Kooperativa’s tenth-anniversary forum started on December 15 at the Europe House in Zagreb, bringing together artists, cultural workers as well as policy and decision makers across fields and borders to reflect on the past, present, and future of cultural cooperation in SEE (and beyond). The audience was addressed by Diana Madunic, Swedish Ambassador to Croatia, and Lilas Bernheim, the first counselor to the Ambassador of France, who both pointed out the value of regional cooperation while emphasizing cultural dialogue as the key to keeping the peace. Davor Mišković, the chairperson of the Kooperativa management board, joined the welcoming speeches and reminded the audience that all the mistakes that Kooperativa had made on its attempts to establish a regional cultural fund, made the platform that much more resilient.
After the welcome and opening speeches, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, Secretary General of Europa Nostra held a keynote speech, followed by a conversation with Ares Shporta, a former Kooperativa board member from Lumbardhi Foundation, and the audience. In her keynote speech, she underlined that the European project will not last if culture is not placed where it belongs, that is, in the center of the European project, not on its periphery. According to Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, the EU cannot achieve any of its strategic objectives without greater emphasis and financing of the cultural sector. Quaedvlieg-Mihailović underlined her belief in the central role of cities as the main drivers of cultural collaboration and social inclusion and concluded how networks and platforms are the only way to survival.
Various modes of organizing and financing cultural cooperation were the topics of the panel talk titled Institutional frameworks for regional cultural cooperation. Participating on the panel were Alice de Prascau from Institut Français and Fanny Bouquerel from Roberto Cimetta Fund, both joined by the moderator Polona Torkar from Asocijacija. Alice de Prascau described the basic functioning of Institut Français which is financed by public funds but has nonetheless seen its budget shrink in recent years, while Fanny Bouquerel spoke on the various models used by different ministries of culture in the EU and the limited capacity of the EU funds to shape the cultural policies. She also drew attention to the importance of building alliances as the only guarantee of stability. The lively discussion led by Torkar brought some insightful conclusions about the future of cooperation, including the heterogenization of the concept of Europe, bringing into discussion the idea of different Europes, as well as the idea of resisting institutionalization of the civil sector.
Milica Pekić, one of the founders of Kooperativa, reflected upon the past 10 years of collaborative work and achievements of the platform. Although the regional fund still has not been established, and as she said “we still don’t have stable financial support for regional production, collaboration, and exchange. What we have though is a network of firm social relations, connections, partnerships, and friendships. We have mutual trust and respect for all the work we created together, the experience of togetherness
and unique knowledge and organizational models we created through collaborative practice.” She concluded that the minimal structural and financial support dominates the independent cultural scene because we are still treated with mistrust by decision makers.
The second day of Kooperativa’s tenth-anniversary forum opened with a panel discussion entitled Towards Resilience: Building Cooperation from the Bottom-up, featuring three international and one national networks of organizations, different in their structure, composition, and thematic focus.
Ana Abramović, representing Clubture network, described what is characteristic of programs of exchange and cooperation that they conduct, as well as their participative process of project selection, which engages both members of the network and applicants. Expanding on the theme of participatory grantmaking, Carmen Dupont introduced the audience to Fundaction – a living experiment, gathering organizations that distribute funds in a community of activists. Kooperativa, represented by its coordinator, Tihana Pupovac, set out some of the struggles the platform faces in the attempt to establish a fund to support artistic collaboration of the independent scene in the region that has, despite conflicts and instability, culturally collaborated for decades. Finally, being involved as an initiator of various activities focused on sustaining the mobility of artists and cultural workers, Marie Le Sourd from the On the Move network, brought to discussion the precarity of all those working in the cultural sector. A lively conversation moderated by Luka Knežević Strika, board member of Kooperativa, emphasized the necessity of working towards the abolishing of the project logic rigidness and developing new models of grant distribution, so that “while we are hacking the system, the system doesn’t hack us”.
The second panel, Culture and Development: International Support to Regional Cooperation, featured representatives coming from four international funds and organizations: Nataša Petrović from Balkan Trust for Democracy, Mia Vukojević from Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Marija Chorbeva-Penovska from Goethe Institut North Macedonia and Tanja Gavrilović from Teatroskop. The prevailing theme of the talk moderated by Tihana Pupovac focused on the role of international funds in the regional context. Vukojević and Petrović agreed that you can’t have solid democracy – which is the main goal of their respective organizations – without arts and culture. While Chorbeva-Penovska underlined the importance that Goethe Institute places on cooperation with civil society, Gavrilović paid a special attention to the issue of working with the public resources, pointing out to the various possibilities of finding flexibility aiming at responding to the needs of the organizations which operate outside of the institutions.
In conclusion, all participants agreed on the next step for Kooperativa – revision of its existing model of the fund for the regional cooperation, taking into consideration the inputs from the forum and the need of the sector for a less bureaucratized model of financing of the arts and culture which wouldn’t be led by the project logic. After ten years of committed work towards establishing the fund in partnership with the local and the national authorities, Kooperativa will remain dedicated to this aim, while at the same including into conversions new allies – the gatekeepers in corporation with whom, Kooperativa can exemplify that the regional cooperation is of the strategic interest.