Network Meeting in Budapest June 2015

The year 2015’s Robert Bosch Cultural Managers Network Meeting took place in the Hungarian capital from 4 to 6 June. Participants included past recipients of stipends, representatives of past host institutions, and programme mentors.

For the first time, current participants and alumni of the programs ‘Actors of Urban Change’ and TANDEM were also invited to the meeting.

Approximately 300 people were invited, with 56 people ultimately attending. Additionally, numerous stakeholders from the Budapest cultural scene participated in the ‘Thematic Encounters’ event.
The meeting’s main venue was an independent cultural space in the inner city of Budapest. MüSzi was founded on a vacant floor of a former shopping mall. The space regularly hosts community and art events, exhibitions, and film screenings and houses a number of studios and a co-working space. MüSzi is entirely run by its users and receives no governmental or municipal funding. We found it important to choose a venue (despite the lack of air conditioning) where our money and work would make a direct contribution to a grass-roots initiative in the Budapest cultural scene.

The meeting started with an opening network buffet at MüSzi, where Darius Polok and the organizers welcomed the group and introduced the TANDEM and the Actors of Urban Change programmes and the other RBCMN programme participants. Everybody who participated in this part of the program rated the evening ‘good’ or ‘very good’, and they were especially enthusiastic about the opportunity to network.

The program on Friday (5 June) was titled ‘Budapest Day – Cultural Vicissitudes’ and was dedicated to the cultural scene of Budapest. Our aim was to learn more about the precarious situation that the country’s recent cultural policies had placed the cultural scene in. In order to give participants an overview of the situation, we planned two different events. The day started with an introductory lecture by Gergely Nagy, an editor at and the press officer of the OFF Biennale. Most of the participants who evaluated this talk found it excellent and very informative, with only one participant voicing criticism of the presentation’s form and content.

The introduction was followed by interactive walking tours tailor-made for the occasion. The participants could choose from five tours that thematized topics like recent challenges in urban planning (see the list of the tours below in the programme). The participants evaluated the tours as excellent.

The tours were followed up by ‘Thematic Encounters’, in which representatives of the Budapest cultural scene were invited to join multiple rounds of moderated discussions at different thematic tables. Topics included art education in Hungary and contemporary cultural events, discussions that were enriched by the presence of the initiator and curators of the OFF Biennale. The reception of this programme was not entirely positive: for some participants it was too intense and at the same time too superficial, while one participant criticized the lack of discussion about the state’s role in cultural life in Hungary. Participants could choose to take part in additional events after dinner.

Saturday (6 June) was entirely dedicated to discussions about the cultural managers’ network. Ludwig Henne summed up the network’s history, current members Radmila Krstajić and Shenja Ruthenberg talked about their current activities and tasks, and Yvonne Meyer, the day’s moderator, gave, together with Darius Polok, an introduction to the day’s main goals.

The first session of group work addressed the network’s aims and tools. Corina Bernic, Katalin Erdődi, Christian Gracza, Yvonne Meyer, and Christian Strob organized discussions on various topics at different tables, and participants could sit with the group of their choice. The groups then presented the main conclusions of their brief, intensive talks. Participants wrote in their evaluations that they found the topics interesting and the discussions generally fruitful, although they found the time allotted for them too short. However, the brevity was unfortunately necessary, as otherwise the presentations would not have been able to fulfil their primary aim: to inform all the others about the discussions’ conclusions.

The second session of group work set out to discuss three topics: the structure and representatives of the network, internal and external communication, and the financing of network activities.
The presentation of these talks was followed by free discussion among the participants. One question raised was whether the RBCMN should include the alumni of other programs (Actors of Urban Change and TANDEM); otherwise, the discussion generally revolved around the planned topics.

Unfortunately, we were running behind schedule at this point, though this did not hinder network members from presenting their projects (see details in the programme). They discussed both past projects and those that were planned for the future, such as ‘The Reflection Group’ session that took place later in the year in Istanbul, following up on its launch in 2014 in Saint Petersburg. The project presentations were important, because they gave both newcomers and members concrete examples of how the network works, offered impulses for new projects, and looked back on the network’s brief past.

But the network day was productive in a significant way: members decided to found working groups (WGs) organized according to regions, topics of interest, and issues facing the network. Regional working groups were formed to foster exchange among members living in or working with a certain region, and Nikola Marković from Belgrade took the initiative to plan a regional meeting. Other working groups focus on a specific field of expertise, such as the Film WG initiated by Jana Falkenroth, and will help participants share their experiences, contacts, and project ideas. One example of the working groups’ activities was the trip to the Istanbul Biennale in September 2015 (project leader: Öngün Erilmaz).
The four network-related working groups work on some of the issues that were identified in Budapest: Restructuring the network’s organization (the Board WG), Communication WG, a WG addressing the aims and functions of the network, and a WG for financial matters.

The participants of the Budapest meeting were not able to decide whether the alumni of other programs (TANDEM, Actors of Urban Change) should be involved in future meetings, and opted to vote online about it (in the end, they decided in the positive).

General evaluation of the meeting by the participants: the flow of information before and during the meeting, the accommodation, and the catering were all rated ‘very good’, and overall the participants found the event ‘very good’ or ‘good’.

The Robert Bosch Cultural Managers Network Meeting had a few aims: to introduce participants to the Budapest art scene, to teach them about the institutional and political processes and changes that the country has undergone over the last couple of years as seen through the eyes of local actors, to provide an opportunity for network members to connect and reconnect, and to foster existing and future cooperations among them.
We asked the participants to tell us about what they expected from the meeting and whether or not these expectations were fulfilled.

The personal aims of the participants overlapped with the organizers’ ideas: above all, participants wanted to (re)connect with network members and get to know Budapest better. Some participants thought that the network’s aims and common goals were not defined rigorously enough and that working towards a more concrete definition of its aims and goals should be put on the agenda for the next network meeting, where more time was, indeed, dedicated to this issue. Ultimately, the network members expressed their desire to focus on more topics related to their professional field, such that future meetings might also help them develop professionally.