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In 2014 relations between the Minister of Culture and the independent cultural scene improved.

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Serbia/ 8.4 Amateur arts, cultural associations and civil initiatives  

8.4.3 Associations of citizens, advocacy groups, NGOs and advisory panels

In 2010, an NGO non-formal network was set up as a kind of advocacy group for improving the position of non-governmental organisations in the cultural sector. The NGO network was set up within the project "Non-institutional actors of cultural policy in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia" and was financed by the European Cultural Foundation. The aim of the project was to examine the capacity of key actors of cultural policy outside of the system of public institutions as well as to assess the strength of the independent cultural scene in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. This project establishes networking of non-institutional actors of cultural policy at national and regional levels with the aim of exchanging cultural programmes, improving the capacity of the independent scene, applying in partnership for international competitions and increasing influence on the decision-making process of cultural policy at local, regional and national level.

As a result, Serbian cultural NGOs created the Association of the Independent Cultural Scene in 2011. Amongst its first actions, the Association issued a declaration inviting the authorities (Ministry of Culture, Belgrade City Secretariat for Culture, etc.) to dialogue on many issues. The Declaration was signed by 59 Serbian organisations in the field of culture and marked the start of their joint activities to strengthen cooperation and protection of their interests, public interest and promoting cultural life in Serbia. The Declaration suggested several proposals for improvement of the cultural policy and cultural life in Serbia: such as including independent sector representatives in policy-making bodies (at national, provincial and local levels), establishing special open competitions for projects of the independent cultural scene, establishing a Ministry of Culture competition for multi-year operating grants for covering overhead costs of the independent organisations, as well as providing (for the purpose of decentralisation of cultural policy), specific budget lines for development of quality programmes in the field of contemporary, innovative art in smaller towns across Serbia which would be co-financed by local government.

The Ministry of Culture signed the Declaration in 2011, and had more or less regular consultations with the Association as a part of their Agreement. However, in 2013, the new Minister of Culture abolished the Agreement and ceased such practice. The Association protested and this act received very negative public attention. In 2014 cooperation with the Ministry improved and evolved in other directions. The Association reacted positively to the 2014 call for grants for which the budget has increased; the call was managed in a transparent and efficient manner and many representatives of the independent cultural organisations were involved in the work of selection committees. 

Today, the Association is growing, with 91 members in 2014, involving numerous artists and cultural managers, which produce each year between 1 200 and 1 500 programmes (exhibitions, concerts, performances, theatre productions, panel discussions). Associations own the "Self powered culture" festival organised in Belgrade since 2011, which has become an important part of local culture. With 70 programmes in 30 locations all over the city in 2014, it represents a unique insight into the independent culture of the capital. Another important action of the Association is the magazine for independent culture MANEK initiated in 2013 which publishes critical texts, research and reviews of the independent cultural scene in Serbia.

Chapter published: 18-08-2015

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