European Capital of Culture: What Will Remain of the Rijeka 2020 Program?

Daniela Rogulj

April 15, 2020 – Rijeka’s head of the Department of Culture, Ivan Sarar, discusses the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Rijeka 2020 program.

In these challenging coronavirus times, the cultural sector is strongly affected, but since it shares the fate of other sectors, it does not seem to enjoy much public discourse.

In this context, Rijeka is living a unique story. What was supposed to be a cultural feast in the year of the European Capital of Culture – when we expected to hold debates in ideological, sociological, ethical, artistic, critical-theoretical and other conversations – became the burial ground of culture where victims are collected.

Rijeka’s head of the Department of Culture, Ivan Sarar, interviewed with Novi List to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the Rijeka 2020 program.

In an interview with Novi List, the Minister of Culture announced that the Ministry would not be able to pay the agreed financial support to the ECOC. What is the amount?

“It is still unknown how much the Ministry of Culture’s financial support will be for the ECOC project.”

In terms of the City of Rijeka’s financial obligations to the ECOC, what, or how much, will be the issue?

“Over the past three weeks, the City of Rijeka, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and in an effort to help outright disadvantaged private sector businesses, has taken a number of measures that directly affect the city budget cuts. Similarly, the measures were also adopted by the state, also with regard to reducing the liabilities of the economic sector, which also has a direct impact on filling the income tax budget. So there is only one thing in such uncertainty: there will not be as much funding for the ECOC program as originally planned. And it is impossible and ungrateful to give concrete figures at this time.”

Rijeka 2020 announced the restructuring of the program. What are the requirements of the Rijeka Department of Culture in terms of deadlines? When does Rijeka 2020 have to come up with a new proposal and in what direction will it go, to your knowledge?

“The program, which began on 1 February 2020 and was to run until 31 January 2021, is planned, prepared and organized over four years. Now it needs to be redesigned, significantly reduced, revised to over 250 program activities that originally had to include more than 600 events in a very short time.

Basically, a significant reduction in the overall budget should have been foreseen, but through certain logical criteria that we discussed earlier. Rijeka 2020 completed this first revision this week with several possible scenarios.

I was personally involved in this review, the first proposal was also submitted to the City and will be sent to the Ministry of Culture. It is certainly not the final document, and it does not constitute a definitive list of the programs of the “new ECOC”, but is the basis for further discussions between the City, Ministry, PGZ, Rijeka 2020 and the partners involved.

The biggest challenge we all face is not really the number of programs or funding, but the total uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, which cannot be influenced by anyone, and it directly concerns the number of programs and future available resources and the timeframe for implementing any programs withheld. I’m saying that it concerns the audience themselves on those programs. Because it is perhaps crude to predict when the situation will normalize, it is much harder to predict the extent to which people will regain old habits and what their behavior will be, but also the expectations of citizens.”

Are the infrastructure investments of “Bencic”, “Galeb”, and “Exportdrvo” in question? Are the European funds for “Bencic” and “Galeb” in question?

“So far, infrastructure investments are not in question. They have their own dynamics of work and payments, they are financed with significant amounts of EU funds and there are no major problems in this part of the project. The Sugar Palace and the Children’s House are already in an advanced stage of construction before all work is completed.

We are facing smaller mobility issues and smaller delays in the delivery of materials and parts that have been ordered from abroad, but it is likely that these facilities will not be open to the public before the termination of the measures of reduced social contacts, or before the real possibility of offering ongoing program activity.”

How much has the City of Rijeka disbursed approved funds to the users of Public Needs in the Culture of the City of Rijeka for 2020?

“There were no payments for public needs this year.”

What is the debt of the City of Rijeka regarding the public needs before 2020?

“The City of Rijeka’s debt to the beneficiaries of the 2019 Public Needs Fund is HRK 315,000.”

What policy will you take to maintain approved programs, which have all been delayed, and disbursing funds for approved programs?

“The budget for public cultural needs for 2020 is around HRK 3.5 million. Given the liquidity of the overall budget in the new circumstances, we will strive to maximize payments for all programs held so far, including debt for the previous year. With regard to approved programs, it is certain that due to a budget deficit, we will have to go for a reduction in funding. We are just finalizing the priority criteria by which we will reduce program resources. We intend to maintain stability within the cultural sector in such a way that priority will be given to associations that have employees, freelance artists and all those projects where the financial structure suggests the existence of existential well-being for actors in the urban cultural scene.”

What are the budget estimates for next year’s Department of Culture, given the new situation with the coronavirus crisis?

“It is impossible to predict the budget for 2021 at this time; we still do not have any input from which to know what the financial framework is. The only certain thing is that it will be very tight. But it’s too early to say how much.

We are currently considering urgent measures to run the projects as normal in the current year, as well as considering several models for the survival of the ECOC as Croatia’s largest cultural project.”

What measures are you taking in the Department of Culture to protect self-employed artists, small businesses in the cultural and creative sectors, and the self-employed, whose livelihoods are already threatened?

“Measures have been adopted on a city-wide basis for all those who cannot work in these conditions. The mayor also announced the possibility of extending measures to monitor the situation. These measures now relate to deferrals and write-offs – rents, utility bills, monumental rents, surtaxes and more. I partly answered this question in my earlier answers, as well.

As far as the self-employed are concerned, the City of Rijeka has not foreseen direct financial assistance in any crisis measure so far. We are in intensive communication with the Ministry of Culture, which has opened several lines of measures to assist the self-employed so that we can eventually contribute to this segment. The problem in this is the considerable clutter in the records as well as the very difficult job of defining the criteria for assistance that should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

On the other hand, this topic is, to a considerable extent, actually emerging from the cultural policy domain and entering the social policy domain. But I repeat, we will certainly do our utmost to maintain the continuity of payments to all who fall into the domain and have described your matter through the payment of public cultural needs. We are working on the decision to introduce rent-free studios and cultural associations.”

Will there be any changes in the staffing structure of the Department of Culture and will salaries will be reduced in both the Department and public cultural institutions that are under the jurisdiction of the City of Rijeka?

“As things stand now, given the real state of budget cuts caused by this situation, it is likely that salaries will be reduced at the level of the city government, both in the city administration and in budget users and in Rijeka 2020.”

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