The Slovenia Times

Great Achievements and Paradoxes



I see excellent dancers who force their intimacy upon me. Some years ago I watched a notorious performance staged by a commercial theatre in the overcrowded Tivoli Hall. Hallelujah for organisers and producers, but the truth was that the show was protracted. I asked myself the multitudes of people who attended this production had been hiding. Why do I not see them active in other theatres?
I believe that commercial theatres need to adapt more but at the same they very well know who they serve: the masses. I see excellent performances which perhaps have only two pieces of repetition. The budgets of slightly larger performances in the non-governmental sector are a bit bigger than public, solo creations - but not by much. Since the budgets are pretty miserable, there are no large shows in the non-governmental sector which is certainly more insightful and internationally active than public institutions. An exception here is the Slovene Youth Theatre. We have difficulties recognising and rewarding those that stand out from the crowd. How very Slovene is that! Maybe this is also the case because we do not have a special law which would deal with achievements above average. Instead each trifle always requires a lot of bureaucracy.
And yet our situation sounds excellent if not idyllic: we have an immense number of theatres, societies, private institutes, festivals. If I only focus on the stage scene, every day there is a superabundance of events. Too much? No, for audience the vast choice is welcome. On the other hand this means that nearly everybody gets a certain, although disgracefully, subsidy for their activities. Which means that money is dispersed. The differences between the non-governmental and governmental sector are considerable, however they are not dependent on the quality or number of tours. It is good and fair that those who give the finances do not interfere with the contents of the production. But they could interfere with the operations. Those established by the state - and there are many considering the size and the population of the country - are guaranteed to get funds. However the crisis has already taken part of the money. There is therefore a danger that the offices will be full of employees, while the stages will be empty because the funds are going to suffice only for the salaries of clerical staff.
And those who have a relationship of an indeterminate term with the state are more protected than animal species in danger of extinction, regardless of how well they are doing their job. On the other hand there is the rather unprotected non-governmental sector. They are dependent on public tenders; the state enabled multi-annual tenders (regarding the project and programme) to the larger and the more insightful. In a contract for, let's say, four years, are they going to get the promised finances? If they do, does this mean that the realisation of contract conditions will bring them more money next time? Even though they are more skilful with getting the European subsidies, they cannot survive with them only. And art in Slovenia feeds a large number of people; not only those we see on stage. The spectrum of the invisible ones without whom shows cannot exist is broad.
The problem is that we have two big players who hold all the cards - the state through the Ministry of Culture, and the city municipalities. There are no other alternatives. There are no foundations and no income tax relief and the idea of, for instance, earmarking some funds for the arts from the national lottery would seem likely to cause outcry. The rich donors of course give some spare change to the arts, be it because they know someone from the artistic circles or because they simply like what the one that asks for finances does. The easiest thing in times of crisis is going to be to slash the prestige productions; the ones that don't produce instant market effects. There is a severe lack of patience - the patience needed to see that art changes the world and life, opens up taboos and dilemmas, and positively promotes us abroad. The mentality under the Alps does not see the great achievements in art; we have never had a male minister (but we did have two female ministers for culture) who would see in our national art what the famous Jack Lang saw in the French one.
In case someone has forgotten this, I can make them angry again: the first performance in zero gravity space is the work of Dragan Živadinov and his team. If this happened somewhere else, everybody would make a big deal out of it; the event would be placed on the front pages of newspapers and it would be the first piece featured in the TV news. Sponsors and donators would see a great opportunity for promotion and perhaps even business in it. And Dragan would not, just like everybody else, stand in the queue for subsidies. At home in Slovenia the performance quietly passed by. The sort of pride of the nation fired by sport achievements was nowhere to be seen. A similar story goes for scientists, innovators, theoreticians, thinkers and authors in general. Art does not trigger euphoric effects in people and the media; we prefer to criticise, lament or quarrel about politics. Theatre and film director Tomaž Pandur - who is not really my favourite - recently received a high award from Spain... and hats off to him. The keen Nevenka Koprivšek, founder of the Bunker Institute, was rewarded by France. Neither has been recognised by Slovenia. Are we ashamed of them? Is what they are doing not important enough for us? Are we silently going to put them on hold, into a disregarded department of the state? Are we going to allow the existence of prestige for spare change?
Jedrt Jež Furlan is a full-blooded cultural worker who has been part of the contemporary performing arts (in the varied roles of journalist, critic, selector, producer and promoter) for twenty years. She describes her relationship with art as "stormy, passionate, seductive; it bores me and makes me think, gives meaning to the world and life, opens up questions and dilemmas, tears down taboos..."


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