Prague's Centre for Contemporary Arts under threat

Diana Duncan-Holmes

Over the last decade Prague's Centre for Contemporary Arts ( has played an important role on the city's cultural scene, especially in encouraging young Czech artists and in building dialogue between artists here in the Czech Republic and abroad. But the centre's future is far from certain. In "The Arts" this week David Vaughan visits the centre to find out more about its work, and to examine whether its days really are numbered.

Prague's Centre for Contemporary Arts
I've come to a little house just behind Prague Castle and this slightly shabby but romantic looking building is home for the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Prague. And I'm joined by Dana Recmanova, who coordinates the artists in residence programme here in the centre. Dana, tell me what goes on in this building.

Dana Recmanova: As you see this is the gallery space and we present here the works of the youngest Czech artists as well as the artists in residence who are coming here.

Diana Duncan-Holmes
So there is an exhibition showing here at the moment - there are various different collages aren't there?

Dana Recmanova: There are collages, there are videos as well.

So this is one of the more important venues for young artists to be able to have their first exhibitions and to begin on their careers.

Dana Recmanova: Yes, mostly artists from artists' academies.

And what else goes on here? I gather there's a great deal more that happens here at the Centre for Contemporary arts, so if you could maybe show me around, we could have a look at some of the other things...

Dana Recmanova
Dana Recmanova: We are approaching the small room which is the base for the internet radio broadcasting, known as Radio Jeleni ( Maybe Honza can tell us more, because he has been with the radio from the very beginning.

Honza: Radio Jeleni is now focused on broadcasting live events that are happening here, there are a few regular shows, there's a show every Wednesday from 9-10 and all the other shows are announced in advance on the mailing list and on the website.

And this is an avant-garde type of radio - with alternative music and arts programmes?

Honza: That's more or less right [laughs].

Dana Recmanova: We can move to the next room, which is the multi-media lab. This laboratory is mainly used by students from the art schools, but not specifically only from the art schools. There are workshops during the whole year, either with local people or with internationals visiting here.

Another part of the centre here is a library. You have an arts library documenting artists and exhibitions here in the Czech Republic.

Dana Recmanova: That's right. This is the public library and it has been created with the contributions of various foundations and individuals, and systematic work on developing the fund of our art-oriented books, which are sometimes hard to find in other libraries.

And you said at the beginning that you're coordinator of the artists' in residence programme. Tell me about that.

Dana Recmanova: This is a pilot project in the Czech Republic and with the help of various Czech and international foundations we established a regular annual programme that has two artists' studios and apartments where artists can stay. And they benefit from the programmes that we are running here, using facilities such as the media lab, library etc, and they have the opportunity to show work as part of their stay here in the gallery.

Well, let's meet some of the artists. We're now outside and we're going into a shed at the back of the building.

Dana Recmanova: This shed was used before as the junk room, and with the financial support of the European Culture Foundation we made it into an artist's studio.

And here are some of the artists in residence.

Timothy Riordan
Timothy Riordan: I'm from the United States.

Sophie Hayes: I'm from the UK.

Diana Duncan-Holmes: I'm from the United States.

Sophie Hayes: I've been doing mainly video work, filming animal behaviour in Prague Zoo, and also I've been going to the natural history department in Prague National Museum, and making photographic works and video works in both those venues, and so the technical equipment here has been really useful for me.

Sophie Hayes
Timothy Riordan: Diana and I collaborate as well as work separately. Diana's a visual artist based in photography and I'm a poet and writer, and we had four projects that we decided that we would work on. It's been a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to meet so many people. We had a wonderful reception from the centre and all the help that they've given.

Diana Duncan-Holmes: I can certainly say the same thing. I feel like we've been very prolific for these two months. It's been quite a gift being able to be in Prague. Prague's been a wonderful inspiration for us, so we couldn't have asked for more. It should go on for ever!

Diana Duncan-Holmes:
So we've seen in a nutshell some of the things that are going on here, but I gather that the future of the Centre for Contemporary Arts is far from certain.

Dana Recmanova: That's true. The centre has been facing big financial problems in the last two years and unfortunately we have not been able to receive support to continue in the programmes.

And why is this? Is there not interest in the private and the public sector in helping to finance initiatives like this?

Dana Recmanova: I think that the centre would have a high chance to receive in the next year support from larger funding bodies, and everybody's hoping that the European Union with its grant programmes would be a big help to the foundations like us, and I do believe that we would be successful. Nevertheless the director and the board has decided to close the two programmes, which is the lab and the artists in residency programme.

by Diana Duncan-Holmes
Which are really the two core programmes that you have here...

Dana Recmanova: Yes.

Why has your director decided to do that? Obviously you disagree with it yourself.

Dana Recmanova: It's a complex story and I personally do not understand it and the fact that the decision was taken mainly behind our backs, that we were just confronted with the paper informing us to close the programme at the end of the year.

Ludvik Hlavacek is director of the Centre for Contemporary Arts. Could you explain what the situation is?

Ludvik Hlavacek: Since 1993 we regularly got support from George Soros, the amount 200,000 American dollars, and now we have practically no general support of the institution. So our existence is possible only on the basis of particular projects. We have no income to cover the administration, the rent and the general costs of the institution. So the cuts are absolutely necessary and they will concern first of all the project of the artists in residency.

And what about the other aspects - for example the library here, which is a fairly extensive library of contemporary Czech art?

Ludvik Hlavacek: It will not be closed because it is not expensive, but unfortunately we are not able to buy new books, new catalogues, and we are not able to subscribe to magazines.

And what's the problem? Why is there suddenly so little support?

Ludvik Hlavacek: It is a problem of our subject, of contemporary art. When we apply for a grant we are generally refused because contemporary art is understood like a special, professional activity, which has no impact in the development of contemporary society. The sponsors are asking only - what famous people will participate in your exhibition? - how many thousand visitors come to your exhibition opening? They only ask for publicity.

So does that mean that it's too late now to save the Centre for Contemporary Arts in its current form?

Ludvik Hlavacek: I don't think it will collapse. The centre will exist definitely, but in reduced form.