Although the smaller size and population of Trnava would suggest otherwise, the situation in this west Slovak city is in fact similar to that of Košice. The reasons for this similarity are however very different. The ongoing debate in Košice over the need to develop cultural life, tourism and creative industries was sparked by concerns over the future of the local steel plant, the largest employer in the region, and by the more general need to create sufficient numbers of new work opportunities.
In contrast, Trnava suffers from the opposite problem – overemployment. The city is the smallest regional capital in terms of area and population, but almost one fifth of the entire capacity of Slovak industry is based in Trnava region. Further development of the region and the regional capital itself is no longer possible through orthodox methods. Large scale investors cannot be accommodated in the region and the expansion of existing production facilities would require thousands or even tens of thousands of migrant workers from every corner of Slovakia or from abroad. In such an environment, it is very difficult to start any kind of dialogue at the municipal level over the development of business and employment.
The city of Trnava in fact has excellent conditions for the development of cultural and creative industry. Not only is the city close to major regional economic centres such as Bratislava, Vienna and Brno, but living costs in Trnava are almost half those in these cities. It is relatively simple for even newly established freelancers to conduct business with Bratislava-based clients from Trnava. The fast road connections between the two cities mean that it is possible to reach Bratislava from Trnava in only 25 minutes; faster than it takes to reach the centre of Bratislava from some of the city’s own suburbs.
A significant and still largely untapped source of potential growth is the young labour force which passes each year through the gates of Trnava‘s universities. More than fifteen thousand students attend university in in the city, but the majority of graduates gain qualifications in fields of study which cannot be applied directly in Trnava and they are thus forced to leave for Bratislava or to return to their home regions. The predominance of the engineering industry in Trnava also means that there are limited opportunities for arts and social science graduates.
The Slovak Innovation and Energy Agency recently published several interesting analyses in its 2014 report, “Options for the Development of Creative Industry in Slovakia”. The research reveals that 9% of all Slovak companies in the cultural and creative sectors are located in Trnava region (compared to 42.5% in Bratislava region and 8.8% in Košice region), and that these sectors account for 3.3% of the total number of businesses in the region (compared to 7.8% in Bratislava and 3.3% in Košice region).
Creative industry is therefore in a strong position in Trnava, and it is possible to mention a number of companies based in the region with an international reach: the Pergamen design studio, the advertising agency Provocation Bureau, the publishing house Spolok sv. Vojtecha, the video production company Cukru, web developers such as For Best Clients, and many fashion and graphic designers.
Our organization, Publikum.sk, began to address the topic of creative industry in 2011. The first aim of our activities was to increase public awareness of the sector and to provide a public forum where artists and people working in the creative sector could meet, network and collaborate. To this end we organized the PechaKucha Night Trnava event, based on a well-known and internationally successful concept. This event continues to be held three or four times per year. For a short time we also organized a series of events titled Kreatívny človek (Creative Man) in which various guests presented their work and shared their experiences. Through this activity, we aimed to widen public awareness of the presence and success the creative sector.
More substantial activities did not commence until 2014 with the opening of our temporary cultural space Berliner in the historic city centre. The small hall can accommodate a maximum of 50 people but it is ideally suited for educational activities. To date, more than seventy workshops, lectures and expert discussions have been held in the temporary space.
In 2017 we also held the third annual educational programme Publikum PRO which is comprised of two main elements. The first of these is focused more on the wider public and is based on a series of general interest lectures which are also attended by university students from related fields of study (for example art history and architecture) and professionals. The second element of the programme is a series of workshops and masterclasses aimed directly at cultural administrators, artists from all genres and people working in the creative sector. The programme addresses a wide range of different topics, for example the series of AudioAcademy workshops for musicians and music producers, but also examines issues from the fields of law, accountancy and business management. We combine conventional business support with professional training in specific fields; this year’s programme is planned to offer increased coverage of theatre, music and visual arts.
We also aim to assist leading figures from the cultural and creative industries through individual consultancies primarily focused on issues of funding and, for example, offer facilities and technical support to independent theatrical groups.
From September 2017 we plan to open two new facilities; Malý Berlín (Little Berlin), a two-hall cultural and conference centre and Update, a co-working centre. Both of these projects represent an important addition to the cultural infrastructure of Trnava which it has so far lacked. The projects will also increase our ability to organize cultural events and educational activities and also offer new opportunities such as professional conferences and business fairs.
Malý Berlín is also a means for us to professionalize our own activities and at the same time offer the entire cultural scene favourable conditions for further development and professionalization. The Update co-working centre should provide facilities for a minimum of forty freelancers and entrepreneurs and is primarily aimed at the creative industry, including the field of IT. It will offer its own educational and professional events, an incubation program and we also plan to open a business accelerator on the premises within the next two years which will have a specific remit to allow us to prepare high quality programmes of a European standard which should attract people from abroad to Trnava.
The opening of an independent cultural centre should improve the quality of life in Trnava through the wider range of cultural, artistic and leisure activities which it will offer. In addition, the cultural centre and co-working centres will also be part of a larger complex of restored historic town houses located in the centre of the city which will serve as a privately run public space and also provide office spaces for existing creative businesses. This complex will permit the concentration of this industry in a single location which offers potential for interesting collaboration and the involvement of local professionals in skill-sharing and informal education.
Problems which still remain
Despite the progress made in recent years and the changed to come in 2017, many partially or totally unresolved issues remain. The lack of studios, workshops and rehearsal rooms is still a chronic problem in the region, and this is especially marked in the case of studios; many young professionals in the field of visual arts or fashion design are forced to relocate to Bratislava because they are unable to develop a suitable working background in Trnava. Discussions with the city are ongoing but have been shown little sign of success to date.
The regrettable situation is also caused by the existence of publicly-owned creative centres which have emerged in Trnava and many other regional centres with the support of European grants. The project has been delayed for several years and there are still serious doubts about its eventual usefulness. Problems with suitable facilities and premises could be solved, of course, if the city, region and the Ministry of Culture were guided by actual local requirements in the planning of projects. Another further challenge will be the competition for the title of European Capital of Culture which will be awarded to a Slovak city in 2021. The competition is likely to be announced within the next two years, and our task will be to convince the city authorities that Trnava is in with a chance.