By Zuzana Timcikova
PhD student, Institute of Theatre and Film Research Art Research Centre, Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava
Impacts of the cultural policy on the independent culture
This contribution focuses on the definition of basic operational ambits of independent theatres and independent cultural centres that are activated in the area of the cultural policy created by the government. The three examples of non-governmental cultural organizations – Pôtoň Theatre in Bátovce, Na Peróne Theatre in Košice and Dogma Theatre in the independent cultural centre Lúč in Trenčín – outline fundamental principles for the management of independent theatres and warn about the problematic pitfalls of their existence in the current cultural and legislative context in the Slovak Republic.
Introduction to independence
Independent theatres and cultural centres, i.e. those which are not established by the government, began to appear in Slovakia after 1990, after the change of the ruling regime. The term of independence as such is based on the civic and social context. The establishment of democratic norms such as freedom of speech and expression and freedom of assembly for citizens, created the necessary conditions for the emergence of many non-governmental organizations which are independent from the management and control of the state. Independent theatres exist as civic associations or non-profit organizations, they are not established by the government and they do not originate in the political regulation “from above”, but the driving force for their creation is a strong civic initiative, the impulse “from below”. After the opening of the borders, Slovak society started to feel the atmosphere of the globalizing world and started to ´familiarize´ with the consumer way of life. The creation of independent centres and theatres can be seen as a reaction of a committed group of people to the new conditions in which the society found itself (globalization, the rise of extremism, fear of otherness, deepening of social inequality, brainwashing by media, market development), and that was looking for an alternative way of being towards the manifestation of the phenomena. One of the factors in the establishment of independent theatres and cultural centres is the specific situation of the ’90s, when a transformation process took place in Slovakia. Under the influence of the public administration reform, changes in the establishment and funding of culture, the structure of the theatre networks has changed, which also affected the inner-most artistic direction of many theatres. Theatres had to cope with economic problems, audience crisis and tried to find new dramaturgical and poetic directions, which could address the audience in the post-socialist country. More progressive artistic achievements at that time originated in alternative theatres, in theatres with their own authors, which grew up on the foundations of amateur theatres. In this type of theatre, we can find the roots and origins of the contemporary independent theatres and cultural centres. Most of these independent theatres were founded mainly in Bratislava in 1990s. Greater geographic dispersion of regional and independent cultural groups is observed especially after the year 2000.
A part of independent theatres and cultural centres is associated within the Anténa network. Anténa is a platform for independent contemporary art and culture in Slovakia. It enables the individual theatres and cultural centres to mutually communicate and collaborate, either on specific projects or in providing space for reruns of spectacles and other performances. At the same time, it acts as a representative body and communicates the needs of the independent culture towards the bodies of public administration and local governments and towards independent grant funds, with the aim to improve the position of independent entities in the system of cultural policy and create appropriate conditions for the operation. The initiators of the foundation of Anténa network were artists from the cultural centre Lúč and from the Pôtoň theatre that will be mentioned later.
Ways of financing
The model of culture financing as a central tool for fulfilment of cultural policy in Slovakia involves both direct and indirect instruments for the support of the culture. It provides the redistribution of public finances and sets complex rules and regulations generating the flow of finances into the culture from non-public sources. Based on the currently operating mechanisms, it has been shown that the independence of theatres founded by a non-governmental founder definitely does not originate in their economic independence. In current conditions, the main source of income according to the financing model for independent culture is the budget of public finances, redistribution of which takes place through grant programs. The model of support for independent culture through funds and grant programs prioritizes the quality of projects over the quality of institutions. The value of the final result in the form of a cultural production (the specific art project) is greater from this perspective than the importance of the existence of the institutions as such. The creators from independent theatres and cultural centres develop the project of plays or other theatrical activities and request for a financial contribution, always according to the specific grant program call, therefore they request for the grant specifically for every upcoming play, for every upcoming project. As a result, one specific play, theatrical project or festival is supported. Dramaturgy plan according to which the theatres constitute their program can exist in advance only in its incomplete version, which can place the production continuity in jeopardy.
The financing system of culture in Slovakia works on the basis of complementarity and possibilities to combine multiple sources. The role of multi-source financing is to achieve synergy between public finances and other sources. Government-founded as well as independent organisations can receive public funds from the state budget or from the municipal budget of the region, town or city, while on each level there should be a transparent mechanism for the allocation of grants. From the legislative point of view, each territorial unit has the right and competence to allocate funds for cultural institutions situated in its scope in accordance with its sole discretion, without direct control from the central government. The problem is that in many regions and towns, such transparent mechanism for the allocation of grants has not yet been established and the position of independent culture in the regional politics is not relevant enough. The official strategy documents of individual regions, in many cases (with the exception of Bratislava and Košice) do not even mention it. In 2015, the Ministry of Culture established the Fund for the Support of Arts that works according to the mentioned transparent mechanism for money allocation. The allocation of funds and the amount of the grant is decided by an independent expert evaluation committee. It operates on the national level and as one of a few public resource support systems it implements programs and sub-programs focused exclusively on activities of independent theatres and independent cultural centres.
Outside the sphere of national budgets, there are many other opportunities for independent theatres to receive finances. Those are various international organizations with their own grant programs and foreign foundations, private sources in the form of donations from corporations or individuals and funds from national and international foundations and companies, cooperation with cultural institutes, tax assignment or crowdfunding. Despite these opportunities, independent theatres are currently dependent on the public resources provided by the Fund for the Support of Arts (FSA), which is becoming the key source of funding for most independent cultural and theatre associations. Many independent theatres and cultural centres are paradoxically creating dependence on funding from FSA.
For artists it is an accessible, compliant, transparent mechanism, which allows them to obtain finances in the least complicated and the most convenient way. Being fixated only on one source, independent composers ignore the possibility and also the need to seek resources by other means. When the projects are being approved by the Fund for the Support of Arts, it often happens that the composers do not receive the full amount that they originally requested, which leads to a risk of a lower quality and overall realization of any theatre project. Na Peróne Theatre applied for 7 calls in 2016, from which two projects were not approved at all, and the remaining five never got the full amount that had been requested. Out of 7 approved projects in 2017, only one of them received the originally requested full amount of finances and based on the published results of the January 2018 Call, no project was supported by the initially requested amount of money.
On the other hand, a question arises – to what extent are other possibilities of financing adequate to the needs of the independent scene? Grant systems of a majority of foundations and private funds work on the base of calls with a predetermined topic of the project proposal that a theatre is supposed to use to apply for the grant. Independent theatre composers collectively agree that a substantial stimulus to begin with a production of a new play is the inner belief to pursue the topic, not its obligatory mention in a grant proposal in order to raise funds. For the independent theatres, the requirement to process the topic specified by the call in order to raise funding is not as tempting as a grant call without a specific topic.
Overlaps of personnel management
Independent theatrical platforms are spaces where the boundaries between the role of a theatre composer as an artist and as a person responsible for administrative and organizational processes of the organization are fading away. The theatre composer as a creative authority many times takes on the role of manager or producer. The organizational structure of independent cultural institutions is significantly different from the structure in traditional repertory theatres. Theatres founded by the state have a fixed structure of employees with rigidly defined roles and separated organisational and administrative area (project manager, PR, department of finances and economics, personnel management) and creative area (actor, director, playwright, stage design), which is in contrast with independent theatres, where these areas are overlapping and there is no rigid structure of human resources. The dramaturge of the theatre is also the project and financial manager who is in charge of grant requests. The actor becomes a bartender, technician and marketing manager. The artistic process is curtailed by the set of obligations which arise from the urgency to ensure organizational aspects of the theatre and cultural centre by people who in parallel create the art work.
Na Peróne Theatre has got, for example, three founding members who run all the theatre activities. In addition to the creative theatre activities, they communicate with the accountant, perform administrative tasks necessary for the theatre operation, they keep an eye on the calls and deadlines, they fill in applications and are responsible for PR. They ensure all the necessities for the touring theatre in Slovakia as well as abroad. Multiple roles are divided among them and they are responsible for several issues. Also, in Pôtoň Theatre there is an artist who should be devoted exclusively to the creative process, but he is forced to perform many other non-creative activities, from technical through production to economic affairs. Such way of personnel functioning brings up a problem of inability to replace one particular member in case of his absence, which ultimately limits the creative process. While the absence of one employee in the non-independent theatre has an impact on a specifically defined task carried out by this employee, temporary absence of the independent theatre member affects all other components of activities that the person is in charge of in the theatre.
The operation mechanism of human resources and overlapping of roles are determined by a number of specific features, such as financing or geographical environment. One of the reasons for merging of multiple tasks for one person is the inability to sufficiently financially evaluate the particular person. The necessity to give several roles and tasks to one individual employee of the theatre is also determined by the potential of the town, in which the theatre or centre operates. It is not only the financing system of independent culture, but also demography, social structure and cultural potential of the location, which indirectly affect the options of personnel management in independent theatres. Lúč Club, within which Dogma Theatre operates, is located in the town of Trenčín with about 50,000 inhabitants. Every year many young people leave this town. Appointing several tasks to one person is not only the solution for the unsatisfactory financial situation of independent centres and theatres, but also a necessity caused by the weak potential of the town to offer adequate human resources. Academic environment of Trenčín and its surroundings provide mainly technically oriented graduates, whose skills and profile do not meet the needs of a theatre and creative centre. On the contrary, the features of the location in relation to the Na Peróne Theatre, which is situated in Košice, the second largest city in Slovakia, is a favourable factor that develops the potential of the theatre in the sphere of human resources. Members of the Na Peróne Theatre as the art branch deal also with the organizational and administrative tasks, they also employ the economic and project manager as two separated positions and two independent technicians. The composers of Pôtoň Theatre have to face much more complicated conditions. Pôtoň Theatre is the only professional independent theatre and cultural centre in Slovakia that operates in a rural area. It is situated in a small village called Bátovce with a population around 1,300 in an area with a higher rate of unemployment. It has got problems with a lack of personnel potential of the area combined with the inability to fulfil the expected financial evaluation of the work. For example, Pôtoň Theatre does not have a technician and his tasks are performed by several members of the theatre at the same time. In larger towns, there is a habit of sharing one technician within more theatres (independent and non-independent), therefore many contracts ensure him a decent income. A theatre located in a rural area does not have a close partner nearby, who they could share an employee with and from the financial perspective, therefore, they cannot offer the equivalent salary to the one from several part time jobs in theatres.
One of the determining differences indicated in the field of independent centres and theatres is an organizational connection of an independent cultural centre and independent theatre and a mutual personnel connection of two organizational units. Pôtoň Theatre functions on two platforms – as the Centre of creativity and the arts, it covers various multi-genre cultural events and, as an independent theatre, it is preferentially devoted to the production of own staging, educational and edification activities with tendencies to a committed form of theatre and possible special guest appearances of other ensembles or an international theatrical cooperation. The same group of people is behind both subjects. Providing production activities of the Centre of creativity and arts, on the other hand, directly curtails the creative process in the theatre. The independent creative centre is able to learn to run according to the model. It compiles the program and creates space for reruns of the production created by an external agent. Theatre as a living organism requires a high degree of flexibility due to the need to be able to respond to current phenomena. Dualism of two elements, each of which insists on a different mechanism of functioning, but whose activities are covered by one group of people, brings up a risk of a lack of concentration on the specific needs of the individual components. The cultural centre Lúč and independent Dogma Theatre are in a different and partially more beneficial situation. These organizations operate as two separate entities that share a common space. Members who run the Lúč club do not fully overlap with the members of the Dogma theatre. Kamil Bystrický – dramaturge of Lúč club and also the founder, actor and director of Dogma Theatre is the only one who is active in both subjects. Na Peróne Theatre runs on the premises of an independent cultural centre Tabačka kulturfabrik. The theatre is not an organisational unit of the centre Tabačka, it is an autonomous entity. This is why Na Peróne Theatre is in a more favourable position in comparison to the previously mentioned theatres, because the cooperative relationship between the theatre and the centre without personnel overlaps, is dramaturgically and substantially enriching for both entities. Zuzana Psotková, an actress and a Project Manager of Na Peróne Theatre, for example, also works as a dramaturge of the theatre and dance department of the cultural centre Tabačka.
The outlined principles in the area of management and financing of independent theatres are just one of many other aspects of the operation, which put the theatres in a specific position in the global infrastructure of theatres in Slovakia. Anténa currently joins nineteen permanent independent theatres and cultural centres in fourteen towns and villages in Slovakia and there are also another twelve associated members. As it was indicated, the network of independent theatres and centres in some points encounters the same problems, but at the same time, each entity has got certain specific features, which are not always common for all of the entities.
Questions for further discussion
- What are the risks of a grant support for independent cultural organizations?
- From the point of view of the cultural policy of the state, what kind of a support could eliminate the problem of dependency of independent cultural organizations on one financial source (Fund for the Support of Arts)?
- What can be the impact of accumulation of roles on creative activity in independent theatres?
- In the long run, are there some positive aspects of accumulation of roles?
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Ministry of Culture. (2014). National strategy for developement of culture in Slovak republic from 2014 to 2020.
Šmatlák, M., Táborský, P., Chalupová, M., Rišková, M., Gajdoš, J. & Bausová, M. (2008). Cultural policy from Amsterdam to Žilina.
Zuzana Timčíková is a PhD student at the Institute of Theatre and Film Research Art Research Centre Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava. In her research, she focuses on the independent theatres and cultural centers outside the capital of Slovakia. She observes how functioning of the independent theatres in the context of cultural management and policy impacts and influences the dramaturgy and artistic direction. She graduated in cultural studies at Comenius University in Bratislava with the diploma thesis dedicated to the mutual influence of politics and theatre culture in Slovakia during the period 198-1968. Besides her theoretical research, she organizes PechaKucha Nights in Bratislav, presentation evenings for artists and creative initiatives and she operates as exhibition coordinator at OFF_festival Bratislava – festival of new photography held annually in Bratislava.
Header image: ANTÉNA – Network for Independent Culture in Slovakia.
This study is part of the project VEGA n. 2/0170/16 Theatre as a communication of the crisis of values and the project is being realised by the Institute of Theatre and Film Research ARC SAS.