European Capital of Culture: Public Panel Held on Fate of Rijeka 2020

By 25 April 2020

April 25, 2020 -  The public panel 'European Capital of Culture - what to do?' was held regarding the Rijeka 2020 program. The discussion took place on April 24 via online chat service Zoom.

T.portal reports that the discussion was organized by Sanja Bojanic, Natasa Antulov and Marin Lukanovic from the Academy of Applied Arts, University of Rijeka, with speakers including Emina Visnic, director of Rijeka 2020 and Rijeka Mayor Vojko Obersnel, who spoke about the coronavirus impact on the European Capital of Culture, but also on culture in general.

The panel started with a statement by moderator Natasa Anutnov that a temporary suspension of the program was announced on April 17, and that 59 employees of Rijeka 2020 were laid off, while it was announced that the program was being restructured. She also confirmed that they had contacted the Ministry of Culture about participating in the panel, but no one had replied.

She asked Rijeka 2020 director Emina Visnic about what has been happening in her organization over the past month.

“First of all, I want to send a clear message: the ECOC as a project has not stopped nor has any of us who run the project said anything otherwise. Why speculations saying the opposite came up and why obituaries were written is another question, and I am personally interested in finding that conclusion,” said Visnic, who presented a calendar of activities undertaken since the crisis began. The ECOC, she noted, is much broader than Rijeka 2020 and touches many program partners.

Following the announcement of the program postponement on March 12 because of the decision by the National Civil Protection Headquarters, a discussion was held with partners leading larger segments of the program. The ban was estimated to last longer than previously announced, but at the time, they still hoped that work could begin by June. At the time, everyone thought that the virus would pass, but only now its impact is fully seen, and Visnic believes that life would not just return to normal.

'We had been planning this program for two years, and then in just one month, we had to change the framework urgently. The final program cannot be discussed now. Everyone asks, 'How much to cut, how much money?' And today we do not have an answer to that question because the Ministry of Culture should answer our inquiries next week," said Visnic, adding that most programs are in principle a public gathering, which will not be possible until June - and maybe later.

She further outlined all the activities they had undertaken in Rijeka 2020, all the conversations they had, and the suggestions they made towards the founders of Rijeka 2020, like hibernating the company and terminating activities or reducing workload, which was accompanied by reducing the number of employees. In the second variant, because canceling the project was rejected, the procedure was offered in two phases: the first, which they passed and which meant the said cancellations, and the second, to resume at the latest in June and July, which offers two variants, one with more and one with fewer programs.

The document was sent to the Ministry of Culture and Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, and it is not a final but a starting document, said Višnić, who also commented on the criticism that Rijeka 2020 has been invisible in recent weeks. The truth is, she confessed, that they had not communicated for two weeks, which she said she would take responsibility for if necessary. She added that the final version of the program proposal was made without a partner, which was mentioned as one of the main issues.

Mayor Vojko Obersnel estimated that thirty million kuna would be needed for the "new" ECOC, but that no one knows how much will eventually be provided to continue the project.

Along with him were Snježana Prijić-Samaržija, Rector of the University of Rijeka, Davor Mišković, Head of the Drugo More Association, Program Operator Dopolavoro, and Damir Čargonja, representative of Novi turizam d.o.o. and organizer of the Privremene Autonomne Zone program.

The talk, broadcast by Radio Roza, was also attended by numerous cultural figures and other interlocutors, from Vitomira Loncar, Aljosa Puzar, Ksenija Zec, Goran Sergei Pristas, Marcello Mars, Zvonimir Peranic and Daniela Urem to Irena Kregar Šegota, and formally linked to by the ECOC project.

The rector of the University of Rijeka, Snjezana Prijic-Samarzija, said that at this moment we must 'be hyper-ambitious'.

“We must not show the slightest weakness here. We should use all our strength because this is symbolic, Rijeka must not give up! We will all be guilty and responsible if we fail to return the ECOC to the fullest extent possible now,” she said.

Davor Miskovic of Drugo More, in charge of implementing the Dopolavoro program direction, presented his view of the current situation with a concrete example, but also considered the situation from a broader perspective and artists in Croatia and abroad.

“We did some projects for two years, the artists worked on them, researched, produced... We just needed to finish them. In some ways, together with our partners, we have said that we will realize them anyway. In any format - they will happen. The problem is with big spectacles involving a lot of people, as this is still unknown, it depends on the mode of our future lifestyle. The problem is also with the artists who had to come from, say, America or Canada, as that fell through, and Dopolavoro narrowed down significantly,” Miskovic said, describing the current situation as a gigantic crisis in culture.

Marcell Mars, one of the researchers at the Center for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University, who worked with his colleagues on the 'Piratska skrb' project for Rijeka 2020, agreed. Mars sees solidarity as the only path to a concrete solution.

“Solidarity is the key. It is a question of survival and we need to put it as a key focus. We need to build a story that will have its basis in solidarity,” he said.

The situation was also addressed by Sergei Pristas, playwright and full professor at the Academy of Dramatic Arts, University of Zagreb, and co-founder and member of BADco., a performing arts collective.

“Rijeka is currently at a crucial historical moment, at the moment of redefining what culture is in the context of this moment. The focus should be on culture, not repertoire,” he said.

Ksenija Zec, choreographer and author of dance and drama plays and a professor at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb where she teaches Stage Movement, gave her opinion on the topic of digitizing culture, which is increasingly mentioned in public because of the new situation, and explained that it is not so simple for numerous reasons.

“Digital art is not just a recording of a theater play," she said, adding: “Everything we do at the moment is a pledge for the future. The criteria should not be reduced, but the formats should be reduced.”

The sharpest criticism of all that was said in the official part, before the discussion, was addressed by Vitomir Loncar, who warned that there could be no gathering still in September or October.

“There are no suggestions for online activities in all your plans, which means you are not seeing the times we are living in. The presentations show that you act as if you have a decades-worth of time, the future, and the situation is long gone,” Loncar said, while Puzar and Čargonja referred in particular to layoffs for employees in Rijeka 2020.

“I was shocked by the dismissal of the workers, and I signed the letter. But I am also shocked by the letter, it is written as it is written, not too much is being asked for, but it is a disappointment to those people who lost their jobs and rebelled,” said Čargonja, adding that some who were listed as the signatories did not actually sign the letter. To the mayor's remark that most of them responded, "I don't know, but the generation has rebelled and wants to exercise their rights. That always had to be ahead of the rest.”

You can listen to the full panel discussion here.

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