The relationship between culture and civil society in Croatia has to be viewed on several levels: the first refers to the infrastructure of cultural and educational centres throughout the country and its changing role; the second is related to the long tradition of amateur arts and folk culture; the third refers to the impact that civil society organisations in contemporary arts and culture have, and finally the role that the Kultura nova Foundation has in their development and the development of civil society in culture in general.
Community (cultural and educational) centres are mostly established by local authorities or run by NGOs on the local (city or municipal) level. There are a growing number of such centres (especially in small cities) involved in different aspects of cultural life, from traditional amateur arts activities to new media. A Network of the open community learning centres (Zajednica pučkih otvorenih učilišta / Association of Community Centres) consists of community cultural and educational centres offering educational programmes for children, youth or adults and cultural programmes. All of these centres are mostly funded by local authorities but there is no data available on the state level that would give some indication of their penetration, impact and overall budgets. In small towns, these centres are very important as sometimes they are the only host of cultural activities. Unfortunately, no new overall data on these centres exists, and the latest data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics relates to 2008/2009. In that season there were 217 institutions that belonged either to public open universities, houses of culture, cultural centres or to similar types of organisations, and they are spread evenly around the country (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2012: 505). In the last couple of years, the role of these centres and the sustainability of their financing are under question, thus creating a number of initiatives for their redefinition (see chapter 2.7).
One of the main characteristics of cultural life in Croatia is a diversified landscape of amateur cultural activities that usually take place in halls and in schools; considered to be the most evenly distributed form of cultural infrastructure in the country. Although the Ministry of Culture and Media considers that local authorities should take responsibility for amateur activities, it nevertheless provides funding for their activities. The reasons for the Ministry’s support are: there are hardly any other cultural activities in small towns / villages; the difficult financial situation in many local communities; protection of valuable forms of traditional heritage; and stimulation of awareness about the importance of culture for the identity and revitalisation of towns and regions. The Croatian Culture Assembly (Hrvatski sabor kulture) has its roots in the hundred-year-old tradition of amateur cultural and artistic activities and its mission is oriented to the support and development of amateur cultural and artistic activities. It unites 11 county associations, and it comprises of 1 026 NGOs with 2 346 different performing groups (drama, painting and drawing, literary, dance, ethno, majorette groups, orchestras, vocal and choir groups) with more than 80 000 members. It is a member of CISM, AITA, AMATEO, etc.
The Law on the Protection and Preservation of Cultural Assets (Article 9), under immaterial cultural heritage, stipulates the special status of folk activities. Two examples of a long tradition of activities in folk and traditional culture have to be mentioned:
- The National Folk Dance Ensemble of Croatia “Lado” was founded in 1949 in Zagreb as a professional national ensemble, with the aim of researching, artistically interpreting and presenting on stage the rich tradition of Croatian music and dance; and
- The International Folklore Festival that celebrated over 50 years of continuous activities. The Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Culture is a scientific institution that among its other activities regularly publishes research on folklore and traditional culture in Croatia.
The Kultura nova Foundation was established by The Law on the Kultura nova Foundation in 2011 with the purpose of promoting and developing civil society in the Republic of Croatia in the fields of contemporary arts and culture. The foundation is in full operation since December 2012. Since then it has supported a number of organisations and programmes through programme areas dedicated to the support for organisations, conception and preparation of new projects, development of cooperation platforms in the Republic of Croatia and development of cooperation platforms in Southeastern Europe. The funding for the Kultura nova Foundation is obtained partly through the Lottery Fund, donations and other sources according to the Law. The Foundation is very active in different activities related to the redefinition of existing cultural centres and building of new types of socio-cultural centres based on participatory governance – see chapter 2.7 for more information. Clubture Network is an important actor on the national, regional and international independent cultural scene and was a key lobbyist for the establishment of the Kultura nova Foundation. Established in 2002 as a platform of exchange, it continually develops programmes that are based on direct collaboration among independent cultural organisations (associations, artistic organisations and informal initiatives).