Due to a long term collaboration in the regional independent scene, that started in December 1999 in Sarajevo (continued immediately with project Art generator, an exhibition of contemporary arts in Brussels 2000, curated by Branislava Anđelković, SCCA Belgrade and produced by Violeta Simjanovska, Multimedia Skopje) and developed in the first ten years of the millennium, national organisations of art NGOs had been created in Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia. Later, the regional association Kooperativa was conceived during the conference in Sarajevo (registered in Zagreb in August 2012).
Serbian cultural NGOs created the Association ICSS (Association Independent Cultural Scene of Serbia) in 2011. Amongst the first actions 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.
Ministry of Culture signed the Declaration in 2011, and had more or less regular consultations with Association as a part of their Agreement. However, in 2013, new Minister of Culture abolished the Agreement and seized such practice. Association protested and this act received a very negative public attention. In 2014, cooperation with the Ministry was re-established, only to get worse in 2017 again with the new Minister.
Today, the Association has more than 80 members, involving numerous artists and cultural managers, who produce between 1 200 and 1 500 programmes each year (exhibitions, concerts, performances, theatre productions, panel discussions). The Association organises the festival “On our own engine”, which became an important part of Serbian cultural life. The first edition had 70 programmes on 30 locations all over the city of Belgrade in 2014. It represented an unique insight into the independent culture of the capital. Over the years. the festival made efforts to decentralise its activities. In September 2018, the festival was organised in 11 cities and municipalities across Serbia. Another important action of the Association is the initiation of a magazine for independent culture (MANEK) in 2012, which publishes critical texts, research and reviews of the independent cultural scene in Serbia. So far there have been six issues, the latest was published in summer 2018.
One important member of ICSS is Magacin, a platform/space that regroups several NGOs. It is situated in a former publishing company’s warehouse, which has been adapted into a cultural centre of 1000m2 consisting of several offices, a large gallery/debate room, a dance room for rehearsals and a smaller cinema hall. The space is situated in the Savamala quarter, in the immediate vicinity of Belgrade Waterfront project. It was the first attempt to create a public-civic partnership but Belgrade authorities did not dare to create a new legal model. The solution was that the space would be officially controlled by the House of Youth (a public city institution) while users would be NGOs that will be selected every three years on the base of a public call. The organisations that were selected on the first call (2007) are still there and the House of Youth stopped to perform its monitoring duty (definitely in 2014). Developing a culture of solidarity and mutual support, a few NGOs active in Magacin (Stanica Centre for Contemporary Dance, Karkatag collective, The Walking Theory, and others) offered its space to all those individuals and artists collectives that need public space for performances, gatherings and exhibitions. Thus, “ostavinska galerija” has developed a project called “Openings – your 15 minutes” which gave possibility for many artists to hold a “guerrilla exhibition”. In December 2012, there were thirteen exhibitions and performances and in February 2017 eleven.
Within the event “Space for all” (September 8th 2018), Magacin presented new possibilities and different spaces as well as different art practices that were developed in these spaces. It was not only a presentation of their work, but more an invitation for new collaborations, commons, and co-creation. The team wants to use Magacin as a working space, open to experiment with room for practical and theoretical mistakes, performative actions but also for office work for those in need.
One example of the innovative programmes for whom Magacin is offering space is the Platform for theory and practice of common goods (zajednicko.org), the Studies of commons. Those studies, open to everyone, are conceptualised through lectures and workshops exploring models and concepts of common goods. The aim is to introduce the idea and motivate participants to integrate principles of commons in their different practices, thus contributing to social and cultural change.
Today, the future of Magacin is still uncertain as authorities are ignoring the situation. The model proposed by the Association ICSS to the authorities relies on “established“ practice. This means that Magacin is accessible for all organisations, not just members of the ICSS, which will be realized formally through an open calendar – an online tool in which all interested parties can schedule the use of certain parts of the space. The space would be intended for contemporary artistic creative work (users manage the space on their own). This model does not include an editorial board nor official curators, thus the programme will depend on people and organisations that sign up for its use. It is a centre where people work together sharing their resources, and it offers notable support to small productions that do not have their own space, but need this kind of help in their work. The proposal that Magacin offered the authorities had three solutions: 1) The government should be responsible for implementing it, although this hasn’t been the case in the last 8 years; 2) The establishment of a new institution whose representatives would be both from the authorities and the civic sector, such as Pogon from Zagreb (this was rejected by the City of Zagreb, due to the expenses that would incur); 3) To assign Magacin to the Association ICSS and thereby make the Association responsible for the implementation of the “established practice” model. Till this date (September 2018), the proposal did not receive an official response.
The most important task of ICSS and its members is to advocate for the contemporary arts production and the democratisation of cultural policies. Member Stanica (Station) – Service for contemporary dance – organised numerous actions that are contributing to bottom-up cultural policies. Thanks to them, a value-chain for contemporary dance in the whole region was developed in the form of the Nomad Dance Academy. Another impactful activity was the “deconstruction” of public call results. ICCS analysed these results (Cvetičanin et al. 2018) on numerous occasions and pointed out the misuse of public funds. The research underlined a trend to diminish funds for cultural NGOs and increase funds for NGOs that don’t have culture as their primary focus. In 2016, the Ministry of Culture granted funds to 181 projects from cultural NGOs, while only 107 projects from cultural NGOs received funds in 2017. At the same time, 22 ICCS members received funds in 2016, which decreased to 11 members in 2017. Cultural NGOs received 3 million dinars less in 2017 compared to 2016, while NGOs without cultural focus got 10 million more in 2017. These trends continued in 2018, showing that key criteria in financing cultural projects are not linked to excellence but to the loyalty of the civil society to present governing structures (the authorities). The civil society in culture is usually perceived by the state as a kind of opposition. Due to numerous activities linked to the defence of public space and open criticism of ruling policies in the educational (i.e. against dual education that expelled philosophy teaching from technical schools) and cultural field (advocating for common language; pressures on the use of Cyrillic alphabet; etc.), the cooperation between the state and civil sector is troublesome.