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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » January 30, 2014
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Spaces for Beauty
January 30, 2014   
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Krzysztof Maj, general director of the Impart 2016 Festival Center in Wrocław, talks to Barbara Deręgowska about preparing the city for becoming a European Capital of Culture in 2016.

Wrocław will assume the title of European Capital of Culture for one year in 2016. What has the city done so far to prepare for this role?
Let me start by telling you about how Wrocław applied for the title several years ago. The chief goals were to give Wrocław a makeover and encourage its residents to be more active. These goals have not changed. Major new construction projects, such as the National Music Forum and the newly opened Capitol music theater, serve as perfect examples of how Wrocław has been getting ready for becoming a European Capital of Culture. The Nowe Żerniki, or WUWA 2, housing estate that is under construction in the western part of the city is an interesting project that can be seen as part of the effort. City Council first planned out the local public areas and installed electricity, gas and water mains. Now, the developer and small groups of the estate’s future residents will start construction of estates in keeping with the plan for the area. This housing estate illustrates our motto: “Spaces for Beauty.” This is to be a counterbalance to the crowded developments in downtown Wrocław where buildings occupy every square inch of land and yet the residents hardly know one another. What we want to do is create bonds between people, on many levels. The Nowe Żerniki estate will be simply about living space, offering plenty of room for green and recreational areas, a small market place, a school, a health center, a culture center and a retirement home. Nowe Żerniki has been designed by a team of 40 Wrocław-based architects headed by Zbigniew Maćków, who is one of our European Capital of Culture curators. The architects were inspired by avant-garde German builders and their ideas from 1929. As they designed buildings in prewar Wrocław, the Germans were guided by the “live and reside” principle. Nowe Żerniki will be a green and cost-efficient estate and as such, it will be the architectural landmark of Wrocław as a European Capital of Culture. We are expecting the first residents to move in in 2015.

We are looking at the city as a complete whole. Along with major venues such as the City Stadium and the Centennial Hall, we want to develop what we call micro culture centers in historic suburbs of Wrocław such as Brochów, Le¶nica and Psie Pole. We have been renovating old movie theaters and abandoned bunkers and shelters to convert them into state-of-the-art culture centers and provide local residents with easier access to the arts and different kinds of culture-related workshops. In the process, the neighborhood gets renovated as well and, for example, we have recently reopened a beautifully renovated market square in Psie Pole.

Apart from construction and renovation efforts, the city is planning a string of special events. How are those coming along?
We have been working on a highly inventive calendar of events and we hope Wrocław will be well thought of across Europe and around the world. To begin with, there will be four spectacular shows. Halfway through 2015, we will be celebrating Wrocław Days and the plan is to mark the occasion with a huge project spanning half the city and called Bridge Builders. We want to remind the public that Wrocław used to have 300 bridges and even today, there are still more than 100 left. Many bridges in Wrocław will be illuminated in bright colors and young people will play loud music on them. The bridges will really stand out during the celebrations. It is then that we will announce the details of the European Capital of Culture program and start inviting guests to Wrocław.

The second major event we have planned, The Spirits of Wrocław, will be held on New Year’s Eve at the end of 2015. On that night, four ensembles will come to the Market Square from the four corners of the world as symbols of Wrocław’s multi-cultural history, taking in four countries and four religions. Circling the Market Square, the ensembles will underline the multi-faceted spiritual life of Wrocław residents.

The next event to give Wrocław a promotional push as a European Capital of Culture is scheduled to take place halfway through 2016. Six months into the celebrations, we want as many cultural events as possible to be held across the city simultaneously. We will make sure the whole city is involved. The events will include an opera staged at the City Stadium and a grand show on water, documenting the dynamic history of Wrocław. Viewers will see how the German population was replaced with Poles, how the city was rebuilt after the war and what milestone events the locals have witnessed since 1945. At the same time, countless performances, street shows, concerts and other events will be held all over the city. In other words, Wrocław will be bursting with energy. The 2016 calendar of events will close with a show at the City Stadium, entitled Sky Web and dealing with the future of Wrocław. A stage will be placed on the stadium’s roof, where acrobats on ropes will symbolically show how Wrocław will continue to develop.

What else will be going on in Wrocław?
Last year, we started working with the Jutropera Foundation that produces operas and theater plays in which world famous performers share the stage with people from socially excluded groups. In July and December, the Capitol Theater in Wrocław staged a show written and directed by Michał Znaniecki. Entitled Seeking Lear: Verdi, the show combined theater with music and featured opera and theater stars accompanied by senior citizens from local nursing homes. It was part of a project called The Voice of the Excluded that reaches out to people who have limited access to music, theater and other arts. Seeking Lear: Verdi was staged in Buenos Aires in April last year to promote Wrocław as a European Capital of Culture. A whole series of theatrical performances featuring a different socially excluded group each time will be staged over the next couple of years. Shows produced in Wrocław are being developed jointly with selected partner cities.

Major events scheduled to take place this year in conjunction with the European Capital of Culture project also include World Music Days. This international contemporary music festival was originally started in 1923 by the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), an organization that showcases and promotes new music and has members in over 50 countries. The festival is held in a different member country every year and the host cities from the past several years include Sydney, Zagreb, Brussels, Ghent, Vienna, Bratislava and Kosice. Wrocław will be hosting the World Music Days this October. Each host city has a certain degree of freedom in choosing the leading themes for the festival. The main idea for the 2014 World Music Days is to highlight the most important phenomena in new music as a whole.

We also have a major literary project planned. We want to encourage Wrocław residents to learn through reading books, visiting the philharmonic and museums, seeing painting exhibitions, plays, movies and so on. For example, Jan. 1 we started a project offering free admission to permanent exhibitions at local museums for everybody. Much has been happening at the New Horizons Cinema that has been coming up with new film festivals attended by audiences from Poland and abroad. This is the largest art house cinema project in Europe, one where film meets other areas of culture.

Summing up, as far as the European Capital of Culture 2016 is concerned, we are not starting new festivals, as we already have plenty. Instead, we are focusing on encouraging people to become actively involved. In total, we are planning to carry out hundreds of large and small projects during our turn as European Capital of Culture. We want to use the time to present our residents with more opportunities to experience and become more involved with culture.

Krzysztof Maj, 37, studied at the Wrocław University of Technology. He graduated from the university’s Faculty of Electronics in 2001, with a degree in microsystems, and from the Faculty of Computer Science and Management in 2004. In 2009-2010, he attended a course that the Central Connecticut State University held at the Wrocław University of Technology. In 2007-2012, Maj was a press spokesman for the mayor of Lubin, western Poland, and in 2010-2012, he also worked as the deputy administrator of Lubin county. Since July 2012, he has been the general director of the Impart 2016 Festival Center in Wrocław, which is tasked with preparing Wrocław for assuming the role of a European Capital of Culture in 2016.

Maj is a manager with extensive experience and organizational skills. He has been in charge of a number of large events, such as the Ofensiva International Film Festival, the Street Art Festival, five student Juwenalia festivals in Wrocław and the One Love International Festival.
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