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CONTROL OVER CULTURE DECENTRALIZED TO SAVE MONEY

A cultural experiment: financing

PREŠOV- In early May, the Ministry of Culture started testing a new scheme of administering Slovak culture. According to the plan, every region will have a so-called intendant who will be directly supervised by the minister of culture. The intendants will direct new Regional Culture Institutes (RCI), which will cover all state-managed cultural facilities in a region - museums, galleries, theaters, libraries, observatories, and, in the case of the Prievidza region, the Bojnice Zoo.

PREŠOV- In early May, the Ministry of Culture started testing a new scheme of administering Slovak culture. According to the plan, every region will have a so-called intendant who will be directly supervised by the minister of culture. The intendants will direct new Regional Culture Institutes (RCI), which will cover all state-managed cultural facilities in a region - museums, galleries, theaters, libraries, observatories, and, in the case of the Prievidza region, the Bojnice Zoo.

Cause

The Ministry is experimenting with the new concept because the 1995 culture budget was stretched tight. Although the finance minister granted 674 million Sk more to culture than last year, he warned the Culture Ministry that the sum cannot be increased this year.

Culture was allocated 2.7 billion Sk, but according to some estimates, it would need 4.5 billion Sk. Vladimír Páleník, head of the Culture Ministry's economics department said, "Compared to the original calculation, just 65.5 percent of non-investment and 29.5 percent of cultural investment expenses are covered by the drafted budget. The budget is on the edge of being bearable, but it will provide enough to function if saving measures are resorted to," Páleník added.

The system of regional intendants is a guinea pig of the "saving regime." The state administration expects that by merging all cultural institutions in a region, the number of employees would decrease and save the state money. "The previous system of organizing culture was too centralized and the Ministry of Culture's management and financing had its imperfections," said Milan Zusko, a Ministry staffer.

Effect

According to Marta Hrebíčková, director of Prešov's Šariš Gallery, decreasing jobs would not necessarily save money, as the draft intends. For many Slovak galleries to operate, different jobs are consolidated. "Drivers take care of maintenance, heating and also help to install exhibitions," Hrebíčková said. In her opinion, the drafted budget is not as detailed as it should be, it does not enumerate inputs and outputs supporting the planned savings.

Hrebíčková said the new plan just means creating the new bureaucratic position of intendant. She said the most serious flaw is that organizations will lose their self-determination over property and activities. "The draft does not reflect the conditions in individual regions, " she said.

For example, museums and galleries have specific systems to deal with storing and securing their collections. Only select employees are usually familiar with this information. In the new scheme, the institutions will lose employees because services will be provided directly by the RCI. This means that instead of the gallery employing a driver, the RCI will provide a driver who is free on a particular day. So it might happen in the Prievidza region that a driver transports chimpanzees one day and oil paintings the next.

Hrebíčková, the gallery director, does not like this merger of institutions. "It is mixing pears with apples, which could put the very substance and meaning of individual galleries in danger," she said. The purpose of the RCI is even more blurred than that of the organizations managed by the RCI. It will be like an administrative center where the intendant makes decisions that we previously made by cultural institutions' directors. It does not necessarily mean salary expenses will be saved. The executive positions must be preserved, because nobody would know the details of both museum and theater issues.

In an editorial on the issue earlier this year, the daily Prešovský večerník commented that, "Nothing changes, only a new stamp will be added and a bureaucratic position to please someone." The new concept has been tried out since May 1 in the region of Čadca. But Hrebíčková believes that the model appliedthere is not acceptable for the rest of Slovakia, in part because all Čadca cultural institutions are in the same building. Therefore, the intendant can better manage the activities of this region - one of the country's smallest and least developed regions.

The change in the system is just temporary. "The authors of this proposal themselves acknowledge that it solves the problem only temporarily ," Hrebíčková said. "If this concept passes and then fails for any reason, it will not be possible to bring some things back to their original state."

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