On June, 16th, in the Minsk-based creative space CECH, the results of the work of the international program "CHOICE - Cultural Heritage - Opportunity for Civic Engagement" were presented.
During two years, the program CHOICE has been implemented in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Armenia. This project is aimed at, first of all, strengthening and developing civil society organizations that deal with cultural heritage.
Less conflicts, more decisions
For two years of its work in Belarus, organizations from different regions of our country have implemented a number of projects that spur the preservation and reconsideration of historical-cultural heritage - from the reconstruction of Mahilou’s historical center to the creation of unique excursions and the popularization of singing traditions. All initiatives have presented their achievements in the Minsk-based creative space CECH where the launch of the international program was announced two years ago.
The event was attended by Andrea Viktorin, head of the EU delegation in Belarus, who expressed her satisfaction that the project CHOICE is implemented, inter alia, by the international consortium EuroBelarus and that it is not the only program of their joint cooperation.
- I support the efforts aimed at preserving cultural heritage and the steps aimed at developing the country’s national consciousness and identity. The sphere of culture and creativity is one of the most dynamic in the EU – it occupies 2,6% of the EU’s gross national product; 8,3 million people work in it – it is 2,5 times more than in the car industry. Cultural heritage should not be taken for granted - it is created by the authorities, civil society, and people who are engaged in culture, and sometimes there are different opinions concerning this topic. I am a historian by education and I already worked in your country before. Some events and actions I participate in remind me of the spirit of the USSR. Nonetheless, there are such events like this one where I feel like being in Berlin. It is very important to have such dialogue platforms where it is possible to discuss culture. It is very important to share experience with people who deal with culture in Europe and to learn the existing advanced approaches.
Andrea Viktorin spoke of a number of programs with the help of which the EU tries to promote Belarus’ cultural development and noticed that co-financed projects are the most effective ones.
Tatiana Poshevalova, director of the international consortium EuroBelarus, said that the two years had glided past - although it was time to sum up the work, the project, nevertheless, was not over.
The primary purpose of the program was to support civil society organizations and it became a good opportunity to work with the cultural sector through civil society.
- Heritage is a zone full of conflicts. If one does not learn to organize a dialogue of people and establishments with different interests and values, all turns into a conflict, - said Tatiana Poshevalova.
The finding of solutions was also helped by a number of international seminars organized in the cities of Gyumri (Armenia), Niasvizh (Belarus), Chisinau (Moldova), and Lviv (Ukraine).
- In the project, we modeled a situation of political communication of different groups. Among them, there were intellectuals, narrow professionals (even workers of ministries), popularizers, artists, and activists of local communities. The essence of the project was in the communication of these people so that to have less conflicts and more decisions, - Tatiana Poshevalova explained.
Ulad Vialichka, general director of the international consortium EuroBelarus, supervised a team of advisers who worked with partners and presented a resume of development of civil society organizations’ potential in the field of heritage.
- Our tasks included several aspects. First, the question of how to increase the efficiency. Second, a wider understanding of the spectrum of stakeholders - for whom are there activities in the field of culture? Third, the question of cooperation, management perfection, development of special competences needed by organizations.
The basic achieved results are the solutions of conflicts inside organizations, a wider and more exact vision of a circle of stakeholders, the creation and registration of three new organizations, capacity building in new adjacent spheres, the launch of new practices, a more active presence on external platforms, the finding of more resource sustainable models of activity and their monetization.
Heritage filled with to contents
It is possible to see how much useful and important the project CHOICE has been for civil society organizations and how much it has increased the potential of organizations and initiatives thanks to the creative projects and other activities implemented by the participants of the program within these two years.
The first of them is the reconstruction of the ancient quarter Shkolishcha in Mahilou – it was carried out by the Belarusan voluntary association to protect monuments of history and culture headed by Anton Astapovich.
- We wrote a scientific substantiation and created an architectural concept, as well as carried out big bibliographic work. The architectural concept was presented to a wide circle in Mahilou, after that there was work with stakeholders - it was necessary to prove the worthiness of this project to the local authorities - after all the quarter Shkolishchais part of historical-cultural values. We were to get the business community interested in order to attract investors, to work with religious communities as it was necessary to restore many religious objects, as well as with the architectural community of Mahilou. We received a number of positive conclusions concerning our objects, but there were problems, too. We achieved some mutual understanding with the authorities, but there was no mutual understanding with business because of the building of a synagogue (this object is in private property and during researches there was a number of infringements). The business community is not ready yet to work in this direction; therefore, we decided not to work with this object. But we managed to get civil society interested and achieved closer contacts with the local community and authorities. The Pokrovskaya Church is already being restored, - said Anton Astapovich.
The Belarusan Committee ICOMOS has implemented the project "Overtures and Mirages of Asmiany" aimed at regeneration and restoration of architectural objects in the Hrodnaregion.
- Our task was to revive the local residents’ interest in the native land. History is not only events and dates, but also notes in the diary, and a cup that belonged to the grandmother, and other things, which transfer this live breath, - thinks one of the organizers of the project, theatrical director TaccianaSylava. - Our ultimate purpose was to carry out a performance on the square with participation of pupils, teachers, pensioners, and other people. There were sceneries of buildings that still exist and the ones that have not been preserved, and they created a feeling of mirages. Actors told poetic stories about each building; the play happened to be very emotional as it concerned everyone. By the way, thanks to memoirs, it was found out that the Asmiany Waltz was written in the 1950s – at the end of the performance all spectators sang it.
The most touching project was the “Art of the Sincere Heart” dedicated to the creativity of the woodcarver, famous national master from the village of Stoily, the Brest region, MikolaTarasiuk. He created the museum "Memories of Homeland" – he cut wooden figures that displayed the life of peasants in the mid-20th century. Many films and programs have been made about "the wooden people" and MikolaTarasiuk. The fellow villager Larysa Bycko created a play about MikolaTarasiuk’s life and creative heritage.
Big work was carried out by volunteers of the project "Life Knot" from the Jewish community of Mahilou headed by Ida Shenderovich. This project is dedicated to Jewish epigraphy.
- We are proud of the fact that during the project we catalogued a full catalog of four ancient cemeteries of the 16th – 18th centuries (Orthodox and three Jewish ones), - Ida says. – Some of them are in Mahilou; the others are in other towns. They all are in a very bad condition. But we have made catalogs; all monuments have been photographed; epitaphs on stones are translated into Russian. Following the results of the project, we have published a booklet - it is on the Internet; it has detailed characteristics of cemeteries of eastern Belarus. Sometimes, ancient cemeteries are the only thing left from the former architectural heritage of towns.
The problem of preserving cultural heritage in towns, according to Ida Shenderovich, is not only in legal and financial aspects, but in people’s mental alienation from their native land. People’s financial situation is difficult. Not only common people, but representatives of power as well say that nothing depends on their actions. And third - people do not know their history.
Yuliya Halinouskaya spoke of the coloristic project of the Flying University - "Color of Belarus".
- This project of the Flying University was aimed at advancing the Belarusans’ coloristic, esthetic preferences in today’s forms of visual practices. We wanted to draw experts’ attention to traditional visual markers and to show that they can be bases of contemporary architectural and design solutions. Simultaneously, it can be a method of the work with cultural heritage. It was valuable for us that the activity was aimed at traditions. The author of researches - designer Michal Aniempadystau - addressed traditions and found connections, which again raised the questions of style and harmony, - thus, traditions entered the current ways of answering these questions. The second value is the research work that conditioned the way of building relations with traditions, cultural heritage; there was such an intellectual background – the aesthetical can be completed by the rational. The exhibition "Color of Belarus" and the book have become the final products of the project.
Iryna Lukashenka has presented a project by an informal initiative "Children's creative workshops of the U Gallery", which later became the establishment “Embassy of Culture”.
- "Children's creative workshops" were created in the U Gallery in 2012 with the purpose to acquaint people with contemporary Belarusan art. Now it works not only with children, but also with teenagers and pensioners. The main product is the book "Art of the 20th century: Viciebsk School". Also, there is a book including techniques of teachers’ and parents’ work with children when it comes to art topics. Besides, a game has been created. A book dedicated to Kazimir Malevich is already being prepared and will be published soon. Partnership with regions and businesses has become stronger.
One more overwhelming art project is the UNOVIS Forum in Viciebsk.
- The creative association UNOVIS was formed in 1920 in Viciebsk and influenced the whole world, - says Valancina Kirylava, head of the project. – Our aim was to revive the sketches of trams developed in 1920 and to acquaint people with this art and heritage. At first, only our 25 experts knew about UNOVIS. After the city saw these trams, 45 newspapers wrote about it. It has interested hundreds of thousands of people. During three years, the Viciebsk City Executive Committee will free-of-charge have three routes with these sketches. 6 new objects developed within the program have entered the excursion-tourist routes of Viciebsk. Also, the contest UNOVIS Alphabet was announced; we received more than 30 projects from four countries – we selected 10 out of them; they will be executed on the territory of Viciebsk.
There is a distinctive project of the Belarusan Union of Designers - the Belarusan Poster. The BUD chairperson ZmicierSurski speaks about it.
- The Belarusan poster is a well-known phenomenon. During the times of Perestroika, it received many international awards and is now kept in many museums of the world.
The first task was the restitution of the Belarusan poster; after all, during the war, many posters were brought to Russia and remained there.
Alaksiei Cubat is the head of the project aimed at preserving and popularizing Belarusan singing heritage "Singing Assembly".
- Songs are being collected, but for some reason they remain in archives; they should be popularized. Pop culture kills our singing traditions, - says Alaksiei.
During the project, there were thematic events and actions, educational courses.
- We have offered a new tool of collecting heritage and demonstrated that everyone is able to preserve heritage and that traditional culture is fashionable and can be profitable.
The tenth project of the program CHOICE - Brest Stories Guide - was created by the Brest-based theater "Kryly Khalopa"; it is dedicated to the Jewish history of Brest - genocide, discrimination, and difficulties of life of the Jewish community in the 1930s – 1950s. The project result is an app - a city guide that includes 6 routes dedicated to the Jewish history. It is an audio guide with stories of former inhabitants of the city. The project drew much attention of experts, media, and interested people and it will keep developing to reflect other subjects.
Andrei Yahorau, director of the Center for European Transformation, says that "such cultural projects answer the desire of the regions to consider themselves valuable and interesting for each other".
Designer Michal Aniempadystau has paid attention to the fact that the comprehension of historical-cultural heritage takes place after an object of heritage is filled with contents.
- The contents can be sacral, symbolical, sensorial - not only verbal, but nonverbal as well. The contents influence the image and style of its reconstruction. The content is a zone of war of cultures and wars of identities. The content is an important component of heritage and must be protected like an object itself. Described objects make heritage valuables that have to be preserved.
At the end, Tatiana Poshevalova said that following the results of the project there would appear a book and a web-site - the electronic version of the book.
The International Project "CHOICE - Cultural Heritage: Opportunity for Improving Civic Engagement" is implemented by the Association of Local Democracy Agencies ALDA (France) in conjunction with the International Consortium EuroBelarus (Lithuania).