Expert articles

Anténa – network of independent cultural centres

Anténa is a network of independent cultural centres in Slovakia, which brings together fifteen cultural centres in ten Slovak towns and villages to develop their activities in the field of culture and creative industries, mostly all year round. This network was created in 2008 for the purpose of collective communication, sharing of know-how and information, but particularly for appearances towards the public and political leaders. Since then, the member cultural centres have undergone several changes, several new interesting cultural venues have been added and created and Anténa itself has produced its two own projects – a map of independent cultural centres and lighting design workshops for engineers.

Independent cultural centres in Slovakia started being established especially after the year 2000 and their character and activities in different regions and cities have far from homogeneous character. Each cultural centre is profiled in a different direction but all are united by one important element – they were created through an initiative of professionals and enthusiasts in the fields of arts and culture, and who in their cities perceived the lack of venues, which would present contemporary art, in which the citizens could spend their time pleasantly.

At this point it is important to define what is an “independent” cultural centre as various debates raise the same question more often than ever as to what this term actually means. Many believe that independent is the centre alone, earning money for its operation either using its own funds or sponsorships. According to this theory, the centre cannot be truly independent if it receives grants and subsidies from international, national or municipal subsidy systems.

From the experience of Slovak independent cultural centres, by using the term “independent” we understand a centre which is not established by a public institution such as a city. No funds are allocated from the public budget for its operation and the centre has freedom in terms of the dramaturgy, management, organisation, planning and long-term strategy. The financing of most centres is multi-source, with more than 50% of the budget consisting of thier own resources and sponsorships. This may not be the case for small centres that do not have a daytime operation and their own business activity (such as a cafe/bar or product selling). Members of Anténa differ from one another primarily in size, focus and dramaturgy. For a better overview, we decided to divide the centres into several groups. The network has six so-called major cultural centres: Stanica (Zilina), KC Dunaj (Bratislava), A4 (Bratislava), Záhrada (Banska Bystrica), Tabačka Kulturfabrik (Kosice), Klub Lúč (Trencin), all following mainly a multi-genre dramaturgy with daily programme – concerts, theatre productions, gallery exhibition, discussions and communal activities.

These cultural centres have their own business activities, run a bar or a cafe with daily operation. A separate category consists of theatres: Divadlo z Pasáže (Banská Bystrica) and Divadlo na Peróne (Košice). These do not have their own venues to present their plays at and mostly travel to various cultural centres and venues in Slovakia and abroad. Another category consists of residential centres: Nástupište 1-12 (Trnava), Banská ST A NICA (Banská Štiavnica), Divadlo Pôtoň (Bátovce) and Periférne centrá (Dúbravica), which focus primarily on art-related residences. They operate in their own venues, which they use for creation and the presentation of artists who use these venues for their creative activities during a specific period of time. A specific seasonal centre is also a member of the network: Hidepark (Nitra), which focuses primarily on the music programme and communal activities in the summer season. Also a member of Anténa is the civic association Publikum, the so-called emerging centre, which is working on putting toghether a multi-genre centre Malý Berlín (Trnava). The network also has a sleeping member, Projekt Bunka (Nitra), dedicated to architecture and fine arts. The most difficult among the members of the Anténa network is the categorization of the theatre Divadlo Pôtoň (Bátovce), which is both multi-genre and has its own venue, but it does not have a daily programme or its own business activity. At the same time its founders also concentrate on their own theatrical production. However, a large part of the annual programme consists of residences of Slovak and foreign artists.

The great specifics of Slovak cultural centres (but this isn’t any different abroad) are the premises in which they operate – mostly abandoned public spaces such as railway stations, theaters, subways or brownfields. Projects include the renovation and refurbishment of buildings, which requires a considerable amount of investment by the centres.

Members of the Anténa network meet twice a year, the meeting usually takes place in one of the cultural centres and is complemented by a programme for the public (usually a discussion) on current topics from the point of view of practice and functioning of cultural centres. At the private network meeting, the coordinator’s agenda is usually taken up, consisting of setting up the regular network operation and administration, as well as fundraising and Anténa’s own projects (such as light design workshops for centre technicians). In addition, members share important experiences and brainstorm any challenges and problems.

As the network groups different centres in varying sizes and lengths of existence, older centres often have important know-how that they are able to share within the network, helping to develop independent culture in other regions as well. The Anténa Coordinator also talks to public institutions and interprets the interests of cultural centres towards stakeholders. An example of a successful dialogue can be the communication with the Slovak Arts Council (FPU) to which Anténa commented on the support scheme and upon which the FPU took into account and put into practice a number of comments, particularly on the support programme aimed at cultural centres. Anténa also represents centres abroad and is an associate member of the Trans Europe Halles network of cultural centres across Europe. At these meetings, Anténa presents the network and looks for platforms for potential collaboration.

The operation of independent cultural centres in Slovakia, which in most cases do not have a systematic support of the cities and regions where they operate, is without any subsidy scheme really admirable. Most centres would fail to function without a high dose of enthusiasm and hard work of its employees. This, however, causes  staff to become overworked, as they are involved in several projects at the same time, and the demanding pace of work leads many to exhaustion or even burnout.

The group of large cultural centres has an average of fifteen employees, small (residential) cultural centres operate either on a voluntary basis or with a maximum of one employee. More than 80% of employees in Slovak cultural centres have completed Stage 2 of university type of higher education, or higher. The average age of employees is thirty years of age and the average gross monthly wage is € 700. For comparison, the average monthly wage in the Slovak economy in 2016 was € 883. Most employees work as a self-employed person (tradesman) because the centres often cannot afford to pay the staff costs. Members of Anténa bring more than 3000 cultural events to people from all over Slovakia annually, with a large participation of foreign artists. They are visited by a total of 170 000 visitors per year (465 visitors per day). By this time (January 2017), the eight Anténa centres have invested in premises a total of € 1 319 000 from own resources (excluding grants and subsidies). In all cases, they have renovated buildings they do not own for a simple reason: to make them available for public use again, and since, they have become attractive places to visit, not only for culture goers but also in the field of tourism. As for the share of public funds and subsidies for cultural centre funding, which serves as an argument for assessing their sustainability, public funds account for around 40% of the budget at large centres, with small ones up to 90%. Small centres in Slovakia are therefore facing an important challenge of setting up multi-source financing and becoming more self-sufficient. Independent cultural centres in Slovakia do not have it easy, but thanks to the determination of the people who establish them, most of them have been operating for several years and are constantly developing. However, development, better services and the programme require constant investment both in buildings, but also in human capacities. These investments will not be possible without the participation of cities and regions at financing cultural centres that are an important part of urban culture, tourism and community life. This is not any different abroad. Recognizing this important position and recognizing the quality of the people working in these centres is one of the most important priorities of Anténa for the coming years.