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The National Cultural Program of the Polish EU Presidency in 2011

The year 2011 marked the greatest national cultural endeavor in the history of Poland, one that showcased the achievements of Polish culture, encouraged citizen involvement, collapsing artificial divisions between disciplines and provoking cultural and intellectual exchange.

NInA was responsible for the concept and execution of the National Cultural Program of the Polish EU Presidency. The event was a 184-day interdisciplinary festival of culture that included over 1,000 artistic project from a variety of disciplines, dedicated to nearly all age groups (for example, the EUgeniusz children’s stage at the Inauguration Day event) and responding to highly varied audience expectations. 

Many of these events were broadcast to the public in Poland and abroad through television, radio and the NInA website (including the opening and closing ceremonies, the European Culture Congress debates, the European Agora in Krasnogruda, the TU WARSZAWA concert and the performance of Paweł Mykietyn’s Symphony No 3 for voice and orchestra). 

The program comprised special projects in Sopot, Wrocław, Kraków, Poznań, Warsaw, Lublin, Białystok, Katowice and Krasnogruda; sixty projects organized by state cultural institutions and the associated programs of more than a dozen of Poland’s leading festivals, among them Sacrum Profanum, the Warsaw Autumn Festival, and the New Horizons IFF.

 

Culture in Action , dir. Max Cegielski and Anna Zakrzewska.

Art for Social Change

The main message of the program was Art for Social Change. The theme expresses the conviction that contemporary culture is an integral part of the social process and is a crucial part of our everyday lives. Participating in culture significantly affects the way we form relationships, giving us a sense of identity and belonging at the local, national and international level. The program thus encouraged audiences and artists to assume a creative stance that would raise their social and artistic consciousness and provoke critical reflection on culture and civilization itself. As Roman Pawłowski wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza

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The scale of the cultural program accompanying our presidency surpasses the typical pomp associated with political events. But it is the idea behind the events, rather than their number, that matters. ‘Culture for Social Change’ is an invitation to discuss the future of European culture and the entire community of Europeans. What are we supposed to share aside from economic and political interests? How can culture draw from the free market without falling prey to it? How can we protect the independence of culture against government attempts to censor it? How can we encourage participation in culture among those who have been excluded from it? These are just some of the questions and problems posed by the cultural presidency.
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Interdisciplinarity

Interdisciplinarity was a crucial part of the program and was reflected in its combined and overlapping disciplines, but also in the way it created new ties between high and low culture (the Inauguration Day concerts, musical collaborations between Krzysztof Penderecki, Jonny Greenwood and Aphex Twin, and Paweł Mykietyn’s Symphony No 3, composed to lyrics written by Mateusz Kościukiewicz). 

 

Recording of Symphony No 3 for alto voice and orchestra by Paweł Mykietyn, performed at the closing ceremony of the National Cultural Program of the Polish EU Council Presidency in 2011.

Grassroots initiatives

The artistic projects and events were organized through grassroots efforts. Thanks to close cooperation with municipal and NGO partners, the programs were adapted to local needs and conditions, accounting for the unique character of each location and taking advantage of its potential. Sopot, for instance, transformed into an Open Culture Resort for a month, organizing artistic events and projects that tied into local urban legends and encouraged involvement on the part of the community. Katowice, meanwhile, held a series of events known as TAKK! (Temporary Cultural Action Katowice), comprising a number of workshops (design for kids, food design, comics), urban interventions and concerts, all of which underscored the need to redefine what it means to be Silesian in the context of the European community. As NInA director Michał Merczyński said in an interview with Brief

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We decided to cooperate with a broad group of NGOs in cities where political meetings were supposed to take place. We didn’t want to bus in artists from Warsaw. It was important to us to encourage the cities to act on their own and to support them in the execution of their projects.
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Investing in Social Capital

The goal of the cultural program of the Polish EU Presidency was to encourage community involvement — on the part of the artists as well as those who have little to do with culture in their everyday lives — and to counteract various forms of social discrimination. Opening up undiscovered corners of Sopot to tourists and locals alike, the artistic “revitalization” of Katowice courtyards, workshops for refugee children in Białystok held in parallel with the exhibition The Journey to the East, as well as various projects tied to the European Culture Congress in Wrocław — all of these efforts illustrated the problem of exclusion associated with age, nationality, etc. (the performances Legs and Crazy Dance by Wałbrzych’s Dawka Energii Theater-Dance Company, the interdisciplinary project Memory and Oblivion by the eFKa Women’s Foundation). Many endeavors — the various workshops, interactive installations set up throughout different cities, and community and internet projects — required the active participation of the audience to reach their full potential.

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