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Czech Republic/ 8.4 Amateur arts, cultural associations and civil initiatives  

8.4.2 Cultural houses and community cultural clubs

Through its budgetary organisation NIPOS, the MC has begun to conduct statistical data collection (completed for the first time for 2007) on the activities of cultural institutions such as cultural houses, municipal cultural centres, extracurricular centres, and so on. Statistical surveys are conducted on a sample of (selected) organisations.

In the CR, there was a period in the late 19th and early 20th century when club life bloomed and during that time various kinds of clubs were founded – national houses, community clubs, and sporting associations (Sokol) etc., where people went not just for entertainment but also to get together. They evolved naturally, linked to community life, until the Communist regime seized power. The regime severed these links, nationalised property, quashed civil society, and seized control of entertainment. The old buildings used for these activities fell into decline; some were refurbished, but usually suffered from insensitive structural modifications. They were replaced by the mass construction of megalomaniacal cultural houses, which were also used by the political authorities for their own visibility. After 1989 some municipalities tried to get rid of these buildings by selling them, because they were expensive to operate and to maintain. But even in the 1990s municipal representatives already began to realise that without cultural houses and centres quality local community life would suffer, and there was a return to a naturally evolving process – see the NIPOS survey. Cultural houses and centres are run by various subjects: municipalities, municipal districts, and even civic associations and public benefit companies, joint-stock and limited-liability companies, and private subjects; none, however, are run by the state. The activities they offer can be divided into basic groups: artistic, non-artistic and educational activities, and other cultural services. 

Civic activities (associations, charitable trusts) have primarily surfaced in the area of public cultural services. Their activities relate mainly to arts and education. These include centres mediating access to contemporary art. One example is MeetFactory in Prague, which is based in a former industrial space. The centre offers cultural education, productions, studio space and arts residencies and features exhibitions, a video library, a book store, a café, and a dance club. It also rents out 5000 m2 of multifunctional studios and halls. This charitable trust is a self-declared non-profit international contemporary arts centre whose mission is to initiate dialogue between individual genres and mediate for the public the latest developments in the contemporary art scene. In addition to a theatre and music programme and exhibitions in three galleries, it also hosts an international arts residency programme. MeetFactory was founded in 2001 by well-known artist David Černý.

Another example is provided by the clubs and cafés run by associations and alternative cultural-education centres that combine a cultural programme with meditation and courses in dance and singing. The Sokol Community is another civic initiative, the individual units of which manage individual Sokol Centres, places that often also serve as local community centres for the wider community. This is the case in the Central Bohemian spa town of Toušeň, not far from Prague, where the local theatre association that has been re-established also organises concerts, exhibitions, dances, and theatre shows at the local Sokol Centre. Based on a contract with the municipality, various associations form the cultural programme hosted at Sokol Centres, which do not have their own professional employees. Another version of this form of arrangement is the work of Johan, an association in Pilsen, which secured funding for the reconstruction of a former train station building that functions as a multicultural and production centre. These examples are evidence of the principle of cooperation between the public and private sectors at work, which is something that is called for in key government concepts.

There are a great number of centres of theatre education that operate entirely as civic initiatives. For example, in Olomouc one basic school of the arts was initially set up as a project and has since functioned as an autonomous association called Association D, which offers courses in drama for schools and also provides training to teachers and heads of children’s theatre companies. Currently these centres are working to obtain a permanent education licence.

Although nationwide arts associations are not the norm, most amateur (theatre) companies have the legal status of an association, as this allows them to apply for public funding. This status is also found among professional and semi-professional arts groups (they try to operate in the market in the arts, but often their members have other employment), especially among theatre groups (e.g. Continuo Vodňany, Kašpar Praha), but also in other fields (e.g. Jihlava Chamber Philharmonic).

Associations representing official minorities of the Czech Republic also carry out their work through civic initiatives. They publish magazines, operate cultural centres, and assist arts groups. These activities are supported by the Ministry of Culture through a separate grant programme.

An important characteristic of civic initiatives (many of which emerge for this purpose) is that they are a response to what is currently going on in society in the field of culture. One of the most prominent ones is the informal initiative called For a Cultural Czech Republic, which strives to draw attention to the lack of any conceptual approach to how bodies of public administration address certain issues and calls for 1% of the state budget to be earmarked for culture. In Prague, similar associations include, for instance, 4 Points for Prague, For a Cultural Prague, and the Old Prague Club, which respond to issues relating to the conservation and protection of cultural heritage.

Chapter published: 28-01-2016

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