The Art center project started as an initiative of Association ONEJ to establish an innovative space of exchange of ideas in the field of culture, art and development – as a space for creativity, generating developmental projects.
The project of Art center officially started in 1999 when Association ONEJ gained financial support of EU Programme Phare-CREDO for cross-border co-operation. ONEJ – Association of Prekmurje Initiative conceived the project, gained financial support of European Comission and executed building of the Art center: renovation and transformation of ex-Yugoslavian border guardhouse into first slovenian residential artistic center.
Art center as an institution was established in 2000 after ONEJ succesfully concluded the EU project and in 2001 received an award for the best regional project.
But our journey gets complicated right at the beginning and continues up to this day.
2000 – 2004
Ups & downs & turnarounds
As one of the partners in the project was also Municipality of Moravske Toplice, who bought the guardhouse from the Ministry of Defense within the project, they became one amongst the establishers.
According to the contract with EU all assests of the project belong to the main partner, but ONEJ wanted to co-operate constructively further. When the institution was established, ONEJ gave part of its property and relative majority in the board to the Municipality of Moravske Toplice as means of a constructive dialogue and continuation of the project.
Soon the problems started. Mayor of Moravske Toplice Franc Cipot broke his part of agreement and never proposed the agreed co-financing of Art center to municipal council. Art center was left without financial support to cover basic costs. At the same time public local and national media pogroms started by few members of the municipal council.
In 2001 Art center took a loan for building the studios from Public fund for regional development through Hungarian cultural association Antal Ferenc as artistic studios were not possible to be built in the EU project, but were needed to start and develop different artistic activities. Guarantee for the so-called ‘minority’ loan were Art center premises.
Association Antal Ferenc, whose vice-president was also one of the municipal representatives, gave loan management to Municipality of Moravske Toplice. Studios were only built till 3rd construction phase but not according to the architectural plans, and as the construction inspection discovered, also 4m shorter as planned.
Since the breach of contract between ONEJ and the mayor, the loan assignment never took place and in 2005 the Public fund for regional development filed a demand for Art center premises to be sold on a public auction.
2004 – 2006
From local to national & international incident
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Until 2004 Art center was in deep financial crisis. Only then, still in small extent, Art center gained support from national institutions (Ministry of Culture, Public fund for cultural activities, Youth Office).
Despite successful realization of numerous national and – especially- international projects (European Cultural Foundation, EU Culture & EU Youth), building of residential part of the complex and growing cultural programs, Municipality of Moravske Toplice illegaly appoints a new manager in 2006, through majority in the board and without approval of the main establisher of Art center ONEJ.
With the help of municipal lawyer, the newly installed manager Pika Petra Pevec Rituper blocks all Art center’s activities. On 30th November 2006 members of ONEJ who were responsible for all projects and development of Art center since the beginning, were evicted by police from the Art center premises by a court order, claiming they were causing damage to the institution.
All projects immediately stopped and even EVS volunteers, living and working at the Art center by the EU Youth programme contract and guest artists, were evicted by force.
2006 – 2008
Exile in Ljubljana
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Just 14 days after the eviction, Art center team was taking part at the U3 Triennial of contemporary art in Modern gallery in Ljubljana, presenting research about residential art centers in Europe and organized a press conference about the ongoing events about Art center.
Art center was empty and abandoned for 18 months till end of April 2008. During this period when the new management sealed the premises, Art center faced several thefts and break-ins. All tools and equipment in the foundry, computers and other technical equipment, furniture, building materials stored in studios etc. were stolen.
The damage was not only material – Art center faced distrust from national and international co-financers because of unfinished projects, but also the whole ‘shebang’ of eviction and media pogroms stained the name and reputation of the center.
During 2006-2008, the Art center team was in exile in Ljubljana. Granted an empty space in building Hlevi, a part of the Autonomous Cultural Center Metelkova Mesto in Ljubljana, the Art center team built Artists’ Asylum. The space was completely renovated and used by the team of Art center during a year and a half in exile.
Return of the Art center team and ONEJ was possible because of the legal battle, taking place since 2006. Art center team and ONEJ were charged with numerous lawsuits, which were abandoned by the court.
During this time ONEJ and Art center team established a new institution in Ljubljana and joined the old institution with the new one. The board of Art center was formed based on actual contributions of the establishers and thus ONEJ gained back majority in the board.
One of the Art center team members graduated and became acting manager.
2008 – 2010
Wind of change
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Since the return to the Art center premises in the end of April 2008 the whole team started to renovate, equip, maintain and develop the centers’ facilities and restarted with programs. But the Art center project is still under threat.
Public Fund for regional development is trying to sell the premises on a public auction since the debt was still not possible to pay back. The Art center team started a campaign in hope that the government will finally show support and recognition towards its relevance and importance in terms of international artistic exchange programs, co-operation and promotion within the least developed region of Slovenia.
The campaign was joined by numerous individuals and organizations from Slovenia and abroad, who had been co-operating with Art center. The government of Republic of Slovenia heard our voice and in the summer of 2009 accepted the resolution that Art center’s activities should be maintained and therefore provided financial support to repay the debt.The contract between the Public Fund, Ministry of Culture and Art center was signed in December 2009.
Broken promises and back to black
In exchange for the pay-off Art center had to give up the ownership of the premises. To secure minimal conditions for the functioning of the institution, the manager of Art center – even though the value of the premises was much higher than the debt itself – accepted this offer without the authorization of the establishers of the institution as written in the establisher’s contract.
An oral agreement between the manager of Art center and representatives of the Ministry of Culture was made – the contract about the debt pay-off was shortly to be followed by a contract which would give the Art center team the right to use and maintain the Art center premises and independently continue with the development of the programs for at least 15 years.
To reach conditions upon which such contract could follow, Art center gained status of organization working in public interest in the field of culture. Nevertheless, the aforementioned contract between the Ministry of Culture and Art center is still missing untill this day. Reasons for the withdrawal of the agreement remain unknown despite numerous request from the Art center and Association ONEJ.
It has been now years since the Art center team and ONEJ brought Art center back to life. But still we haven’t managed to reach minimal working conditions required – this will happen only after we sign a contract with the Ministry of Culture about usage of the Art center premises.
2012 – 2016
This situation (formal indistinctiveness, continued insecurity, etc.) unfortunately holds back most of the activities Art center is meant for. Therefore we are mainly working on reaching agreement with the government and Ministry of Culture as the formal manager of the premises and to enable further independent functioning of the institution whose mission is to ensure freedom of expression.