The Local Activist - Interview with Peter Radkoff
Peter Radkoff, director of Tabačka, 20 years of activism in Kosice
For more than 10 years Peter Radkov and his association Bona fide have supported and promoted the local, alternative scene by occupying and transforming empty spaces in Kosice. After investing in a former abbey in the nearby town of Vysne (IC KulturTrain), they turned an old military base in the city centre into a Multi Media Arts Centre. The success of this project Kaserne, which involved the town’s main collectives of young artists such as the Kassa Boys, Artach or Na Perone, contributed largely to the decision of the city being selected as European Capital of Culture. The association Bona Fide was established in 2008 in a former tobacco factory and became the main cultural incubator of the town.
Can you tell me about the history of Bona Fide?
The circumstances a few years after the Velvet revolution made it very difficult to set up any kind of non-profit association in Slovakia. We started in 1993, but Bona Fide was officially set up in 2000. Initially there was no support from the government, no grants. We had to start and run all the projects from private money. Yet our cultural activities went beyond Slovakia. For example in 1995, we organised an alternative rendez-vous, - a tour in France from Montpellier to Strasbourg through Bordeaux and Paris. We had been on the road for two weeks. There were twenty-five of us on the bus, all visual artists and musicians. It was the first independent initiative of its kind to promote Slovakian culture abroad.
I had been thinking about setting a cultural centre up since during communist times, that means around 1987/88. It took us about ten years till we could see our project come true. We set IC Train up in 2005, a venue for alternative culture. Initially we had a twenty-five year contract, but everything changed in 2007 with the competition for the title European Capital of Culture. Košice at that time lacked cultural infrastructure or even experts on contemporary art when I became the head of a newly set-up commission. For two years, it was a battle to win over conservative hearts. The head of Košice 2013 had to pick from different projects. We had been fighting to create a creative and progressive alternative for Košice.
What happened then?
We moved into a new place, Kasárne. It was an old military barracks where we began setting up a new cultural centre. Bona Fide was the main initiator, but other organisations joined us too. After one year of programming and preparation, we opened our doors to the public on the 21st of June 2008. Unfortunately it was short-lived. In September of the same year Košice won the title European Capital of Culture, which resulted in them (the city) walking away from the contract with us and even withdrew my function. It took us another nine months to move to a new space, Tabačka. We opened with the first edition of Moonride, a festival for contemporary art.
This festival is famous for having a lot of artists from abroad participating every year. Košice is in Eastern-Europe, not a lot of people have heard of it and is relatively hard to reach. Does Tabačka have a strategy to get artists to come here?
Well, we have been networking for nearly twenty years. It is actually not that hard to find artists who want to participate. The main difficulty is to organise a shuttle bus from Budapest or Bratislava each time.
But the rest is easy. .. Recently we have been involved in a few different international projects and also applied for grants like Pro-Slovakia which are there to promote Slovakian culture abroad. Some of the grants we receive help us organise events such as the Trans Europe Halles meetings. We have also applied for a grant from the Višegrad Foundation for next year for a project aimed at restoring industrial spaces.
Sometimes organisations approach us first, like Ars Electronica in Linz for example. Sometimes we keep in touch with artists we worked with in the past. For example a French artist Marta Jonville who was an artist in residence in Kasárne, We are now working on a big project together supported by the European Union. Generally speaking it is hard to have a strategy in recent times. We need to finish restoring our building first and then we will be able to focus on other things properly.
What does the future hold for Tabačka?
Tabačka is first of all a public initiative. Our programming covers alternative art in music, theatre, visual art but we also want to support young creative people. We are now working on expanding our space to 2500 m2, after which we will be able to hold more events at better conditions. This reconstruction gives us possibilities to improve our artistic strategy as well. We have an opportunity now to turn Tabačka into a modern European cultural centre. The new and improved spaces will include a cultural incubator, photographic and video studios, a new media showroom, a design shop and apartments for residencies. We will still be in charge of most of our programmes, but the new spaces will be shared with our partners such as universities, different collectives or music groups. There will be an informal educational programme with workshops, discussions and meetings for kids and adults. Tabačka wants to be a place where it will be possible for people to extend their knowledge in art on professional level. With building a strong independent cultural centre we want to extend the potential of Košice. Of course we are not the only one in Slovakia with the same strategies. Žilina Stanica and his director Marek Adamov is a good example of people who are following the same direction.
Košice is the European Capital of Culture this year. What role does art have in the local economy?
The goal of this project is to bring about changes, to make the city better. There is a lot of expectation in the air as well as disappointments. In the case of an industrial city like Košice, the aim is to make this place more attractive to tourists. If people see that the city has a lot to offer, they might stay for more than one day. Košice is at the beginning of the process of refreshing itself, but it is hard to talk about what exactly lies ahead.