For decades, Novi Sad has built its uniqueness on foundations of its multicultural character, and numerous cultural and educational institutions it has. Although nationally recognised and praised as the centre of cultural events even today, Novi Sad has been going through a serious crisis of values that have had serious consequences on its cultural and art scenes. Lack of any strategic planning, lack of maintenance of institutions of culture and cultural heritage, marginalisation of modern art practice and very bad financial situation in the cultural sector led to the situation in which Novi Sad faces the disappearance of cultural heritage and dissolution of its modern art scene.
The project Novi Sad 2021 is a chance to, after years and years, make a plan and make up for the lost time.
NOVI SAD 2021 is a platform for development of creative potentials of Novi Sad. This project should, above else, motivate and inspire both cultural workers and all citizens to re-examine current values and set new goals towards democratic cultural development of the city. Re-examination of modern identity of Novi Sad, revitalisation of cultural heritage, reconstruction of the existing and opening new spaces intended for culture, developing cultural participation of citizens, are just some of the priciples of cultural development that must be adopted in following seven years, on the way to winning this prestigious title. [more]
We visited Novi Sad in July during the Exit Festival and our main point on the agenda was a meeting with the team of #NoviSad2021. During our meeting, in the same building they we’re having a press conference about their candidacy for the European Youth Capital 2019 and mentioning Cluj-Napoca as a best practice.
We met Nemanja Milenković – Chairperson in the Organisation Board – and Vuk Radulović – Project Coordinator and International Relations Manager and we had the chance to talk more about their candidacy for the European Capital of Culture title for 2021.
When did the first ideea came up for #NoviSad2021?
Vuk: The first ideea came up in 2011, when Belgade was also a candidate for 2021. However, afterwards Belgrade redraw from the competition and Novi Sad remain the only city from Serbia to apply for the European Capital of Culture. As you know, 2021 is the first opportunity for a country outside of EU to apply for this title. This is really important for Novi Sad because it can become a leader in the region regarding culture. On the otherside, the ECOC brings a lot of opportunities for culture, social and economical development of the city.
Now we are in the final stage and we are waiting for the final answer in october 2016. We only compete with one city from Montenegro (Herceg Novi).
What’s the main ideea for Novi Sad 2021 and what kind of issues does this project wish to solve?
Vuk: The project for Novi Sad 2021 is based on 4 bridges with interaction in 8 different fields like creativy industries, youth, cultural heritage, public spaces and new capacity, conflicts and imigration. Those 4 bridges from Novi Sad have a very good symbolical value for us, because during the bombing all bridges were destroyed, and symbolicly we want to create / build new bridges trough our project towards Europe.
Nemanja: The number 2021 is a bridge from 20 century to 21 century and the bridge is a good symbol. Every city has an identity and for Novi Sad the bridges have a symbolical and emotional touch. Novi Sad is a small city on the Danube with a lot of bridges (11) – four above and seven underneath. That kind of story describes how history was dynamic in this area, there was always some kind of conflicts. We will try with this project to share culture, because in the same time the city and the region is very famous for its multiculturality and its unique identity. Heritage is also very important for us and we want to explain that we can solve problems trough dialog.
What can you tell us about the cultural project planned for the candidacy?
Nemanja: Now we are making a list of projects. Like i said about the 4 bridges, everyone will have a name: Freedom, Rainbow, Hope and New (the last one is a pedestrian bridge that we want people to give the name, so for now is just the “new bridge”).
For these 4 bridges we have 8 topics and we made a SWOT analysis to learn more about our strenght, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. For the new bridge the strenght of Novi Sad is about the heritage and hospitality, but these have to be much stronger and better representative for the audience. The opportunity started organic in Novi Sad and it reffers to some big festivals, IT sector being very strong, crats also etc, and second thing is youth that is connected to the “Freedom bridge”. The Bridge of Rainbow is about our threats regarding tolerance and conflict imigration. The last one is The Bridge of Hope and we have two topics that we put in the new strategy for developing culture in Novi Sad, about cultural capacity and public space. From this 8 topics we have discussed with our artistic board what kind of projects will be suitable.
Vuk: We already have 100 projects in the artistic part, also we plan 25 projects in direct co-operation with other Capitals of Culture. For now we can’t talk more about co-operation projects before we submit our application, however we are already working on conflicts of imigration, bringing peace in the region and connecting the region. One of the problems in the city that we would like to tackle through ECoC project is lack of the cooperation between local and European organizations and operators. That’s what we want to change, we plan to use Novi Sad 2021 as a platform that connects european organizations with local organizations. We also want to help our local economy because the cultural sector in Novi Sad is mainly funded by local funds wich is a very big problem for the economy in Serbia. We can teach them to acces european funds and opportunities.
Are the cultural organizations cooperating with each other in Novi Sad?
Vuk: We had a problem in engaging cultural institutions two years ago, but everything changed in the past year because we have a great amount of participation of cultural workers and cultural institutions reprezentatives, we have the artistic board and a great team for the bidbook writing etc.
Nemanja: We are leaving behind the old traditional way of thinking on how culture works. We want to influence cultural workers and operators to create new projects and to apply for EU funds. It’s not an easy job for us but i think this new strategy that will result from the ECOC candidacy will help us to grow.
How big is the team involved in the ECOC project?
Nemanja: We have a small team, 6 of us are directly involved, but we also have a managing board, an artistic board, people who are working on the application and so on. The core has only 6 people now.
Vuk: We also have some international advisors, wich is very important for us because we don’t have people with much experience regarding the European Capital of Culture.
This process of preparation of the candidacy for ECOC is at the same time an educational process. We have learned a lot in the past years.
Another very important thing for our educational process is the cooperation with different European Capitals of Culture, including candidates like Timisoara, Cluj or Bucharest, or former ECOC like Pecs, Linz, Graz etc. We are also trying to cooperate with Sarajevo and Skopje wich are planning to apply next year for 2024, and they are interested in our experience because we are in a similar situation regarding cultural institutions and funding.
Nemanja: The team’s members changed over the last 4 years and now the concept for the application will be completely new. We had a very critical feedback from the panel but we understood that this could also be a good thing for us.
How did the local community responded regarding the ECOC candidacy?
Nemanja: The Former Managing board president was a member of the political party and didn’t have a good communication with the scene and citizens. Last year i think we started below zero confidence regarding what people think about this project. Now i believe people started to understand better and they like the ideea.
Vuk: In the past period we can feel apathy in out city and trough this project we want to engage that energy and change it to optimism and develop the city. I think this is the most important issue we want to solve trough the ECOC project. We are doing everything to engage them, to explain them what’s about this project even that most of them think that this is only a big european festival and you get the ECOC title in a competition for the most beautiful city or something like that. When they have these thoughts of course they are pesimistic about it that we won’t win, so we trying to educate them and engage more.
Nemanja: From 16 to 21st of July we plan to start 4 programs. We will use 4 names for 4 bridges with 4 different programs. Simbolicaly from 16 to 21 (2016 to 2021) and also this program will start in 2021 and act now like a teaser, to show what we could do afterwards.
Are the citizens euro-skeptical?
Nemanja: According to the latest surveys, support for European integration is around 50% in Serbia.
We have to explain to the people that the European Union it’s not just a symbol and the ECOC project could help us in this matter.
How is the local media reacting to the ECOC candidacy?
Nemanja: Most of them didn’t started with a positive reaction and they we’re very critical. But i think that was connected with the previous team and this changed in past period thanks to the openess, participation and democratisation of the project.
Any opposition from the politicians?
Nemanja: So there is no political party in the city that is against the Novi Sad 2021 project. Today we have a very good political situation, because we have a strong political party on all levels that support the candidacy. This brought stability and certainty of our project. We had elections in May and before that we had the problem that the politicals parties differed on national scale and local. However, both of those political parties supported the candidacy.
What about the budget?
Nemanja: We have a big problem with the budget because of the birocracy. However we have recieved the official letters of support from National, Regional and Local level for the Novi Sad 2021 project. We had to explain to decision makers that the funds will be invested mostly locally and that only one part of the investments will come from the EU. The ECoC project is not a cost, but a developing program, an opportunity to invest.
We accounted for projects, promotion, organization, but without infrastructure, around 25-30 mil for 6 years.
What kind of economical impact does the Exit Festival have in Novi Sad?
Nemanja: A very big impact! We have an independent research regarding how much money comes in the city and the provence, long story short for every euro invested we get 15 euros. Also for this year we have an increase of 30% regarding foreign tourists.
We were talking about colaborations between cities. You have a strong connection with Timisoara, right?
Nemanja: Actually we think we are closer to Cluj, because of the European Youth Capital. Timisoara is very close to us, it’s one of our sister cities and we collaborate, but we also have a connection with Cluj, Baia Mare and Bucharest.
Vuk: We also cooperate with Osijek. We had an agreement from the very first moment of our cooperation that any city wins, the other one will be part of his programme. Now we have 6 or 7 projects in cooperation with Osijek wich is a very specific situation because of the war and direct clash between soldiers from Novi Sad and Osijek 25 years ago, and we managed to keep a close cultural connection even tough we had some border problems a few months ago between Croatia and Serbia. During that time we had a very intensive cultural communication.
Our city is now in the finals for the ECOC 2021 title and the winner will be announced in September. What piece of advice could you give us at this stage?
Nemanja: I have worked ~20 years in branding and for me it’s not only about the cultural project. People from Rijeka told us to talk as much as we can with the citizens about this project, to have a constant dialog and to be transparent. First of all the title is for the city, not the team. Otherwise any city can apply for this candidacy and hire some experts that know how to win.
Vuk: People keep asking us why do we work this much and why are we so pationed about this project. This project became very personal for us, and we really feel that this is a great opportunity for our city and for all inhabitants to live better.
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