A new cultural strategy is emerging in the region Hradec Králové. The current head of the regions cultural department, Kateřina Churtajeva, has done a lot in this respect. She has experience in both organizing and presenting culture. She started her current job after returning from abroad, where she worked as a cultural diplomat; she managed the Czech centre in Sofia: It gives a good insight into what is actually specific in Czech culture, where our values are. We talked about what the strategy-making process entails, what barriers have to be overcome, and what could possibly be the unexpected result of consistent work.What does culture mean to you?
To me, culture is what shapes our identity. This applies to both individuals and cities, local regions and the whole country. It can preserve history, it can open up the current issues and bring interesting answers to them. It is an irreplaceable factor that fundamentally affects quality of our life and cultivates public space.
What difference do you see between the so-called established and unestablished or independent sector of culture?
Both have their own role.
I see the established sector as a guarantor that a public service in the field of culture will be fulfilled – that we will have good theaters, philharmonics, museums, libraries. Established culture forms a large part of public budgets for culture and guarantees, among other things, the preservation of our historical memory and cultural identity. The work in the established organizations is carried out by highly specialized professionals, it is demanding and not very well remunerated. The organizations face a major challenge in reaching today's audience. At the same time, they must examine themselves, self-critically, to see if they have not stumbled into the ground thanks to the financial support de facto guaranteed to them.
The unestablished cultural sphere brings great diversity in offer, it is vibrant, flexible. As a result, it can respond flexibly and quickly with content to the challenges and social problems that appear hand in hand with living in modern times. It can also transmit current trends in art more quickly. With no guarantee of support, it must remain alert and very often operates under inadequate working conditions.
Hradec Králové region is now working on a new cultural strategy. For what reason did you decide to develop the strategy?
We felt the need to formulate the region's approach to culture. The culture chapter in the budget is not the smallest one, and most things have long been stuck in a rut. A formulated strategic and long-term approach was lacking. Historically, when the regions were created, a large number of contributory organizations came under their jurisdiction. With time, subsidy programs were defined. In our region, however, we didn't think about a deeper concept. In culture, we have the disadvantage that the obligation to produce a strategy document is not laid down by law. That's how it works in other areas. So the need for such a document is harder to push through. From this perspective, pursuing of the cultural strategy of the Hradec Králové region was more complicated.
The promotion of such a wide-ranging document, which involves substantial financial costs, must be closely linked to the support of political leadership. How did this process go for you?
By the time I took the office, the setting up of a cultural strategy was in the council's manifesto. The deputy culture secretary, Martina Berdychová, had this intention from the very beginning. I've been in the Region for three years, so I joined it in the second year of previous political leadership, which was right at the start of planning a new cultural strategy. Not only thanks to it I got on well with the deputy as we share the need of a strategy document.
Have you perceived any obstacles in promoting the strategy-making?
I would not say that there was any counter-pressure, that we would have to overcome reluctance to implement such a document. Rather, it was about finding sufficient funds and accepting the slower pace of a complex regional office.
From the beginning, we envisaged a change in the political leadership of the region in the course of developing the strategy. In theory, the process could be speeded up and concluded under the previous management. However, we were afraid that the concept would not be approved by the new council and the document would end up under the table. Unfortunately, this is often the case. So we intentionally planned the strategy in a time-targeted way over both terms.
We have a steering committee on cultural strategy in which both political representation and the professional public are represented. At some stage, we always present to the steering committee to what point has the work on the strategy moved, we discuss the interim results and discuss whether they are in line with the set path. We implemented the analysis part with the previous management. At the same time, we presented the results to the culture committee, which was open to all representatives. Some were present. This was at the end of the last term.
We now face a similar process with the new political leadership. We hope that the continuity of the process will thereby be preserved. We will define particular proposals for the new strategy now, at the start of the new term. In the current situation, it is our advantage that the deputy secretary for culture remains the same as in the last period.
You have chosen an external processor. How did you select him and what advantages and disadvantages of this decision do you perceive? Have you considered making a strategy yourself, in the office?
No, we indeed didn't want to draw up a cultural strategy within the office. This was clear to me from the beginning because it is such a complex matter that without a supervisor, a man with experience, we would never have achieved such professionalism. I've seen it in some municipalities. Though they had the conviction and will to complete the strategy, they were out of breath halfway through. This is a really extensive document. The regional strategy is even more complex than the municipal one. This is a large area with a large number of cultural players. The region has to negotiate with a number of partners, with municipalities setting up cultural institutions. So without the support of professionals who know what cultural planning is about, it would be really hard. The question was to find the right partner, and I think that OnPlan was a great choice.
How does the communication between the various cultural actors and the region work throughout drawing up a strategy?
I personally feel that the strategy-making process resonates throughout the region. I feel a will to talk about it. Maybe it's also because it's happening for the first time. There has not yet been such an initiative on the part of the region. So I see a great willingness from everyone, be it municipalities, established organizations, an independent cultural scene. I really appreciate that issues that may have been bothering them for a long time are now being opened up.
We've tried to keep the process very open to public engagement from the start. We started with a questionnaire, which we sent out to 800 addresses and got back over 200 responses, opinions. We then reached out to the municipalities and I personally visited each of the extended municipalities, of which there are 15 in the region, and met with its representatives. Everywhere, they enjoyed talking to us, and as a result, many good incentives were risen. We then organized a major discussion platform where we looked at the SWOT analysis. In June, around 130 people gathered at the scientific library in Hradec Králové. Once again, there was a tremendous appetite to create this with us. At the same time, the individual players were overjoyed to meet each other, have coffee together and get to know each other. I'm very grateful for this collaboration and very happy for it, because working from a desk wouldn't make sense.
How will you proceed once the strategy is completed? What will be the mechanisms to implement the strategy developed? Do you want to continue networking individual cultural players and institutions?
We will have completed the strategy by June 2021. Formulating its design part is ahead of us. The completed strategy will be followed by the specific implementation plans. Of course, both the cultural actors in the region and the region itself will be the bearers of the different parts of the strategy. We are also counting on the widest possible openness and level of engagement in the future for all those who would want to cooperate.
The strategy itself will indeed have to be continuously updated over its seven-year duration. We will form one- or two-year implementation action plans, which will be adjusted as each area will develop. We will certainly continue in the conceptual work as such. I see it as important for us to give each other feedback so that we can shape the strategy even as we go along.
The linkage you are asking about looms as one of the main pillars. Currently, cultural subjects and movers within the region are not connected to each other. I think it proved well during the coronacrisis that those who associate or are part of an association are much better equipped to negotiate. The work achieved thus far has shown us that networking and connecting cultural players are one of the key pillars of the whole strategy. To connect subjects concerned, network, familiarize, point to examples of good practice where things are going well. To this end, a platform Pro kreativitu was established.
If you were to make recommendations for other municipalities and regions ready to process a cultural strategy, what would it be?
I'll start from a wider perspective. The key task is to explain to the contracting authority of a cultural strategy what such a strategy can serve and why it is good to have one. And why as many partners as possible should be involved in its formulation. For example, we discussed with the Theatre Institute the possibility of organizing an educational program, which would target officials of the regions and municipalities and focus on cultural strategic planning. Regions, in particular, are an interesting segment that can inspire municipalities with progressive cultural policies, and individual actors in the region can be inspired by them. In this regard, regions are important drivers. Many regions process their strategies over the long term, but the big challenge is to formulate and plan them in a truly bottom-up, participatory way.
In terms of how it worked for us, the key decision was to cooperate with an external partner. Creating a strategy for self-help, on your knees in the office, is a task that cannot be reconciled with the normal work agenda.
Moreover, I think it is important that the process is as open as possible, creating space for as many players as possible. Actually, I can't imagine it any other way. It's a great experience for whoever is making the strategy, because the territory it is dedicated to gets to know very well and finds out the needs of the individual players. So it gives a good knowledge of the region, and at the same time it's the only way to address individual measures and plans.
If you had three wishes, what would you like to change in the cultural development of the region?
Currently, I wish that the crisis become an engine of positive change for the culture. So that culture is viewed with respect in public policy-making and public budgeting. And for the regions's position to be able to create a culture of quality.
This interview was supported by EHP and Norway grants 2014 - 2021.