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The Warsaw Voice » Regional Voice » September 2, 2011
The Wrocław Voice
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Six Months with Polish Culture
September 2, 2011   
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Michał Merczyński, director of the National Audiovisual Institute, talks to Andrzej Jonas and Witold Żygulski.

Why does Poland’s turn at the rotating presidency of the EU Council come with a special cultural agenda? Is that the case with all EU presidencies?
The difference between our cultural agenda and those of several previous presidencies is in the magnitude of the project. We started preparing for the European Culture Congress—which will be held in Wrocław this year—four years ago and for over two years we have been working on the national cultural agenda in other cities. The Foreign Ministry has drawn up a map of cities to host the most important political meetings during the Polish presidency. They are Sopot, Warsaw, Wrocław, Cracow and Poznań, with Katowice as a backup location. We started contacting cultural institutions in those cities and invited them to join us in developing the agenda. In conjunction with the EU’s Eastern Partnership program, we have also contributed to cultural projects in Białystok and Lublin.

Our projects are grouped into three areas. The first one is Art for Social Change, which is also the main theme of the European Culture Congress in Wrocław. The second area are projects aimed at increasing the importance of nongovernmental organizations in culture. This year has been designated as the European Year of Volunteering and Civil Society in the EU.

The Eastern Partnership program is the third area in that we want to look at this political project as a challenge in terms of a community of culture. For example, 10 artists from countries covered by the Eastern Partnership program will prepare an exhibition in Białystok, which will be later shown in Kiev and then in Cracow during a conference on the Eastern Partnership.

Is there still a gap between Poland and mainstream Europe in terms of culture or has this gap narrowed by now?<
There is no such gap any more. Polish artists are firmly established when it comes to theater, music and visual arts. Mirosław Bałka, Wilhelm Sasnal and Katarzyna Kozyra have had their work shown at the largest and most prestigious galleries in the world. Several private galleries have promoted these artists like no government institution could have ever done. As for theater, the likes of Krystian Lupa, Grzegorz Jarzyna, Krzysztof Warlikowski and Jan Klata are well known across Europe and beyond. They are invited to attend the largest international theater festivals, including the one in Edinburgh and the Holland Festival, not only to show their own productions, but also to work on co-productions with partners abroad.

When it comes to music, with classics such as Krzysztof Penderecki, Witold Lutosławski and Henryk Mikołaj Górecki and with younger composers such as Paweł Mykietyn and Paweł Szymański, Poland is among the leading countries in Europe. Mykietyn’s piece entitled 3 for 13, recorded in 3D, was shown during a concert at the Unsound festival in New York in May.

I believe cultural heritage is not about the past but about the future. The heritage is being remixed these days as contemporary culture is far more homogenous and the difference between high culture and low culture is disappearing. Everything is one big melting pot, so you cannot really identify one dominant trend. Culture is becoming a sort of challenge, a project and a task that we are all involved in.

What are you planning to showcase during the six months of the Polish presidency?
We want to highlight the most characteristic features of the locations where the chief presidency events will be taking place. In total, we have planned around 1,000 events in Poland and around 400 abroad. These include our own projects and regular events which this year are being held under the auspices of the Polish presidency. You could say these six months are like a never-ending festival of Polish culture. Over this time, we will work to arrange many new opportunities for Polish and foreign artists to engage in joint projects as well as foster contacts between Polish artists who have never worked together before. We are concentrating on a dialogue with European artists, searching for the broadest perspective on what is important in contemporary Polish culture in its relations with Europe. We hope that these joint projects will go on to become the cultural legacy of the Polish presidency.

The congress in Wrocław will be the focal point of the Polish presidency as far as culture is concerned...

In a way, the congress will comprise four segments. First, it will be a meeting of politicians and culture ministers from EU member states. Second, there will be 10 panel discussions tackling vital issues in contemporary European culture, such as cultural policy making, cultural lobbying, and problems related to the development of digital culture.

The third segment is a conference entitled Soul for Europe, which is a regular meeting of members of the European Parliament and people representing NGOs. This is the first time the meeting will be held in Poland. Topics discussed during the sessions will include the European Capital of Culture project and long-term EU financing for culture. The last, fourth, segment of the congress is a festival called Art for Social Change. Needless to say, the ongoing work on the congress agenda involves all cultural institutions in Wrocław and the city authorities. We hope Wrocław residents will be able to find out that the congress and accompanying events have made a difference in their everyday lives. To my mind, Wrocław has used culture most deliberately and consistently of all Polish cities to develop its social capital over the past two decades, which is best evidenced by the fact that it has been designated as the European Capital of Culture 2016.
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