why the creative centre there is being built for people who are working with leather, wood, various materials, traditional products, and so on. There are also creative centres being established within the RTVS TV station that are focused on the development of audio-visual programmes. The creative centre in Košice was supposed to have a wider impact; it was not supposed to be specifically focused on one area. What should have been important was the cooperation with schools, supporting, in particular, young people and young artists in Košice, which would have created a strong foundation for the future. I believe the Ministry itself does not fully comprehend what exactly these creative centres are. The creative centres each create their own goals within the project management. It is important to state that the aim of the research we carried out was also to help us better define the goal of the Creative Centre of the Košice Region. With such large structural funds, grant proposals are written years in advance and sometimes do not really reflect the actual needs of the city, region, or community at that time. Often, grant proposals are written by officials and not by the users, and therefore the goals sometimes do not reflect the actual needs of the city in which the creative centre is being built.
The term creative learning community comes up in your research report in the context of creative cultural centres. How would you describe this concept to the average person in more detail?
Creative communities or learning communities are a concept and methodology we have developed for this project. It is an alternative way of thinking about society. It is also an organisational unit that can learn together and learn from one another. However, in order to learn something interesting from one another and to make progress, we do not need a school or an institution with a fixed curriculum that pushes us to do so. Therefore, a learning community comprises a thoughtful group of people who can learn from one another anywhere, at any time, and with anyone. And, for them to do that, we simply need to create suitable conditions for them. People who are part of such a community are aware of who they are and what they want to be in that community. But, at the same time, they can identify with that community, they know that they belong there. They have the organisational support that allows them to maintain those connections. Last but not least, it is a space full of things and objects that help people carry out these activities. For example, it is a big creative centre, such as a building, but at the same time that building has a lounge or a community garden where we can exchange knowledge in our fields or it has machines or devices that we can share together. A creative community is a group of creative people who are not just stuck in their own studios but who are able to build a space where they can learn from one another.
We talked about people. Now let’s talk about the process of building a community of people. Who should be the one to start building such a community?
The very word community implies that it is not about one person; instead, it is about several people deciding that they would like to create a place in which they can learn from one another. That’s probably the most important thing about it. Our research found that people desire to create things from the bottom up. And specifically creative people or culturally-focused people see their own involvement in the creation of that organisation or those processes as one of the most important things in order to make that community work in a way that reflects the real needs and strengths of that community. So, if somebody wants to form a creative community, ideally they should find enough enthusiastic people around them. The idea of working on something like that together is essential. But if we are talking about an institution, like a region, a city, or some other institution, they should certainly carry out mapping to understand why they are doing it in the first place. It does not matter if the mapping is carried out in that specific location, the most important thing is to do it with the people the organiser wants to involve. So, to build a community, the organiser needs to start working with their clients or users from the outset, right from the moment they start planning.
Should the organiser map the structure of such creative communities in the region or location in which they operate?
What is interesting (and the research we have carried out also backs this up) is that, even though the regional creative centre was to be established here, people were still drawn to certain centrism, i.e. to Košice. Sometimes it was very difficult to encourage people to think outside the boundaries of the centre of Košice. So, if we were to start building a centre within a region or some larger entity, we first have to change our own mindset of who should be part of it and really think hard about a plan to support these creative centres anywhere in the region. That is to say, we should start believing that even a small ceramics club in Kokšov-Bakša or Gelnica is an interesting contact point for such a project. And that is already difficult because it requires the creation of huge networks in the region and especially the willingness to look for such participants.
What you are saying shows that it is extremely important to set up the creation process well in order to achieve the set objectives. But, I have to ask, how do you prevent individual creative communities from becoming closed-off?
That is difficult but we can prevent this in a number of ways, such as with the culture of the centre itself. If, let’s say, I am the organiser or some kind of community manager or if I am actually managing or funding such a centre, my vision and my goals and motivations should include – in capital letters – inclusion and openness. Both the programme and the selection of people to whom I give discounted rents are much broader and much more diverse. It can also be done by explicitly putting quotas on who you would like to have in that centre. If we are talking about social diversity, for example, you can say you want 10 percent of participants to be seniors, or 60 percent to be young people from certain sectors of the creative industries, or 10 percent to be people from poorer social backgrounds. Another important thing is, and this is maybe a kind of feedback into the creatives’ and culture-oriented people’s own circles, whether they themselves are willing to recruit business-oriented people, manufacturers, or electrical engineers, i.e. people from different professions that can splendidly support the endeavours of the creative industry or cultural sector. We often close ourselves into bubbles, so it would be great to set up some kind of education programme where we can teach our clients and our users that opening up these bubbles and opening up this world of ours can be really beneficial. So there is a combination of different processes that we can set up as well as culture creation, identity creation, and motivation to do it at all.
You mentioned the social dimension of creative culture. Do you think that we as a society are able to perceive the creativity of different layers of society, including the social ones?
We certainly are. We have the ability to do that, and there are already a few projects in Košice, such as Dorka in the Košice region, or various theatres that are inclusive of people with various disadvantages. So these already exist but there are not many of them. It is not easy, because being inclusive and open is often something we have to learn. So we are certainly capable, but we need to learn a lot about how to do it the right way so that it can be beneficial for everyone. We do not want these projects to be performative – putting “we’re helping” on a poster yet not having a real impact on those communities.
Do we have any examples of how these centres work around the world? Is there anything to fall back on?
It is not necessary for these centres to be established by the state, because they are also being established by civil society, perhaps sometimes more often than by the state. Trans European Halles brings these centres together. They bring together hundreds of such centres across Europe in particular. In our area we do not have to go very far – Nová Cvernovka, KUMST in Brno established by the Jihomoravské inovační centrum under the region’s jurisdiction, the Pražské kreativní centrum, and of course all the projects that have been supported by the CINEMA project, like ours.
If you had to give one recommendation for creative cultural centres to be successful, what would it be?
If we are talking about the ones that are established by the state and the region, I would advise them to get rid of the label of institution as soon as possible and stop declaring they are going to transform the state or the region, and instead try operating in a transparent and very open way. They should communicate their message very informally in the language of culture and creativity to the public and the users. The saddest thing about these projects is that they do not build trust precisely because they put themselves in the position of a formal institution that is going to build something in the middle of the city, and yet they do not involve in the process the people who live in the neighbourhood, the users who are part of it, or the important partners. Then they automatically lose people’s trust. So the first recommendation is to cultivate trust from the outset, from the very first moment they start thinking about a project like this.
This article was written as part of the CINEMA project. The project is funded by EU funds (ERDF, IPA, ENI).