Albania’s cultural infrastructure in 1990 comprised:
- “New Albania” Film Studio, with separate divisions and production capability for 14 feature films, 40 documentaries and 15 animated shorts;
- Central Film Archive;
- Film and Book Distribution Enterprise, with 65 cinema theatres (about 15000 urban inhabitants per screen), 400 mobile cine-projectors and a network of more than 100 libraries and 100 book shops.
- national repertory companies in Tirana: National Theatre (530 seats) and Opera and Ballet Theatre (830 seats);
- one national institution of higher education in the arts: Academy of Arts, with a theatre of 624 seats, a network of 7 conservatories and a ballet school;
- one major events’ centre: Palace of Congress (2300 seats);
- a major multi-art centre: Palace of Culture, a complex comprising the Opera and Ballet Theatre, the National Library as well as two stages (200 and 300 seats), a hall for events and exhibitions and a number of other premises for bars, recreation, art classes etc. Similar but smaller centres in all 26 district centres;
- one children’s cultural centre, a complex of recreation areas, sports fields, studios, classrooms and a multi-use theatre of 400 seats;
- one student’s multi-arts centre, Student Palace, with a multi-use theatre of 400 seats, located within Tirana University Campus;
- 9 regional repertory theatres (with separate companies for drama, music hall and puppet theatre), plus 3 more music hall companies and 6 more puppet theatre companies performing at their own theatres and an additional 24 playhouses, owned by the trade-unions.
Fine Arts and Museums
- a dozen national museums of history, natural sciences, medieval art, ancient culture etc;
- around two dozen art galleries;
- soon after the fall of Communism, the so-called Pyramid, a huge concrete venue built as a tribute museum to the dictator Enver Hoxha in 1988, was converted into the International Culture Centre, offering a round hall for major events and a cinema theatre of 350 seats.
In 1992, the first non-communist government in Albania’s history had neither money, nor ideas to develop the cultural infrastructure. The same year, the Film and Book Distribution Enterprise was closed down. All cinema theatres and libraries were left under the jurisdiction of municipalities (city councils); mobile cine-projectors disappeared, and book shops were privatised. Cinema theatres and bookshops soon lost their functions and many of them were even demolished.
During the 1990s, the only trend we saw was the hiring of all “vacant” spaces in cultural infrastructures to private businesses like restaurants, bars, gambling houses, discos etc. The same happened to the playhouses, trade-union theatres and many multi-art centres. Even in Tirana, the capital, there was a gambling house at one side of the National Theatre and a private TV studio at the other and theatre-goers had to enter the theatre through the parking area. The Palace of Culture lost both theatres and the rest of the spaces when it was “modernised and converted into a cultural-trade centre”. Almost all repertory theatres, galleries and museums rented out spaces to private bars and shops.
This trend reached its peak in 2002 when Tirana’s Mayor Edi Rama proposed the demolition of the National Theatre and the building of a business complex on its 6 000 m2 site. Eventually the plan started to fade when artists and other intellectuals submitted a petition to the Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, who in turn rejected Mr. Rama’s plan. Since then, the cultural infrastructure is gaining more terrain versus private businesses. The government has been investing in infrastructure restoration and modernisation, in some cases with support from foreign donors. The Soros Foundation sponsored the construction of a black box theatre of 200 seats and recently a new open-air theatre with 500 seats opened within the Academy of Arts, while a UNOPS / PASSARP Programme sponsored the restoration of repertory theatres in three major cities: Shkodër, Durrës and Vlorë. In 2005, the National Theatre opened its second stage (200 seats) and the government announced it would make use of a EUR 2 million grant from the EU to convert the Pyramid, now “Pjeter Arbnori” International Centre of Culture, into the new home of the National Theatre. Restoration and modernisation works have taken place in almost all other theatres, galleries and museums.
In 2010, the government provoked another controversy, by announcing it will demolish the Pyramid to build the new Parliament Building on its site. Nine years after the contract was signed and five years after construction works had started, the theatre project was too far from completion. The government promised it will adopt the present House of the Parliament but that didn’t help ease the concern, for that should be home to the National Comedy Theatre, a new institution the government has promised to establish in 2011.
In conclusion, we may say that if the 1990’s were the decade of destruction, abuse and impoverishment of cultural infrastructure, while the 2000’s were the decade of restoration. Up to date, no new venues were added to the country’s cultural infrastructure since the fall of Communism.