By Fernando Bayón Martín, PhD
Researcher. Leisure and Human Development. University of Deusto.
Hans Dreher, Essen-Ruhr (ROTTSTR5 Theater); Marcin Garbacki, Warsaw (Projekt Praga) & María Mur, Bilbao-Bizkaia (Consonni)
Cultural and Creative Industries
Sector: ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN
Marcin Garbacki + Karolina Tunajek (an architectural duo)
The leading motif of their activity is the revitalization and dialogue between the past and the present. They design buildings of various scale and function, public space, interiors, and furniture. Since 2010 they have been connected with revitalization of the post-industrial grounds of Soho Factory. Currently, they are working on the project of converting the interior of Warsaw Museum of Modern Art. Together with WWAA and SuperSuper studios, they have initiated the adaptation of office space in building “73” where all of them currently work and make this space available to the coworkers from creative business.
Sector: PERFORMING ARTS
Hans Dreher: Co-founder and head/manager.
ROTTSTR 5 is one of the most creative “Off-Theater” in the Ruhr Region (with a versatile programme staging own and guest productions, lectures cycles, concerts, etc.)
RottstraBe 5, 44793 Bochum
+49 163 7615071
Sector: INTANGIBLE ART PRODUCTIONS
MarÃía Mur, Director – Consonni
Consonni is a producer of contemporary art, located in Bilbao. Since 1997, consonni has invited artists to develop projects that do not generally take on the appearance of an art object shown within a space. consonni researches formulas to expand curatorial practice, production and the notion of programming. It also analyses possibilities of publishing art books and is committed to charting different ways of engaging in critique today.
After consonni’s 17 years out there, there are currently 5 fundamental production lines, which interweave and affect one another:
1/ Open invitations. Work with artists including Jon Mikel Euba, Ibon Aranberri, Andrea Fraser, Hinrich Sachs, Itziar Okariz, Iratxe Jaio&Klass van Gorkum, Martha Rosler… who borrow the tools they use from the contemporary, developing art projects with very different formats.
2/ Bird-cum-ornithologist. Investigation into the meanings of the production concept. Cross-practice exploration in the shape of residencies (Matadero, Hangar, IASPIS…), publications, interviews, productions…
3/ ENPAP (European Network of Public Art Producers). Along with other European organizations, consonni participates in this network that researches the possibilities of art creating a public sphere.
4/ Publications. The publishing side of consonni runs three collections: Projects, Paper and Beste, for publishing a diversity of formats and exploring publishing possibilities.
5/ Programming in consonni. HPC, with_texts and activities out. Experimental programmings in consonni’s street level office.
Direction: MARÍA MUR DEAN
Adress: C/ Conde Mirasol, 13-LJ1D, 48003 Bilbao
+ 34 944 078 265
Q1. General Information & Cooperation with external agents
María Mur [MM]: Consonni is a producer of contemporary art located in Bilbao and created December 12, 1996. Consonni invites artists to develop projects that, in general, don’t adapt an aspect of being an art object exhibited in a space. Consonni investigates formulas to expand concepts such as production, programming and edition from the contemporary art practice. Consonni proposes to register the different ways to criticize these days. It has evolved considerably: in 1996, Franck Larcade, an artist from Iparralde, created consonni; in 1999, I started doing an internship there via the Institute of Leisure Studies; and well, in 2006, I took over the leadership.
The main activities we are carrying out, and there are two that are transverse: one are the feminisms, and the other is a line of analysis, like self-analysis or self-psychoanalysis, of self-reflection, which we have called bird or ornithologist at the same time. The arts display certain schizophrenia between the genius on one side, the exceptionality, the autonomous self-understanding; and the issue of profession on the other side. And here it needs to be added, related to the exceptionality and the genius, the value of the unique: that suddenly a piece, a vase of whatever, signed by whomever, may cost 800 euros, right? So, it is not the budget that is often reduced, but later on the value a piece may have on the arts market is astronomical – that is the schizophrenia we are moving in. That is why it is important to pay the artists in advance, that they have a set of fees. I don’t know whether that is so that it can be considered an industry as such, but obviously so that the conditions of production won’t be precarious. I believe that there are pros and cons to naming it industry.
Hans Dreher [HD]: From the suggested agents we have – we had – a co-operation with Urbane Kanste some years ago, but it was only small meetings every now and then. What needs to be mentioned in this regard, however, is Stiftung Ruhr2010, which belongs to Urbane Kanste, and that they promoted one of our projects last year. It was a punctual project, or rather a trilogy of productions. It was our large-scale project called “Trauma-Stadt-2013”, consisting of three plays and one prologue on the similarities between the Ruhr Area and the Roman Empire. That is to say, at first glance it was about that; actually, however, it was just an opportunity to get closer to the topic “Rome”, which had been a big dream. I would say that our big artistic hopes of drawing attention to the Ruhr â€“ well, we did not quite achieve that, I have to say. But each of the plays was valuable, and we are still showing them on stage, so people actually like them.
Stiftung Ruhr2010, which has also used all of its resources by now, has gotten us out of a tight spot – I guess, it is no secret that it is a constant fight for survival here, and Stiftung Ruhr2010 was our biggest sponsor in 2013. As for ecce, we have been trying to collaborate with them for years but we just don’t manage. They set up their criteria in a way we cannot fulfill them. Or they have liquidity issues, so the very nice Ms Rogg informs us that it doesn’t make sense to submit an application. The thing is, the european center, that also focuses on the term creative quarter here in Bochum, they still haven’t found a proper intersection for a – let’s say traditional – theater like we are, so we could cooperate. This has been the official statement so far – and it is true. Our main focus is on theater, traditional theatre, and that isn’t cool enough for many people.
Marcin Garbacki [MG]: Well, the owner of Soho Factory has a private fund and the money comes from there. So does the land. We don’t have third parts, so to say, no bank, no city. The city is not interested in this kind of development. Now they are really happy because the neighborhood is more organized now and people want to move to this part of the city. But they were not a part of the project. The same goes for the Ministry of Culture and the National Audiovisual Institute. There was no cooperation. It was more about the owner, the architects, and cultural activists – but not the organized part of the city. So as for this part we can say that our partners are rather other architects. The revitalization was funded by the owner of the land. It was a deal that we are financing the revitalization but not paying rent. Because of that, we had the opportunity to have a big studio. And our idea was to not use it just for architectural activities.
Very often, we have projects that are present in the public space, in a restaurant, in a contemporary cultural place. And also the owners of the places are promoting the projects. We, as architects, just use Facebook; later there are press releases, and it goes like this. But we are not consulting PR agencies. It [the existence of collaborations] is very different in our case, because we are not – maybe not yet – doing offices, housing or roads, but mostly revitalization and renovation. Connected to this, there are different functions, for example now we have a project, which is like 10 projects in one, and each phase is communicated in a different way. The exhibition we did as the first phase was communicated in one way, the second one was a restaurant, so it was different. So, as I said, it depends on the project.
We are a young office, and we started with two projects. One was a competition, a public architectural competition, and the second one was Soho Factory. The owner contacted me because he knew some of my previous work. It goes like this. Our work is in different fields; one is art exhibition, art space, because for Soho Factory we did two exhibitions in art galleries and we are working for the Museum of Modern Arts in Warsaw; so this is one specialization, the second one is restaurants on the Soho Factory land, and then people called us because they liked the project. It goes like this. And also, the competition and the project we did, there was no continuation: it was a specific renovation of a museum in the south of Poland and it’s done and it’s not as fruitful as, for example, this restaurant from Soho Factory or this art gallery from Soho Factory. We started and we continue to apply for architectural competitions, for example a competition in Wrocaaw for housing. So, it goes both ways.
[MM]: Yes, the idea is that they advise us in selecting the artists and authors, especially in the field of productions and activities on the one hand, and publications on the other: what kind of authors, etc. So far, this is happening, but in an informal way; what we want is to formalize it in a framework.
Q2. Relations with local authorities in the cultural sphere
[HD]: As for the Cultural Affairs Office, I am not quite sure about the responsibilities, but ever since the end of 2012, we have been receiving an additional allowance for the running costs from the Cultural Affairs Office. As you aren’t supposed to speak out the terrible term “institutional support”, they came up with the term “additional allowance for the running costs”. We are receiving this additional allowance from the City of Bochum which thereby also signals that it is doing everything it can – and it is true: The budgetary position of Bochum is and will continue to be wretched, and one recognizes of course that they don’t know how to promote the free theatre – how to promote it any further than it is already doing. So yes, we are receiving funding from the Cultural Affairs Office, and, dependent on specific projects, also from the Ministry. In our case, it always goes via the district authority Arnsberg, and our success rate is 50 per cent I would say. We submit project proposals which they either accept or not; however, they never fund the entire amount, because obviously also their resources are cut more and more every year.
[Interviewer]: In return for the financial support, do you have to submit a final report?
[HD]: Excactly, a final report is required, as is a proper proof of how the means have been used etc. Basically, they act as partners and thus of course have the right to get involved in the financial decisions. It is a huge amount of forms and of course, the institution is also being promoted by these project-related fundings, you just aren’t allowed to say that out loud. Neither the Ministry – they all know about it.. Each of the ensembles or theatres that receive project-related funding also use it to promote their institution, but again, no one says it out loud; it is the biggest lie tolerated about ministerial support.
[Interviewer]: Let’s go back to the final report for a second; is it mainly about the economic dimension?
[HD]:Indeed, of course. One also understands it – it is the taxpayers’ money, and of course they need a clean proof of the expenses and also the revenue. Needless to say that a theatre of our dimension has no chance to be profitable – probably no traditional theatre in Europe does, and even less one of our dimension. They also want you to name them as promoters in your announcement, the program, on posters and in the press, that is obvious; and in the final report they then want to know: Were there invitations? How often was the play performed? Ironically, that isn’t very relevant, as they are allowed to provide funding only until the premiére, but they also want to know about the effects and impact. They are always happy about reviews indicating that the play could be realized with the help of the Ministry – it is just that the newspaper never mention that. It is a vicious circle. But I think, it is easier for them to provide the funding, if the play is nominated or if a critic states that it is the best production of the year, or whatever. This has happened a few times to us, so we do have a relatively good rate.
I have to say, I take off my hat to the City of Bochum and the interpersonal aspect of our cooperation. One really feels like the colleagues of the Cultural Affairs Office are very motivated and interested, and that they know that not only we but also other cultural institutions are struggling to survive, also because of the freeze on public spending. It keeps them preoccupied a lot and they are trying very, very much to improve the situation. There has been a recent incident, when we, a couple of cultural institutions in Bochum, attacked the City, because they were cutting the funds for the current year by 10 per cent due to the freeze on public spending. The City of Bochum announced the cut rather undiplomatically and also very, very late. That’s why we were protesting a bit, and as soon as Mr. Townsend, the City Manager and Head of the cultural department, was able to divert that a little bit, the people of the Cultural Affairs Office were very, very quick in making sure we would get the funding – and thus saved some of us from insolvency. In general, one can say, the poorer a city is, the more creative are the people in the Cultural Affairs Office, I believe; and I really have to say, there are a handful of contact persons I am extremely grateful to. It was them who made it possible in the first place for us to open our theatre back then and to still keep it open – I guess, that must be said that vehemently.
The first time we cooperated with the City of Bochum was, as I already said, in the second half of the year 2012, in the context of the additional allowance for the running costs. In our case, that exclusively affects the rent and staff expenses. The first funding from the Ministry we received in December 2011 for our project â€œBest of Nibelung. Ever since, they promoted three more projects with funding from different pots. There is the general project financing via the responsible district authorities, in our case Arnsberg and then there is the regional financing via the Ruhr Area. We have received each of them once. Those are our main partners. And maybe it isn’t that important for you and your work when I say that a financially impotent city falls back upon the utilities of the city or the local bank, and makes sure they engage in cultural sponsoring. And that is why we have received funding once from the utilities of the city, and also will receive funding as of 2015. They are saving our asses – one really has to say it like that. But of course, that always implies certain dilemma, especially because of the scandals around the utilities of the city of Bochum regarding dubious agencies and distributions of profits. At the same, it is a partner that, by no means, aims at intervening in the artistic sphere and allows us a relatively free hand.
[MG]: It was a specific situation in this area because normally you need to deal with the conservator of the monument, but here that was not the case. Here, the buildings, even if they are old, were not listed, so it was a chance for the land because it did not take a lot of time to do it. We had no city to deal with. It was easier and faster. And maybe because of that, it happened. We took a building with two different studios, one is another architecture studio and the other one a graphic studio. We took a huge building and we work in a small space, and we use a big part of the building for exhibitions, parties and so on. And we sometimes give our part of the building for other activities. But that’s not a normal architectural activity. So the question about relations with local authorities, it exists on the site, but not in our work. On the site, you have a small theatre which is dealing with the city, they are giving them donations and funds, but that is not our case. For example, we once had a cooperation with a wood factory, that helped us to construct something, but it’s not city authorities.
[MM]: All of the support is punctual, that is, all of the support mentioned is project-related. Because the employment structure I presented to you aims at developing projects; and those projects basically are: long-term projects, activities in the building, experimental programs, and publications. And this is what we are obtaining the grants, the funds, and the agreements for. The documentation is tremendous. In some cases it’s easier than in others, for example, the Bilbao City Hall, and that made not only us but also other people at the cultural department stop asking for support because it was a pittance.
Q3. Stand during the phases of ideation – development – creation – exhibition – marketing
[HD]:In the phase of ideation, we almost always work alone and independently. There are a few exceptions, like co-operations and co-productions, but our co-productions imply a great advance of trust in other theatres in North Rhine-Westphalia, so – yes, well, we basically invite them to perform their finished production. The same goes for us – the usual way a project-related request for support works is the following: You’ve got an idea, you submit it, and then they accept it or they don’t. And that, of course, has to be an idea that is interesting for the sponsors.
As for the [phases of] development and creation, once the funds have been granted and we are ready to start, we are completely independent. Obviously, we have to pay attention to the established budget, of which 50 per cent generally come from one of the previously mentioned sponsors. Regarding the phase of exhibition – equating exhibition with premiére – the thing is that all of the official or half-official sponsors are allowed to promote [us] only until the premiére. That means, we carry the risks of the following performances all on our own, and thus are only able to show them as long as we are able to afford it. If they are a success, of course there is no problem then and we can show them several times. If they aren’t a crowd-puller, however, we have to take them off the program soon. And the marketing of the production, that also depends on how well it is going and whether we manage to give guest performances. The guest performance is the usual product in our case; we aren’t interested in recording and selling DVDs.
[Interviewer]: So one could say it depends on the development and success of the respective phase whether you include external agents or not?
[HD]:Exactly. Well, as for us, it is not about making a profit – that is basically impossible. But it is about securing a break-even result in order to keep a production running. Our philosophy is that the well going productions are also covering for the badly going ones. And obviously there are a few plays that aren’t that successful, but we are very attached to them, so we keep them in the program. But sometimes there is also something like an overall failure, that is, neither does the show attract a lot of people nor do we like it; and that is when we have to take a play off the program rather quickly.
[MM]: If Consonni invites an artist, the artist develops a project by inventing most of the things, and Consonni takes care of all the financing, visibility, etc.
[HD]: Yes, we do have a Facebook page and we do have a homepage; those are also the most relevant means to inform. Of course, we also have a newsletter but we publish it only once a month. We enjoy a relatively considerable attention in the local newspaper, and every now and then – once or twice a month – we are also published supraregionally; nachtkritik.de is a very important site, occasionally in Welt am Sonntag, and once we made it into SZ [Sddeutsche Zeitung]. Practically, traditional and new media – we are doing everything we can. We just aren’t able to do more for lacking capacities in terms of staff; unfortunately, that is important.
[Interviewer]: Does it happen that artists or visitors contact you via those channels?
[HD]: Definitely, yes. I think this goes for any cultural institution of our dimension: the smaller, the more direct. One is and has to be available – artists and visitors constantly approach us, and there is a constant dialogue. Sometimes more than one can take, but one would be stupid not to listen to them. One is a service provider and wants to make the costumers happy, of course – that is something which is often forgotten in the sphere of theatre.
[MG]: On a small scale: yes, for example when we organized an event or a party. On a big scale: the land had few prices for cultural activities in Warsaw. For example, the biggest newspaper of the city gave a price to the land. I think, we can also measure attractiveness through that. But you meant Facebook?
[Interviewer]: Yes, but also any other kind of feedback.
[MG]: So, on Facebook, the people who are responsible for that, like PR people, I think they are receiving a lot of feedback. For example, when we organized the workshop for young architects, we could feel that it was interesting, so we organized a second one.
[MM]: analyze the website of consonni in order to understand our working method; besides, it is a way to always keep it up-to-date. In the end, I believe that websites, just like contracts, represent the way you want to work. So already on the cover you will find three columns, namely the publications on the left, the productions in the center, and the activities on the right. We call it [the blog] intra-stories following Unamuno’s concept of the invisible, of what happens behind the production.
Q5. Impact on local development and diversity
[Interviewer]: Would you say that “diversiy” is one of the key values to take into account in your interventions? Do you actually recognize “diversity” as one of the spillover effects of your work? How would you define “diversity” in relation with your day-to-day effort?
[HD]:Diversity is definitely a term we also use ourselves. We are already more than a small theatre, we are basically a small cultural center. Besides performances by adults, we have a youth ensemble and a child ensemble; we show guest performances and organize concerts – so diversity is definitely one of our declared goals. It also is integrative and partially inclusive: Especially in our youth ensemble, there are a lot of people with a migratory background; and at the moment, there are two refugees from Syria working with us as interns. We also try to regularly show performances with sign language, and so on. Diversity â€“ definitely, and we are quite proud of that. A lot of those things happened especially in the course of last year because we were exploring them in great detail. The feedback is very positive, ranging from all groups of age and all social classes we are addressing. And we are aiming at addressing everyone. It is very interesting to see that a lot of those people who previously didn’t dare to enter this neighborhood, are now naturally coming to see us. We are and will continue to be a theatre that attracts people who usually do not go to the theatre, which we are very proud of.
[MG]: “Diversity” is a function, when you have empty land, like industrial zones, and we just wanted to make a diverse, multifunctional space for different users and purposes. So yes, “diversity” was a first objective. Social cohesion – I don’t know – Well, above all, it makes you having your doubts because, for example, when we had a singer here for an event limited to 15-20 people, the singer was a Gypsy, and her entire family hadn’t enrolled so they were all outside; so on the one hand it was like a chance, but on the other hand, they weren’t enrolled, so what should we do? Thus, those situations cause a confrontation with reality, and with other types of audience, I don’t know if they stick together, but at least they put reality in front of you and you can’t look away. You can’t do this, it’s not my job; that is okay, but I don’t know, I don’t know. Well, what I want to say is that at Sarean, there isn’t anyone who is a Gypsy or Afroamerican; another thing is the coordinator of the district, with whom w indeed have a relation via Sarean, and with her it is much more multiple and diverse. And then Sarean has the intention to open the space we will have in April this year. And there the idea is indeed to have more diversity, directed towards social cohesion; maybe more on part of Sarean than on part of consonni, as we won’t dedicate ourselves to something as elitist as contemporary art, something which I don’t agree with at all, but it is all about how it is perceived, right? So I don’t want to be native and talk about social cohesion, I don’t think it’s our job, but yes, in some of the projects. Our job actually is political consciousness, that is, to try to work as best as possible. That’s why I explained to you the whole structure and the project of the feminisms and of the bird and the ornithologist. I explained that because, when I read the questionnaire, I was a bit afraid of being seen a bit oversimplifying. I believe our major contribution is trying to do things as best as we can so that we can later realize them, that is, engaging artists, providing for the best conditions possible.
[Interviewer]: To what degree would you say your activity contributes to the security of the district?
[HD]: I believe a lot, as a matter of fact. Given that RottstraBe – it is by no means a red-light district, but there are well two or three erotic shops, and ever since we have been here – that is, more than five years – we have never seen obviously criminal activities. The thing, of course, is that some people – who previously wouldn’t – now come to the district because of us; and I believe that we thus make a small contribution to the security in the streets. I guess there are a few small indications for that – let me put it that way.
[MM]: Well, I’ve read it and don’t identify with any of them. Security – what security are we going to create; at best, the prostitutes now have more light when… but I don’t know, maybe we’re also messing up their business, if you think about it, because, I don’t know.
[Interviewer]: Have you been told so by your visitors? Or what do you link this perception to?
[HD]: Especially elderly visitors approach us and say, I would have never thought that I’m right here, but that’s great. And once you’re in front of your theatre and actually go in, it is a fantastic experience. So yes, we definitely are in touch with many, many visitors who wouldn’t have come to this street otherwise. And who would be out of place here. There are neither any shops they might go to nor anything else that might be of interest for them. Based on us and a gallery that had been here one year before us, a small cultural quarter has been created; and the first half of RottstraBe, the one that belongs to the city centre, is now passable for everyone.
[MG]: Yes, the space is not empty, housing was renovated, it becomes safer and interesting. And here comes the classic problem of gentrification; the land was empty, the housing was developed on low prices, and the area was rather abandoned. But the prices are not higher in this area, the buildings for housing were constructed with a modest attitude. So I think it will not be transformed into some kind of expensive ghetto. Even if the restaurant is rather expensive and it’s not for everyone, the other functions, and especially the housing development, are based on low prices. So I think it’s transforming in a good way. “Security” was not a goal, it was a side effect. But we can also say it was a goal, because it was a rather dangerous neighborhood, and it is now changing. It is like an automatic action.