Since its establishment in Zagreb in 2009, Pogon has been working with our partner Kontejner. Kontejner organizes three major festivals (Device_art, Extravagant bodies and Touch Me) with each festival rotating every three years. With the latest Touch Me Festival in October 2017 (6-18) alongside our upcoming lab initiated by Kontejner, here is some information about this civic space that our artists’ lab will explore, diving into its history and neighbourhood impact.
Pogon is a direct result of advocacy and activism of civil society. It was initiated by a coalition of organizations consisting two national networks, one of independent culture (Clubture Network), the other made up of youth organizations (the Croatian Youth Network), the local collaborative platform, Zagreb – Cultural Kapital of Europe 3000, and three independent cultural clubs (Mochvara, Attack!, and MaMa). The coalition started an exhaustive advocacy process in early 2005, a few months before the local elections. For the first time, the needs of independent culture and youth in Zagreb were articulated, publicly discussed, and stated in a policy document signed by the future political decision-makers.
In parallel to public discussions, media activities, and protest actions, the coalition organized a series of events, called Operation:City, which every year focused on a different specific issue important for the urban development of the contemporary city. Through various formats and forms of artistic expression, Operation:City temporarily occupied different abandoned spaces and, among other things, promoted the idea of a cultural centre on which POGON was modelled. Over four years, relations with the city government went from reserved cooperation, ignorance, and obstruction, to direct attacks, drastic budget cuts, fights in the media and shutting down of the cultural club, Mochvara. Despite this, the scene did not give up. They continued protesting, occupied a part of the former factory Jedinstvo (nowadays run by POGON) and prior to the next elections the City finally agreed to establish the Center based on a model of civil-public partnership and formalized the use of the space.
POGON was established under very specific cultural and political circumstances with the goal to serve a very specific purpose. The model chosen was something that the team estimated would function best in our context, offering an alternative method to more tried and tested approaches. One of the key things for them was having a broad coalition of stakeholders to advocate for the institution.
How is it functioning?
POGON is a hybrid institution for culture, based on a new model of civil–public partnership which was established by and is co-governed by the independent network named the Alliance Operation City and the City of Zagreb. Both founders, co-owners of the institution, have the same powers regarding top-level decisions such as, defining the field of activity, adopting of statute, appointing the board members and the director, etc. They also have specific complementary roles. While the City is there to provide and monitor the use of public resources (venues and most of the funds for its basic functioning), the Alliance and other organizations around it have full competency and responsibility regarding the programming, including financing of the regular programme. In that way, POGON operates as a hybrid of two concepts: the concept of common (shared resources and participatory decision-making) realized in the form of a civil society platform and a concept of public goods (as resources owned and controlled by the state, used for services of public interest). This is a new type of institution that enables collective usage and, more importantly, participatory governance and shared responsibility that arises from co-ownership. The hybrid model provides long-term sustainability that is a result of the balanced ratio between public financing and supervision on the one hand, and independent programming and participatory decision-making on the other.
Pogon success story
The model Pogon is based on (civil-public partnership) is recognized both locally and internationally, a sign of great success for the venue. Over the years, Pogon has been building its reputation in the local cultural scene, which has led to greater recognition of the organization among audiences, more and more organizations using its resources, and more and more programmes and events being held in their spaces. After the initial investment from the City into the venue, the space remained in the same condition for several years, even though the needs of the users were rising.
Jedinstvo has two halls (80 and 450 square meters) and hosts various events: local artist exhibitions, international festivals of visual and performing arts, concerts and parties, theatre and dance shows. Opening in September 2009, Pogon Jedinstvo is a presentation space and a production space. The building has been used for cultural activities for many years, and has a complex history. It is still in development and needs further reconstruction. The reconstruction project has been initiated by Pogon and developed by architects Miranda Veljačić and Dinko Peračić.
Following the successes of POGON on both the local and international scene, the City fully embraced the project of reconstruction of Jedinstvo and allocated decent funds for its core functions, while the Alliance Operation City continues to provide regular programme and supports POGON through specific projects.
The architectural design responds directly to the idea that the building has to stay open for various kinds of activities, and the need to be used simultaneously by many users. The project combines various rooms and halls treating them as individual units that can be used autonomously, as facilities for production and presentations equally. Almost all spaces serve as a venue for a specific program. At the same time, the spaces are not neutral because each has its own easily distinguished character. As it has been the case in the initial situation when the programs were supposed to be adjusted to the old factory, in the new situation the programs function in a dialogue with the new spaces. By opening to the exterior and the riverbank, the building becomes a place of open social interaction in its neighbourhood and the urban context. It is one of the rare open public facilities in the recreational area by the Sava River. The architectural design is a result of long-term involvement of architects in the process of developing independent culture and multiple joint experiments and advocating the creation and organization of space tailor-made for concrete programmes.
The reconstruction project was developed through an extensive communication and collaboration with users of POGON – artists, curators, organizers, producers, technicians and so on. Theirs proposals have been integrated in final architectural plans.
A top challenge for the team is how to connect with the neighbourhood of Trnje – where Jedinstvo is situated – and how to become the institution that is not isolated from its environment and works to get more people from the neighbourhood to participate in the program. In order to bring Pogon and Jedinstvo closer to its neighbours, the structure organized several workshops inviting citizens to express their thoughts and expectations from the organization, and to participate in the co-designing of the reconstruction of the building. At the same time, the organisation started with a series of programs called Pogonizacija, a playful series of workshops for kids and youth where they work with audiences who have not visited their programs before and where they inform them about what they do, and try to help them connect with the space and organization itself. Connecting with the broader community is, as the team understand it, a long-term process, so it’s hard to point out concrete results, but they’ve received some positive feedback which is a great encouragement to continue with this kind of activities.