Welcome to Lviv

After arriving in Lviv, we met our hosts in a cafe where among the portraits of the old Armenian city dwellers, we go through the details of the schedule. Though many people describe Lviv as one of the most Polish cities in terms of atmosphere and character, the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are still very deeply rooted, not least in the strudel. Under the gaze of Siergei Paradżanow, we discussed the forthcoming presentations and participant project proposals, some seventeen in all. This area was known as a strong Armenian neighbourhood, with the Armenian presence in Western Ukraine dating back nearly 1000 years. The Armenian Cathedral in the city dates back over 600 years, just one aspect of the rich multicultural aspect of this place.


The opening session in the evening was held in The Centre for Urban History of East Central Europe where Krzysztof Czyżewski presented the ideas behind the work of Borderland over the years and good practice in terms of building community.

You can view a film of the lecture here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQiWe0vMyOE&feature=youtu.be

You can find some other details in this Russian text: http://zbruc.eu/node/14906

He explained in some detail how, as theatre practitioners, their original inspiration came their experience of working with alternative theatre – in particular, Jerzy Grotowski’s experimental theatre and the theatrical laboratory of Eugenio Barba, as well as in the Polish avant garde theatre Gardzienice.

Some key concepts and contexts he covered in his presentation:

The idea of the counter-culture – as for many European artists, inspiration could be found in the strong counterculture of 60’s/70’s America. Much of it emanating from migrants – as an example Krzysztof gave the work of Jonas Mekas  and his work in Soho which was born in that area of New York, concentrating on small communities and neighborhoods – “an archipelago of islands” – looking for a dimension of commonality, and of narration.


The idea of the Borderland – as a place where diversity and memory are still alive. In the particular context of Borderland as a group, in their early days as theatre practitioners they went out from the cities into the rural fringes of Poland, searching for the remnants of authentic culture and hidden and almost almost forgotten stories – those aspects to uncover, preserve and revitilise through performance.

But a problem they encountered was the very framework of the expedition itself: going somewhere, staying for a short time, collecting stories, performing, leaving. For the Borderlanders they eventually made a conscious decision to stay in a concrete, chosen place – this was Sejny – working for a long time with the local community. “We did not want to be a museum but an alive place”. Krzysztof stated that their experience over the years showed that you do not have to compromise quality or high artistic level while working with local community or with children and those who do not define themselves as ‘professional artists’. For example, Kroniki Sejneńskie – Sejny Chronicles.

Krzysztof then spoke of some initiatives of the Borderland Centre and Foundation:
– as a centre of documentation where important, sometimes painful works are produced. For example, Jan Tomasz Gross’s book on the Jedwabne massacre.
– as publishing house, producing journals such as Krasnogruda, Almanach Sejeński.
– as a musical centre with Sejneńska Spółdzielnia Jazzowa.
– as a theatre workshop for children and young people, with Sejny Chronicles.
– as an International Centre for Dialogue in Krasnogruda, bringing together a wide range artists, cultural practitioners, academics, educationalists, creating new and vital networks.

He then spoke about the concept of “deep culture” and its significance in the context of large urban realms. Krzysztof expressed his conviction that the kind of work done in Sejny can and should be undertaken in these city environments and that this would help neutralise the oppositions between the high and low culture, official and unofficial culture, resistance and working within the system. He spoke of the work in this respect in Wrocław, where the city was collaborating with artists in order to create a new space for social renewal, creating a vehicle for change.


The presentation ended with a short introduction by Weronika and Agnieszka about the ongoing work of the Borderland School and the potential project developments for 2014. These local workshops are dedicated to working with small teams of people to help develop and define both realistic and exciting cultural projects. Participants then took part in an inaugural dinner at Hotel George where they got to know each other in the special atmosphere of the century old ball room.


Next stop, Ukraine

The next edition of local workshops will be taking place in Lviv in the Ukraine. This is the schedule with workshop leader Nathalie Bolgert and special guest Krzysztof Czyżewski.

Thursday, 31st October 2013
19.00 – 20.30: The Centre for Urban History of East Central Europe
Borderland – practice and philosophy of intercultural dialogue: Meeting with Krzysztof Czyżewski,Director of the Centre “Borderland of Cultures, Arts, Nations”
21.00:  Inaugural dinner – Hotel George, Lviv

Friday, 1st November, The Centre for Urban History of East Central Europe
09.00-10.30: Session 1: Introductory session
10.30: coffee break
11.00-12.30: Session 2 “No start without diagnosis”
13.00-14.30: “Culture and Solidarity”, Krzysztof Czyżewski’s lecture at the City Hall, Lviv.
15.00: late lunch
16.30-17.30: Session 3 “No project without an objective”
17.30: coffee break
18.00 -19.30: Workshop continuation
20.00: dinner

Saturday, 2nd November, The Centre for Urban History of East Central Europe
09.30-11.00: Questions and answers session with Krzysztof Czyżewski
11.00: coffee break
11.30-13.00: Session 4 “No activity without formulating and describing”
13.30: lunch
15.00-16.30:  Session 5 “Nothing without money and timing”
16.30:  coffee break
17.00-18.30: Session 6 “No wisdom without inspiration and good practices”
19.00: dinner
Sunday, 3rd November
09.00-11.00: Final Session

Nathalie Bolgert has a vast, grass-root experience working with Polish and Slovak NGOs and excellent knowledge in delivering formal and non-formal training and advisory services to NGOs and local administrations. She has been a Board member of two major NGOs in Poland: Batory Foundation (since 1998) and the Federation of Polish Food Banks (since 1997). Additionally, she has worked as an EU expert in a project concerning improvement and adaptation of quality standards in Employment Promotion Services for Polish NGOs. Last but not least, she has extensive experience in banking for non-formal clients usually excluded from financial services, while working for the Bank for Social and Economic Initiatives (1990-1995), the Polish-American Community Assistance Fund – a lending fund for NGOs – (1999-2009) and TISE (2010).

Krzysztof Czyżewski – Practitioner of ideas. Poet, essayist. Culture animator. Editor. Traveler. One of the initiators and since 1990 President of the “Borderland” Foundation , and director of the Centre “Borderland of Cultures, Arts, Nations”. President of European Network of Literary Houses HALMA. Artistic Director of Lublin bid for European Capital of Culture. Initiator and President of the Board of the Eastern Partnership Congress of Culture. Author of the books “The Path of the Borderland”, “Line of Return”, and “A Handbook of Dialogue. Trust and Identity”.


A quite long walking tour of Мінск

Following the final sessions on Sunday, we were given a tour of the city on foot. Today Minsk is a city of some two million people, the suburbs spreading far and wide. The normal landmarks, social, historical, political are not ones we are particularly familiar with, and so we learn.

We begin at Victory Square on Independence Avenue, which used to be called Kruglaya  – Round – and older people still call it that. Independence Avenue itself is 15 kilometres long. Once called Lenin Avenue, one line of the metro runs beneath it. As a construct the broad avenue represents the gate to the East, the route from Berlin to Moscow. Near here, on the bank of the river Svislach we find the wooden building in which the First Congress of the Social Democratic Workers’ (Russia’s original Marxist party) was secretly held in 1898. It is a museum – rebuilt after being destroyed in World War Two. Fidel Castro came to pay homage here in 1972 and Lee Harvey Oswald lived in the block of flats which overlook it. He worked as a lathe operator in Gorizont Electronics Factory.


walk2We walk up through the park to the Opera and Ballet Theatre, along the river, past the Isle of Tears, a memorial to soldiers who died in the war in Afghanistan 1979-89. The fabric of Minsk was almost entirely destroyed during an earlier war – the Great Patriotic War as it is known here – so it feels like a new town in many respects. The old looking classical buildings are not so old. There is virtually nothing left of the historical centre. The city was rebuilt rather than reconstructed, with monumental Stalinist architecture, which is now being matched with large modern glittery well-lit facades that could be in any city.


Still keeping the river to our left, near to Dinamo Hockey Club and some ancient wooden structures in a yard full of old buses in various spaces of disrepair and reconstruction, we find a synagogue, on vulica Daŭmana. Before the Holocaust, half of the people in Minsk were Jewish, and afterwards less than 10 per cent. Now, our guides tell us, the Jewish population is less than half a per cent, as many Jews emigrated to Israel in the latter part of the 20th century.


We pass by a huge artificial lake – Kamsamoĺskaje voziera – which was once enthusiastically dug out by Young Communists. The date of its official opening was set for June 22nd 1941. You can imagine the great festivities planned, how bunting was ordered, banners unfurled, massed choirs and musicians practiced patriotic songs, many cakes were baked. Unfortunately this date coincided with the launch of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union by over 3 million German troops and another half a million from their allies. Just four days later Minsk fell to the Wehrmacht.


We walk back past the newly constructed Belarusian State Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War along Praspyekt Pyeramozhtsaw, head towards the civic heart of the city, as night falls, past huge streetboards advertising the Ice Hockey World Championships coming here in 2014. We visit the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul on Rakovskaya. The oldest surviving religious building, dating from 1613, is known as the Yellow Church. In its history we can see the wars, the crises, the redrawing of borders, the clash of idealogies. It was looted by Cossacks, closed by the Bolsheviks, reopened by the Nazis, closed again by the Soviets and opened again in 1992. There’s more, much more to this city, but that’s enough for a four hour excursion.

Big thanks to Pavel Kasciukekich, Katsiaryna Ramanchyk, and Kaciarynka Pikirenia for being our cultural guides to the ‘topographical crisis’ of the city.


Final sessions in Minsk

The final sessions in Minsk took place between 10 am and 3 pm on Sunday at the Belarusian PEN Centre.

Hanna Yankuta gave a brief introduction to the work of the centre, a place where several cultural initiatives come together – acting as the office for an independent newspaper, the Belurusian Collegiate hold classes here, a school of young writers meets here, as well as members of the PEN Centre for literary discussions, seminars and workshops. The centre organise a number of literary awards and have a new award to encourage literacy criticism – ‘inviting people to write about a book you are reading now’.

Chris then shared his thoughts on the previous two days and what had been achieve, and how people’s thinking and idea had developed into concrete proposals – not in all cases, for some there was still work to be done. The morning was spent working in teams on a final presentation back to the whole group. ‘You need to convince and each other of the quality and reality and do-able strength of your project.’


The elements of this would include:

– Project outline
– Short-term goal
– Long-term goal
– Budget (but not in detail)
– Partners that you have, or who you will invite
– Target group
– The audience
– Planning
– Follow up

Each team worked on these and made a final 10 minute presentation back to the group for further critique and advice from Chris and Willemijn.


The presentations were strong and professional and the development of the proposals was evident. However, based on all the presentations, these are some points for us all to remember:

– When there are two people presenting, make sure you are fully aware of the other person, listen to what they are saying with interest and try not to overlap or interupt each other.
– Clearly say who you are, what organisation you represent, what your project is.
– Be more specific in describing content – if you are talking about a series of activities at a historical site be clear about what the connection between your contemporary art programme and this site is; if you are talking about a series of educational meetings, give an example of what you mean by this; if you are talking about an artist activity, give an example of the type of artist you want to work with.
– Put dates into your planning, so we understand the timeline of the activity.
– In terms of physical presentation, if you are using a flipchart of a powerpoint, talk to us, the audience, don’t talk to the flip chart.
– Put your personal passion into the story.
– Speak about your experience and skills more. If you mention artists, tell us their expertise.
– Go beyond the concept and be specific and concrete as much as possible. When you explain the context, say how you will use the arts to change this situation.
– A light touch can be welcome in a presentation. A little humour can help us better digest lots of facts and statistics.