According to a survey carried out by Razumkov Centre, almost 70% Ukrainians have never left the country and 36% didn’t read a single book in 2018. ‘If people don’t want to go to culture themselves, then we bring culture to them’, says Anna Dobrova. Dobrova is the co-founder of the public organisation ‘MistoDia’, which helps develop cultural centres on the outskirts of Kyiv.
I was born in Kyiv and grew up in the city – I studied at the National Academy of Visual Arts and Architecture (NAVAA) and then at a technical university in Vienna. During my six years of study at the faculty of architecture there, I didn’t do a single design-project. I was more interested in urban studies (a school of thought which was established at the beginning of the 20th century, which looks at the growth of a city, at its infrastructure, ecology and culture, as well as its effect on the local population – Editor). Even when I was involved in projects to do with city planning and building at the academy, I wasn’t interested in the black plan (the colour of the buildings on the scale model) but in the white sections, on the space between the houses.
When the Maidan revolution started, I actively took part in the protest abroad together with Dmitrii Isaev, my friend and partner. After this, we decided to come back. Our first project in Kyiv was called ConnecTable in the Obolon area. The idea was simple: to get all the neighbours together at a long model table in one of the courtyards in front of their flats and to turn their shared space into a celebration. We organised cultural and cookery master classes for them. In order to turn the idea into action, we created ‘MistoDia’.
In 2016, we were introduced to the artists Anna Sorokov and Taras Kovach from the ‘Soshenko 33’ workshop.
‘Soshenko 33’ is a workshop of young artists from NAVAA, based in a two-storey complex built in 1949, which is found on the northern outskirts of Kyiv. In 2012, plans for an illegal building on this territory were published – a 25-floor block of apartments with a shopping centre were supposed to stand on the space which the workshop occupied. The public and artists defended the structure from demolition. The workshop building was given the status of being a memorial to architecture. Now ‘Soshenko 33’ functions as a cultural centre with a programme of exhibitions and workshops for artists and normal residents of Kyiv.
We immediately took a liking to this place. Both Dima and I had studied at NAVAA but we didn’t know anything about it. It is a sort of secret, with its own history. We wanted to help with the fight against the developers. The artists needed a master-plan of the territory so that various documents could be approved. We decided to draw it up parallel to a two-week long architecture school we had organised for NAVAA students. The EU supported the project through the ‘Creative Europe’ programme.
‘Creative Europe’ is a programme set up by the EU to fund areas of culture between 2014 and 2020 (although it has now been extended to 2028). From 2015, the programme has supported 8 Ukrainian projects at the sum of almost 2 million euros. Until the 4th of July, there is a competition open for grants up to 100 000 euros for publishers of fiction and for those working with audio-visual art. In the autumn, they are planning to start a competition for 5 grants for those in the film industry, in education and so on. There are more details available at creativeeurope.in.ua.
The students had to analyse the space taken up by ‘Soshenko 33’ and to upgrade it. Training took place in the school from July to August of 2018. After conversations with locals and the artists at the workshop, the students identified various important areas in the complex, such as a space for a vineyard. One local had planted it in order to decorate the fence. It had been damaged during the tussles with the developers, but the vineyard had survived. The students proposed to build a wooden construction as a support system for the vines as well as a prop for a summer outdoor cinema screen. They also built a circular wooden structure, similar to a bench, around the trunk of an old pear tree. Now it is used as open-air lecture theatre or simply as a place to sit down. But we didn’t change anything vital about the place – it was immediately clear that the complex was self-sufficient enough. The locals used the place as a garden. Artists work there and spend their free time there. For example, Taras Kovach works with dovecotes there as a hobby. He even carried out masterclasses about this particular activity.
From February 2018, I have been working on a project called ‘MetaLeb’ at the ‘Promprylad’ factory in Ivano-Frankivsk. It makes gas meters and other pieces of equipment, but only functions at 10% of its possible level. We are trying to give this ailing territory a second chance – there are lectures there on urbanism, accommodation is provided for architects and urban activists, and we have even organised a festival on the site. From the 10th of July to the 14th, we will be hosting the ‘Urban Scan Session’ festival there. Among other things, we are going to be discussing how to solve the problems of a city with the help of art. We have a lot of plans for the future.
By Samira Abbasova