Rijeka 2020 Director: All on Track for European Capital of Culture Program

Daniela Rogulj

December 7, 2019 – Emina Visnic, director of Rijeka 2020, which manages the European Capital of Culture (ECOC) project in Rijeka next year, confirmed in an interview that preparations for the ECOC year and its opening at the Rijeka port on February 1, 2020,  are going according to plan.

Novi List writes that from the vibrant array of cultural programs, Visnic especially singled out the project of contemporary artist Sanja Ivekovic in the courtyard of the Bencic complex, in which, with her retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, she will symbolically reconstruct the Monument to Revolution by architect Mies van der Rohe from 1926, which was demolished by the Nazis in 1935.

Find the interview by Dean Silic transmitted in full below. 

A concert in Korzo was announced for Monday, introducing the European Capital of Culture program for citizens, and citizens were also invited to propose programs and participate in the opening of the ECOC. Do you want to encourage them to participate more actively and show them the meaning of the project?

“Absolutely. Citizens are already significantly involved in the project. We have been saying from the beginning that the project cannot succeed if the citizens do not get involved, that is, if it remains only in the hands of the artists and the organizers. That is why we have been working on involving citizens from the beginning, from using 27 neighborhoods in the program, which also grows from the neighborhoods, or groups of citizens, not only in Rijeka, but in the entire Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, through all the programs at RiHub and the projects proposed and implemented by citizens.

Thus, the opening cannot take place without the participation of different groups of citizens, organized or not. With a concert at Korzo, we want to offer the citizens of Rijeka a party in December and present the greater part of the cultural and artistic programs that await us in 2020.”

How would you explain the value of the ECOC project to a doubtful Rijeka citizen?

“Specifically in Rijeka, this project brings about the restoration of cultural buildings in the former Rikard Bencic factory, and thus the creation of a Rijeka cultural quarter, the reconstruction of the Galeb ship, interventions in the Delta area, etc. among other significant EU funds. On the other hand, in 2020, the ECOC delivers 300 cultural programs in and around Rijeka with more than 600 individual events.

It is a year of top cultural programs, but we have made every effort to ensure that the program complies with our motto ‘Port of Diversity’. We strive to satisfy very different interests, from opera to new technologies, from the theater arts to citizens’ initiatives and their projects. In addition, the ECOC contributes significantly to the international visibility, recognition of the city, the building of a different image of Rijeka and the entire region.

It is based on image, the idea of what we do, openness, and welcomes different people. It represents a city that is lively, interesting, attractive not only for tourist visits but also for living and investing.

So, smart cities would use the ECOC itself not only this year, but would use all the energy, high visibility and great knowledge gained during the project for future development, which I believe Rijeka will do. We have a good foundation because not only artists, cultural institutions, citizens and citizens’ initiatives are involved, but also numerous entrepreneurs. That is the legacy of the Rijeka ECOC project, which will be reflected in the people, apart from the mentioned buildings and structures that are being renovated and built.”

What is your vision of the city after 2020, with all the accomplishments of the project?

“We are working on a project according to which Rijeka really becomes internationally recognized as a European city, a city that promotes European values, which may not be geographic in the heart of Europe, but according to its values and interests, it is. The city is sure to change physically. The center will expand from Korzo and the surrounding area to the Bencic complex and the revitalized Delta area, a part of which will have many programs. We expect a new atmosphere in the city, new optimism and enthusiasm that will build the future of Rijeka.”

Can you reveal any details about the ECOC opening program itself?

“I cannot reveal the details, but I can say that the opening will be in the Rijeka port. It is not only the venue but also the theme of the event, as the ‘Port of Diversity’, it becomes a different port. We can expect the gathering of a large number of citizens and an interesting, specially designed program in which the citizens themselves will be involved, followed by an all-night party in cafes and clubs.”

What would you single out from the overall ECOC program as globally relevant and important, and which parts of the program would be particularly relevant to the citizens of Rijeka?

“Many elements of the program overlap with what is locally relevant and what is locally interesting. There is a vibrant exhibition program. Permanent exhibitions in new cultural venues, such as the Sugar Refinery Palace and the Galeb ship, will be of interest to Rijeka residents and citizens of Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, but will also be of interest to international audiences. One thing will undoubtedly be an exhibition on Gustav Klimt.

The opera program is worth highlighting with two big gala concerts featuring top names, Karita Mattila and Elina Garanča, a series of phenomenal classical music concerts, a new chamber music festival in the unusual venues initiated by our Croatian National Theater.

In the theater program, we should definitely highlight the Needcompay Theater, which forms the very top of world theater. The program is absolutely up-to-date, by topic and by the participating artists, and the Dopolavoro program addresses the issue of work and the future of work through very different works of art at the intersection of art, new technologies, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

A series of programs, exhibitions and public actions are being built here, such as a band appearing exclusively by robots, for the first time in Croatia. Lungomare Art, on the other hand, brings contemporary art to the community and leaves behind permanent installations. One of the top architects of the present day, Smiljan Radic from Chile and originally Croatian, and Liam Gillick, who is one of the top contemporary artists in the world, stands out here.

What does it mean for Rijeka to create a secondary center by renovating the Bencic complex and expanding the area of activity and city life from the city center?

“I am sure that Rijeka will receive not only new cultural infrastructure, but also a unique place for socializing, with excellent facilities when Bencic functions as a whole, at the end of 2020, with the Sugar Refinery Palace, the Children’s House and the City Library. The Children’s House is particularly emphasized in this as a place where not only programs for children take place, but also a place where children themselves produce programs, where their creativity is stimulated from the earliest days.

Do you think that there is a Rijeka identity and how it is reflected in the ECOC program?

“When it comes to identities, keep in mind that they are not fixed. Identity, however collective the form, is so individual. In the context we live in, Rijeka stands out as a city that does not have one strong solid identity, although it is difficult to say that another city has one. Rijeka is recognized for its openness, freedom, and coexisting with different identities. The ECOC program also bears these characteristics – it is inclusive, brave and unusual, as is Rijeka. And such a program will be implemented in Rijeka 2020.”

Has the controversy surrounding Tito’s Galeb ship overshadowed other parts of the program, or is it perhaps an expression of pluralism of opinion?

“I am sorry that this controversy has rarely been constructive and referred to historical, social, or political interpretations, but instead has been politicized. It was conducted mainly in or around City Hall, or reduced to banal investment issues, investment levels without any comparison to any other projects.

I think the Galeb ship, when completed as a museum ship, will be a phenomenal attraction. We already know that. It is among the three priorities that foreign journalists said they want to see in Rijeka and want to write about.

In its permanent exhibition, the Galeb will open up a space of quality, constructive discussion, and on topics that are controversial in our society, although I personally find that there is nothing particularly controversial about it. It will tell the story of a fascinating ship, part of Rijeka’s and Croatian history, that is very attractive and through which we connect with the history of many countries around the world.

Finally, are preparations for the ECOC year going according to plan?

“They are going according to plan, and we are ready to welcome February 1, when the ECOC officially opens. The day before, at MMSU, David Maljkovic, a Rijeka native and world-renowned artist, will open an exhibition dedicated to the museum’s collection. Two more exhibitions are underway in the Age of Power program, in the Maritime and Historical Museum of the Croatian Littoral – D’Annunzi’s Martyr and the Violins Above Borders / Stradivari in Rijeka – Kresnik and Cremona.

Currently, the most intense preparations are related to the opening at the port on February 1st, and here, I can exclusively announce a program that we have not yet communicated – with perhaps the greatest Croatian contemporary living artist Sanja Ivekovic, opening her retrospective exhibition at MMSU in January 2021, and a special project was also arranged in the Bencic courtyard.

Through an interesting process involving many foreign partners, a kind of symbolic reconstruction of the Monument to Revolution will be made, that is, the murdered Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, by Mies van der Rohe in 1926.

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