The reconstruction and reopening of the Erkel Theatre is a prime example of the government’s concentration of cultural finances. The largest performing arts venue of the country, with 1 800 seats, had been closed since 2007. The refurbishment cost 1.7 billion HUF. The building, originally erected in 1911, mainly serves popular opera, with the most expensive tickets at HUF 3 600 (about EUR 12).
Other features of the fundamental overhaul of parts of the cultural infrastructure are discussed in chapter 4.1. Here, a summary is given about the most important recent intervention in the Hungarian cultural infrastructure, the use of European funds in the cultural field:
The national framework programme for 2007-2013, called originally the New Hungary Development Plan, renamed later the New Széchenyi Plan, contained no separate culture chapter or dedicated cultural targets, in conformity with the European Union’s policy. Nevertheless, under the umbrellas of education, tourism or urban development, a significant amount of cultural investment is being financed from these funds, to an extent that has not been possible in the past 20-30 years from Human Resources. (The figures in the next several paragraphs are in million EUR, the exact value depending on the actual EUR / HUF exchange rates. They show the amount of EU assistance, to which in most cases a 5-15% contribution is added from central or local government budgets. The Source of the figures is https://www.zsi.at/en/object/partner/1832, the website of the National Development Agency.)
The biggest single investment of about 35 million EUR, the reconstruction of the Franz Liszt University of Music, was finished in 2013; the Art Nouveau main building houses one of the most beautiful European concert halls.
The largest amount nevertheless went to Pécs, European Capital of Culture in 2010. Over 32 million EUR transformed the Zsolnay ceramics factory site into a cultural quarter. Building a new conference and concert centre absorbed nearly 20 million EUR, and a new regional library received 17 million EUR. Nearly 25 million EUR were spent on the revival of public spaces and parks in Pécs, and the reconstruction of exhibition infrastructure cost 5.5 million EUR.
In the framework of a nation-wide project, nearly 60 million EUR funded the construction of complex community cultural centres (so called Agoras) in nine cities. Another 33 million EUR was allocated for five or six Polus Agoras, to be built in conjunction with universities, aimed at creating spaces of interaction between research, development, teaching and the general public, especially youth.
Decisions were made on nine more individual development projects receiving over 1 million EUR each, on the reconstruction or extension to cultural objects. (The smallest was for the youth cultural centre A38 Ship on the Danube in Budapest, to extend it with a second vessel).
In addition to these initiatives supported from the European Regional Development Fund, the resources of the European Social Fund were also used for cultural projects on a scale that stands out among EU members. ESF money has served the integrated development of cultural sub-sectors, which is another Hungarian feature: a number of calls resulted in supports to hundreds of minor investment or training projects in the fields of local community culture (altogether about 32 million EUR), libraries (30 million EUR) and museums (9.7 million EUR for museum education). Cultural projects of smaller settlements have been supported from a third major channel of the European Union: from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).
Important cultural investments have lately been accomplished, in considerable part from ERDF sources. These include the restoration the Pesti Vigadó, the Erkel Theatre and the Castle Garden Bazaar, as well as the completion of the Budapest Music Center. The reconstruction of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music received the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award in 2015.
Lately, in the focus of attention has been Liget Budapest, the capital’s large scale museum quarter project (http://ligetbudapest.hu/), which aims to reshape the urban landscape of the capital at the same time reorganising the entire (contemporary) art scene. The project aspires to create a unique cultural and family park through the complex development and renewal of Budapest’s City Park. By 2019 important reconstruction and modernisation is foreseen in the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, Technology and Transport and the Budapest Zoo; buildings for the New National Gallery, the House of Hungarian Music, the Museum of Ethnography will be created. Exponents of the plan anticipate an additional 1 million visitor nights annually, and a return on investment within the next 10-12 years.
The project has nevertheless been under criticism for the secretive nature of decision-making and also of esthetical and historical points of view. Opponents are concerned about the historical, institutional and natural qualities of the 200-year-old City Park. The plan is connected to the removal of the National Gallery from the Castle Hill; the National Dance Theatre has also had to leave the castle area and currently plays in five different venues across the town.
The issue of the House of Fates – European Educational Centre (Sorsok Háza) is controversial, too: owing to the academic and civil sector’s harsh critique, the new holocaust museum planned to be built at an abandoned railway station in Budapest has not been inaugurated.