Public-civic partnership for open cultural spaces
Rusanda Curcă is a rural DJ, cultural, environmental and civic activist based in Hîrtop village, Republic of Moldova. She is the co-founder of the Centre for Cultural Projects Arta Azi, an organisation that has as main objectives to develop and promote access to art and culture in rural areas and marginalised groups. She is also the director of the Coalition of the Independent Cultural Sector from the Republic of Moldova, an umbrella organisation that unites the representatives of the independent cultural scene in order to consolidate it and which aims to improve the legislation in the field of culture through advocacy activities. Rusanda is interested in the dynamics of cultural ecosystems, supporting participatory governance and the democratisation of culture.
In the winter of 2023 we were organising in Chisinau, as part of the Ukrainian Month in Europe events programme, a round table entitled “The role of culture in times of crisis”, and during this discussion a very important thought was had about the cultural systems in which we operate. The war continues to demonstrate the failure of this cultural system based on state ideology, where culture becomes the instrument of its implementation. A centralised and hierarchical system cannot deal with crisis situations, and culture, being disregarded as a value and unable to form an environment of resistance by generating alternative discourses, becomes part of the state ideology and the atrocities it commits. The role of culture is to contribute to the development of critical thinking and attitudes in citizens and to question any attempt to limit civil rights and liberties by authority, under the pretext of security and situational exceptionalism. It is clear that this system must be changed and that of cultural democracy must be promoted.
The public socio-cultural infrastructure, in this context, plays an important role, because it provides place and space for citizens to meet and participate in society’s life, according to the analogy of public spaces. The role of the cultural infrastructure and its way of functioning needs to be rethought. A participatory governance model related to cultural spaces would provide creators, organisations and citizens with a supportive environment for creative work and the development of innovative and socially beneficial projects that respond to the challenges of the 21st century. It could promote participation, sharing, circular economy, environmental protection, democracy, pluralism, development of skills and abilities, international and economic integration and the quality of creation. This will depend on whether or not the (independent) cultural sector will be sustainable in the long term. Beyond its role of supporting our activity from a technical and material point of view, infrastructure can influence the relationships between various public and civic actors. Public cultural infrastructure is like the public spaces in our cities and villages, and depending on how it is designed, managed and governed will also depend on the societal model we will have.
After working for 10 years in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, I returned to live in the village and I felt extremely severely the problem of access to art and culture and in the pandemic, this has become more acute. In that specific context, together with two other colleagues from two other villages, we initiated the Art In The Neighborhood project – a rural platform for education through culture. Our goal was to create opportunities for access to art and culture in rural and marginalised areas, thus contributing to the decentralisation of culture, organising creative workshops, concerts, performances, documentary film screenings, community dinners, artistic residencies with the participation of professional artists. The 2022 edition was dedicated to the integration of Ukrainian refugees into our localities, creating safe spaces for dialogue and social interaction. These activities were mainly carried out in culture houses, libraries and community centres, contributing to the formation of project spaces that were initiated in collaboration with local public institutions. The socio-cultural infrastructure, in the context of the activities organised by the 10 organisations and initiative groups emphasises the need for an open, inclusive, accessible and democratic public infrastructure.
In Moldova there is a law on public-private partnership, which prioritises relations between the public administration and commercial entities, a fact that led to the commercialisation and privatisation of spaces and services once accessible to the majority of citizens of the country. Within the Coalition of the Independent Cultural Sector of the Republic of Moldova, we initiated an advocacy campaign aimed at contributing to the creation of a specific legal framework for public-civic partnerships, which would result in the participatory models of governance of public goods, both in the field culture as well as in other fields.
At the house of culture in Hîrtop village, we are 3 actors who try to pilot this co-governance model: the employees of the house of culture, who organise various events to celebrate national holidays, with a folkloric and traditional character; the H-top Hîrtop, a initiative group run by teenagers, who organise parties and film screenings; and NGO Arta Azi, which comes with an alternative programme to that produced by the House of Culture and facilitates access and understanding of contemporary art and culture. But we still haven’t reached the stage where both Arta Azi and H-Top have, within the building of the culture house (which is huge) a space completely managed by us that we can arrange, manage and equip according to our needs. There is still resistance from public authorities. Our practice, which is clearly opposed to the authoritarian institutional model of governance, assumes a horizontal and non-hierarchical organisation in which all regulatory functions are exercised through our own measures without the intervention of external authority, and the existing control structures are adaptable, flexible and variable. This operating principle is based on mutual co-operation, inclusiveness, collective or consensus decision-making, self-education and a DIY spirit in solving problems.
The public socio-cultural infrastructure should include 3rd spaces, where different target groups and communities would have the opportunity to self organise around the topics they are interested in and to have the opportunity not only to upgrade democratic processes, but also to act as laboratories for new societal models, where there will be no room for any form of violence or discrimination and the diversity of our peers will be respected. So we will continue to advocate for public civic partnership, to build open cultural spaces.
After 4 years of work, I can already see and feel the changes that the existence of open and relevant cultural spaces produced in my locality. One of the greatest achievements is that the community is involved not only in the organisational processes of cultural activities, but also in production, so they are both arts consumers and producers at the same time and they have a space for that. The culture house started to curate exhibitions on contemporary art, so at this moment it has 3 exhibitions running in 3 different spaces, which addresses the topic of gender issues in rural areas and migration. More and more local and international artists are interested in collaborating with local initiatives and the culture house, thus diversifying the artistic content. Also, there is a party culture in the village, where young local Djs are encouraged and have a stage to express themselves. A few weeks ago, a young girl was running the local party, thus becoming the first woman in the history of the village to hold a full party. And last but not least, the quality of life has increased substantially, because you no longer need to go to the city, or to another locality to spend your free time. Those spaces were created and are accessible in your community.