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May 17, 2022

The cultural city (II)

Not every city can afford a ‘Centre Pompidou’, a building that is representative for a changing architecture, and especially an appropriate place for the most various events of the contemporary art. Cluj definitely doesn’t have such a thing. And it hasn’t invested in such a place. In the last quarter century, no significant building with cultural destination haven’t appeared. Not even the much discussed project of a new concert hall for the local Philharmonic, which wondered for years from place to place, to return in the end in an old hall, especially used by the Babes-Bolyai University for various festivities. The only investment of this kind was the restoration of a small derelict building from the central park, which provides an extremely narrow space, which in the best case is appropriate for chamber music or small exhibitions or mini book fairs. The art museum, placed in an historical building, risks being evicted due to a restitution process, for the reason that half a century ago it suffered a typical nationalization for the communist era. Even so, its exhibitions do not exceed, most of the times, a regional scale. Really prestigious international exhibitions couldn’t arrive in the second city of the country. An alternative pole was born through the association of several young artists, who rented a part of the old space of a disaffected factory. Over the last years, the so-called ‘Paint brushes factory’ acquired a serious reputation for a clear option for more avant-gardist and more independent trends in the art, theater and contemporary dance. But the youthful enthusiasm isn’t always a quality guarantee. In fact, the only important exhibition that the today’s Cluj had, is the one that benefited from a favorable context: between the finishing and the handing over moment of an imposing building for offices, one floor has been dedicated, for a few days, to a large Romanian contemporary art exhibition, dominated by works of a few artists who started from Cluj and reached meanwhile to exhibit in great galleries of the world. But this was an exception for Cluj.

There are many festivals of various types that appeared here and even imposed themselves. The most important one is TIFF, a film festival that has already overcame a decade and a half of existence. Its popularity increased year after year, and in commercial terms, it is a success. Besides cinemas, the screenings and the related events have explored original locations. This kind of trend was also took over by other festivals or simple events concerts or performances in parks or on the Somes riverbank, in the Botanic Garden, at the upper floor of a public parking place or in the railway station, in a former medieval tower or on the top of a hill, etc. From this perspective, the city has become more open to culture. But unfortunately, its urbanistic structure being somehow star-shaped, excepting the extended downtown, most of the neighborhood are excluded from this process. But the main problem of these festivals is the quality. Of course, the popular success is a quality, and the recent established ‘Untold’ that recorded the largest audience this summer, including very many foreign people – a real premiere for the city – was more important than other events for the touristic and cultural visibility of the city. But the fertile proportion between the mass culture and the elite culture is decisive for the cultural vitality of a city. In a large extent, all these festivals are soon enough conquered by the successful recipes for audience and by the implicit commercial benefits. For instance, why hasn’t TIFF invested in a laboratory of film innovation? And why hasn’t the quality of the films in the program significantly increased over the years? Sometimes it has even decreased, and the reasons don’t depend only on the fluctuations of the global film production, but also on ‘optimizing’ profits – in other words, on alternative directions of the resources. An excessive appetite for advertising and its benefits sometimes becomes unproductive in terms of artistic quality, which remains the fundamental criterion of the cultural hierarchies. The examples of this can continue. If few years ago, the local Philharmonic’s cooperation with the ‘George Enescu’ Festival in Bucharest brought several memorable concerts to Cluj, the phenomenon was a volatile one. In other cases, the collapse of a festival is subtle, covered by a deceptive popularity. The temptation of a too easy success and the lack of long-term strategies can only lead to fluctuant growths. The appetence for strategical thinking is a rarer quality than we think. Especially in culture – a field where the visionary and patient ‘cultivation’ is defining.






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