Prague, chosen as a European City of Culture for 2000, continues to live up to its name as new museums and cultural venues spring up around the city. One museum, which opened earlier this year, is geared mainly toward attracting the very young. Located in one of Prague's most famous buildings - the House of the Green Frog is the Museum of Children's Drawings and it is here you'll find not only children's drawings but also numerous sculptures and toys. It was truly only out of curiosity, as frankly I really wasn't expecting very much, that I stopped by and bumped into the Museum's director, Darina Martinovska. Mrs. Martinovska explained what it was that brought about the opening of the museum and what kind of message it hoped to pass on to its visitors:
" We have a contract for fifty years, so in the next fifty years we plan to try our best to convince people that some things aren't just straightforward, and that it is important to give them attention over a period of time. One example is children's' drawings. When a four-year old draws, it isn't noticed very much as it is simply considered to be normal human development. But, several years later, one might find out that the child was very talented. So our museum is here mainly to discover talent but also to document the passing of time. I hope that all of our exhibitions and programmes will also help to take a closer and stricter look at our society."
Well, the museum was certainly worth a visit. I had expected unidentifiable balls of clay and sheets of scribbled paper - 'something' that only their parents could appreciate, but to my surprise I was greeted by some truly remarkable life-sized human sculpture and an array of interesting abstract art. And according to Mrs. Martinovska, there is even more to these works than originally meets the eye:
" We have an archive where we keep all the interesting pictures that we have received. It is true that their main purpose is to serve as study material but sometimes, it is not about the artistic talent but the psychological state of the artist. It is about the child's development, it's understanding of things and its view of the world. Sometimes, we find pictures that send out warning signals and then I take them to an expert psychologist or sometimes even psychiatrist for evaluation..."
"...The art work should not only be exhibited but also show that people involved with children should also make it a point to pay attention to their drawings. Recently, I found a blank, white paper with an army drawn in one corner. It had soldiers with guns that were shooting into the open space. That is one case, for example, where I believe it to be important for a psychologist to be consulted."
I put it to Mrs. Martinovska that such an impressive Museum could not possibly be funded by the low admission fee charged at the door.
"The museum is not an institution. Everyone here today, in fact, is not an employee of the museum. Both my daughter and I who also works here are teachers. Another colleague is a teacher and one lady here is retired. We also have some students helping us out. Everyone working at the museum, though, is involved in this field..."
"...We have received a few grants from the Ministry of Culture and the City of Prague. The opening ceremony was financed by the Prague 1 district as that is where our museum is located and the mayor was happy to see the building reconstructed. The opening was also under the auspices of the Prague Mayor. As you can see, we are trying to address important persons in order to get the financial support necessary and also to spread our message. Visitors also pay a low admission fee, which helps us cover basic expenses such as water and electricity."
The fact that the Museum of Children's Drawings is located in the House of the Green Frog, once home to one of Prague's most popular pubs, was not enough to make the Museum instantly popular with tourists and locals. According to Mrs. Martinovska a lot of very hard work was behind the Museum's 'discovery':
"We try to invite people from the media to our various activities. They can only come with personal invites but that is only because we want to spend time with people who are sincerely interested in this area. We also had a German TV crew come and film the museum which they must have found out about from our leaflets that are distributed around Prague's information centres. Most of the visitors say that they have heard about us on Czech Radio or read an article in the paper. We also have a web site, which has been increasing in popularity. Last but not least, there are several schools that have contacted us, some of which also have children's drawings classes."
Moving on now to an event which many of the young Museum goers would not be interested in - the Alternative Music Eurotrialog Festival hosted by the Moravian town of Mikulov. In a previous arts programme I spoke to one of its organizers, Blanka Strayblova, before the event took place. I did however actually go along to the festival and all I can say is what I heard really does deserve the name alternative. One of the bands that immediately grabbed my 'attention' was the twenty-piece international ensemble - the X-Orchestra. In fact, I don't know what surprised me more - the fact that they played in Central Europe before the fall of the Iron curtain or the nature of their music! Terry Haverkamp from Holland, is one of its members and he told me of some of the X-Orchestra's pre-89 escapades:
"In Poland, we had a kind of state official or security agent with us. How do you handle that? We couldn't go without him but he got very drunk all the time and in the end, always ended up in the back of the car and we did everything we wanted to do and we spoke to anyone that we wanted to speak to. We also had to sneak into areas illegally and once got stopped at the Czech border for 17 hours... all these kind of things. It was really incredible for the people that suddenly a band out of nowhere came and played crazy music."
"I think it was really important to play at a time when our kind of anarchic music made people really appreciate it and now when we come back people from Poland and Hungary still remember what we did at the time. The audience back then had a lot of need for freedom, there was a lot of frustration and a lot of hunger now, sometimes, the hunger is a little less as they know about the western music. But still, festivals like these bring people together with hunger for good music and freedom."
If X-Orchestra's 'anarchic music' as Terry called it failed to impress, the festival had scores of other alternative bands from which to choose and Erzsi Kiss from Hungary was just one. Gabi Kenderesi is a member and says that although her band is unique, western music is slowly taking over the local Hungarian music scene.
"Different trends are followed much more now in Hungary than before and I think that it's mostly American music that is dictating the trend in Hungary in popular music. When you have influence which brings things from you, your own things then it's good because that's a kind of spark and you bring yourself but when it's just an imitation and your personality is completely hidden, then I think it's bad."
One band that certainly hasn't been sucked in by western influences is the up-and-coming Czech band, Gang-ala-basta. 'Making it' on either the domestic or international scene, is always difficult but as Gang-ala-basta's Karolina Chitilova believes Czech bands are a lot better off today than they were under the Communist regime:
"I don't think that it's more difficult now because they can travel to the world, they can record what they want, they can say what they want in their music, no-one will them they that they can't. So, I think that it's easy and if you mean that there is some confrontation from abroad then I think that if someone like's the group, he will come anyway. I don't think that it's difficult, I think that it's easier."