From 2017 onwards, Vukovar has been getting richer and richer in street art, with murals adorning buildings in all Vukovar’s neighbourhoods and 3D art attracting the looks of many on and along the bridges of Vukovar. The art has become a big part of the city’s visual identity, inspiring visits, hashtags, even tours and events like marathons following the path of the murals.
In 2022, the residents of Vukovar, along with its many guests, already know to anticipate a city centre full of life, laughter, and fun, with kids creating chalk artwork on the pavement, grown-ups painting walls, and other grown-ups discussing art and tourism. For a few weeks in May and June, the city becomes a colourful workshop of art. And when it’s all said and done, we are left with some beautiful art to love and cherish and proudly present to our visitors. We found out how it all came to be, why it’s there and where it’s going. We spoke to Krešimir, whom we know as the man behind the movement. He describes himself as a marketing enthusiast working on several tourism projects, and the results have been pretty awesome. Let’s find out all about the ideas that set it in motion.
Tell us about the organizers of VukovART.
Filip and Krešo are primarily two friends who work together on several ideas and projects. One is just a marketing enthusiast, and Filip is the only Croatian 3D street artist.
What inspired VukovART?
Although VukovART started in 2017, the whole story began a year before, while the idea of a street art festival had been brewing for a while. Filip Mrvelj, the only Croatian 3D street artist, and I had worked together on several projects. So it was not surprising when in 2016, he called and suggested a collaboration on the first 3D painting in Vukovar on a bridge over the river Vuka. During our time in Vukovar, it rained constantly, and we ended up only having one day to create the paintings. We spoke to the city council about all our ideas, including the festival. Filip managed to finish the painting, and after it gained significant media attention, we officially presented the concept of a street art festival to the City of Vukovar. They loved it.
Can you tell us more about the project?
VukovART is a street art festival. During a few weeks in May and June, it attracts some of the biggest names of the international street art scene. So far, the Vukovar open-air gallery has adopted 33 pieces of street art created by top world artists. We have hosted names like Zabou, Wild Drawing, Vera Bugatti, Juandres Vera, Artez, BustArt, and many others. The work of top Croatian artists can also be found in Vukovar, including Eugen Varzić, OKO, Lonac, Tea Jurišić, and Šumski. When we create our invitation lists, we are guided by the rule of excellence. There is no classic “open call”, instead we try to get the best artists of the moment following the set criteria.
VukovART is a new concept in the cultural life of Vukovar. It promotes Vukovar as a place that accepts all artists as creators of new values. Also, this concept changes the city’s visual identity and makes it a more beautiful, urban, and modern place to live. The painted areas are also a tourist attraction. Vukovar, a port on the Danube, is now becoming a harbour of art – an open-air gallery accessible to all. In addition to this artistic part as the basis of VukovART, we have been organizing an accompanying programme of children’s workshops, concerts, panel discussions, lectures and gatherings, and exhibitions in recent years. For example, during the last VukovART, we enjoyed concerts by Mia Dimšić, Vatra, and Akvarel, a band from Osijek. Many visited, including Robert Knjaz, Dušan Bućan, Davor Gobac, and other familiar faces of the Croatian creative scene. There was a painting workshop and chalk drawing one in the main square for the little ones; we organised bike rides and more.
It is important to note that the City of Vukovar largely stood behind the festival, and so did our sponsor PPD Vukovar, who keeps investing in Vukovar’s community.
What is the significance of such a project for Vukovar and Slavonia?
From the beginning, we believed that VukovART would be of great importance for all of Slavonia, and this was confirmed. Many still perceive Croatia’s east as a very rural region, not to say that we shouldn’t be proud of our traditions and customs. Yet Slavonia is much more than that. The nature is extraordinary, its cultural and gastronomic offer yet to be discovered. VukovART is the only project of this type in Slavonia that has practically become a tourist product and is one of few in this part of Europe.
The artists themselves are delighted with the culture, the city’s cleanliness, the kindness of the people, the energy of the festival, and filled with emotions about Vukovar’s past. When they go home, they keep telling the story of Vukovar and Slavonia, a Croatian region still unknown to many.
What were the main goals, did you meet them?
The main goal was to create a success story for locals and tourists. We believe that we have managed to meet all the goals in creating a different urban tourist product. As a result, Vukovar has been placed on the map of street art cities of the world and has become recognized for top art of top world artists. People’s reactions on social media and their posts from touring the open-air gallery are proof that we are on the right track.
Another goal was education. The gallery showcases different styles and techniques. Our many workshops help educate the younger population primarily, while through seminars, we all learn from the best Croatian creatives (Dušan Bućan, Robert Knjaz, Domagoj Jakopović – Ribafish, Dubravko Mataković). In our panel discussions, we show the best examples in practice. With all of this, we believe that the goals we set have not only been achieved but exceeded.
Will there be a VukovART in 2022?
VukovART is coming this year, but we are still preparing the program, and it should come out sometime in May. As it all stands, the world’s top street art names are coming back, and the program will be dense and exciting.
Apart from the art that now adorns our city, why is Vukovar worth visiting?
Firstly, Vukovar is a place that evokes pride and respect for all the sacrifices it has gone through. However, people need to be aware that Vukovar is a beautiful city that lives, where you can enjoy some amazing things. The Vučedol Culture Museum is the best example. It is one of the most important cultural points of Western Europe. The Eltz Castle is magnificent. Many do not even know that Lavoslav Ružička, the first Croatian Nobel Prize winner came from Vukovar. The Danube, its promenade, the park forest Adica, the baroque city centre, and the newly opened Vukovar Water Tower. Besides, the gastronomic offer is getting better and better… Vukovar more than deserves a visit!
Have you done any similar projects in other cities in Slavonia? Are there more coming?
We have done cultural and tourist projects, mainly in Slavonski Brod. From the one in memory of Ivana Brlić – Mažuranić to the legendary bicycle race Mali Pariz – Klakar. Our biggest recent project was CoolTour Lab, funded by the EU. We organized workshops for young people throughout the year. There is also the Bikademy project, an innovative cycling tourism project in Slavonia, which is developing beyond Croatian borders. We keep planning, always coming up with new ideas, but we will see where it takes us. Right now, we are focusing on a few things that are already in motion, like VukovART and Bikademy.
What does the future hold for tourism in eastern Croatia?
We hope for a promising future, and we hope to contribute to it. Indeed, it will take a lot of work, learning, and marketing to build a community. Slavonia and Baranja are a destination with all that a tourist destination should have. It makes us happy that it is slowly becoming recognized as an excellent and unexplored destination, and the potential is huge. The east of Croatia is also attractive for active tourism, and I am sure that the tourist offer will rise to a very high level in just a few years.
Home is where the heart is.
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