THE SMALL but very efficient office of the Arts Council of Switzerland Pro Helvetia, situated in the building of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, supports projects aimed at presenting Swiss culture abroad and promoting cultural dialogue with the Visegrad Four (V4) countries.
Bratislava is a part of a network of Pro Helvetia offices working in the V4 countries of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. In addition, its representative offices are found in Ukraine, the Balkan countries, Egypt, and the South African Republic, with slightly different activities.
"We [in central Europe] work in a context of the whole Visegrad. If I carry out a project, I try to organise it not only for Slovakia, but for the whole V4 region," said Dušan Brozman from the Arts Council of Switzerland in Bratislava.
Pro Helvetia provides its support to projects in response to applicants, or it initiates cultural projects itself. They are evaluated according to criteria like a connection with Switzerland, professionalism of approach, acceptable cost-benefit ratio, potential impact, and long-term effects, and of course artistic quality and degree of innovation.
On this basis, Pro Helvetia helps organise exhibitions, screenings of Swiss films, readings, tours by theatre and dance troupes, orchestras, musical ensembles of all types and genres, and festivals, among other things.
"We recently exposed the masterpieces of [Alberto] Giacometti and prints from the famous atelier of Peter Kneubuller. Such events are one part of our work. They are needed but they have a character of a showroom - you come, show something, and then leave. I think that, in addition to this, the most meaningful projects are those where people can meet and actually talk to each other, exchange their experience," said Brozman.
"That is why, for example, we organise stays for curators from V4 countries in Switzerland, in Basel, or stays for Swiss curators in V4 countries. If we invite Swiss curators and we prepare their program well, for sure, something will remain inside them and they might be interested in taking what they have seen to Switzerland too. The aim is to find partners for Swiss or Slovak artists who they can contact if they need information or want to exchange experience, organise events and exhibitions together, etc," he added.
He also noted that it is not always easy to find the right cultural partner. For example, the opportunities available to Swiss and Slovak curators or institutions are not the same.
"It is not always about money. There are still few people in central Europe who are active, who really want to have contact with the rest of the world and who want to discover new topics and people. It is usually the youngest generation of curators who is interested. And the institutions like us depend mainly on such people. Without them, our job would have no point," added Brozman.
Pro Helvetia is a partner for people who are flexible, innovative, and often belong to an alternative scene. "We cannot limit it by age. They can be people from 25 to 50, which does not rule out those over 60. But it is better to cooperate with someone who is still curious than someone who already has everything clear."
According to Brozman, Pro Helvetia acquired a good image in 1990s [during the government of Vladimír Mečiar] in Bratislava, so people know what to expect from the institution. At that time, the Arts Council of Switzerland mainly supported projects that were not very connected to Swiss culture but were innovative, and lacked help from the Slovak Ministry of Culture.
Beneficiaries were, for example, the alternative theatre Stoka or the Association of Slovak Film Clubs. Thanks to Pro Helvetia, film clubs in Slovakia still exist, as their director Peter Dubecký often claims.
"Those were projects that took about three years and we spent about Sk4 to 5 million (€99,000 to 123,000) on that support," said Brozman
Up to 2000, Pro Helvetia obtained resources for financing cultural activities from the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Today it looks to the Ministry of Home Affairs and thus the projects must be oriented to cooperation with Swiss artists and artistic bodies.
"In principle there are three activities that we now do. First, there are the mentioned expositions or performances of Swiss artists in central Europe. Or, some people may have an idea for cooperation with Swiss people. Then there is the opposite - a Swiss person is looking for a partner in Slovakia. In these cases we contact the appropriate people and explain the possibilities to them. But it is always good if the people know what they want to do," added Brozman.
There are many projects in Slovakia like the new media centre Buryzone (whose organisers have moved on to Burundi, a new organisation), the Centre for Contemporary Arts, and A4, a centre uniting several contemporary art associations, where Pro Helvetia not only provided money, but also knowledge.
But according to Brozman the Pro Helvetia office will probably finish its activities in Bratislava next year as the Arts Council of Switzerland is changing its priorities.
"However, there is always a chance to contact the headquarters in Zurich. It is also aimed at cooperation with foreign countries. If someone in the future wants to have a common project with Switzerland, he should ask in Zurich," said Brozman.
The V4 countries will be the main focus of a whole range of activities in literature, film, arts, and theatre initiated by Pro Helvetia and will take place in Switzerland from April to October 2004, titled Centrelyuropdriims (Central Europe Dreams).
"With these activities we want to teach [Switzerland] about the culture of this close but still relatively unknown central European territory where we [Pro Helvetia] have worked for more than 10 years. We want to let people know that Pro Helvetia will still be a partner for the V4 countries," said Brozman.
29. Mar 2004 at 0:00 | Marta Ďurianová