Bucharest is the 8th largest city in the EU, a vibrant hub of the Romanian culture scene and a monument of communist-era pomposity mingling happily in an architectural hodgepodge. Massive government buildings and equally massive museums line the district almost neck to neck, and the culture scene is visually present on every wall. We had the chance to talk with Irina Marinescu, dance artist and producer of the independent NGO Developing Art

photo: Gabriel Coarna

What’s the current situation in performing arts and funding in Romania?

As far as contemporary dance goes, it’s pretty new. It’s growing in Romania, but theatre and ballet are still the things people usually go to see and understand. But those are changing as well, there’s a strong independent scene for versions of theatre, such as political and social theatre. And all this kind of intersects with contemporary dance. We are talking very much about performance and installation. So, we have the traditional approach, where there’s only dance and it’s transposed from movement, and we have these independent choreographers who are using theatre and dance together, adding speech to performances. There is a lot of fluidity, experimenting and new ideas.

As for funding, there are two calls for national funding by the national Cultural Funds administration, and they are open to not just dance, but to music, theatre, preserving architecture or doing renovations in certain heritage sites, and the sums are not that big, something like 12 000 Euro, and that is for everything. So everytime you produce a show, you have to go back to basics: collecting the team, finding the coordinator, having a communications or social media person, and so on. And this means that most productions are cluttering around this biannual financing, but the rest of the year needs to be financed as well. So, people work in several projects. It’s not ideal, especially when compared to some European countries where there is a statute for cultural work.

The pandemic made it clear that cultural workers need more legal rights, in the form of healthcare, pension, that stuff. When we had gotten grants to do a tour and couldn’t travel, we had to come up with new ideas, rehearsing and performing via Zoom or something. It wasn’t really ideal, but it helped putting some pressure on a governmental level, as to say that there are all these people working and paying taxes, but they can’t do it – they are being left out. 

Do you feel like there is antipathy towards culture work?

I think there is some misunderstanding, a wrong perception towards culture work – it’s thought we do what we love, but 60-70% of the time isn’t a labour of love. I mean, I simply wasn’t dreaming of doing budgets, or dealing with the legal aspects of being a co-founder of an NGO. But there’s progress and a lot of ideas, and I think we’re fairly stable right now, generally speaking. But there’s also tension in finding new audiences, how to bring in new people to understand [what we do]. So, this cultural mediation is something we really need to do, and are trying to do. 

I also think there are at certain levels this resistance to change or trying to preserve the classical approach to performing arts which I think always happens. You can’t have the new without the old, so you also need the classical form, but don’t be so desperate to keep it and just stifle everything that’s going on and ignore that there is continuous change and learning or allowing experiments in order to be able to understand how to accommodate or transform the classical in a way that it can be understood by the new generation watching it.

When we started, we realised that we have to do the work. There’s this misconception of artists that they sit in their tower and wait for the inspiration to hit, but there is a lot of work in making your art and making it available to people. Making it relevant to people.

Where are you now with Developing Art and where are you headed?

We have been developing very naturally. Alina’s background is in visual arts, and one of our first projects was called Exposing Movement, where we had dancers, visual artists and choreographers doing analogue photography – shooting on film, developing the film, how does the image come to life? And we thought that the process isn’t that different with art in general, and took the name from there – Developing Art. So, we want to bring to life the things that interest us and talk about, and at the same time mediate and educate people about art and culture. We do various kinds of workshops and research other fields, and then bring the information to our work – I tend to speak with psychologists, for example. We now have a portfolio and an identity that helps in applying for funds successfully. But, to be honest, we were very, very lucky to have found each other, we work so well together.

I think what really kept us going and I think what really motivates people is the quality of their relationships. And also of their work relationships, the goals that they have together and how they can work around their goals. So I’m really grateful. Whenever I get the chance to have this kind of context where you can communicate, you can have freedom of expression and freedom of making mistakes. I mean that’s also important, that’s how we learn.

one of Alina Usurelu‘s photographs from the Exposing Movement project

Let’s talk about the EU Dance Hack, where Developing Art is a partner with us for developing the Oulu Dance Hack methods in an international context. 

Yeah, it’s going to be a lengthy process – two years. It sometimes happens that when I’m working on something, producing or creating, there is more value in the process than the output. I think it’s impossible not to be because you spend so much time and energy. I value it even if the output is bad – if the process is good I’ll be happy with that. If I enjoy it, if I feel really good in the process or if I’m connected with what’s going on, I think I’ll be able to transmit it to the person seeing the output for the first time. 

I find it interesting because in 2019, my focus was much more on the connection between technology and dance. There’s always a lot of discussion because people have really different views about technology. But I’m seeing things differently now, I’ve gotten really deep into dance therapy, so I’m curious what my focus will be this time. Maybe I need to look into the belly and not at the big, flashy things.

This is always interesting for me – my partner jokes about me because sometimes I would just look at something and have that “how can I use that?” look on my face. Yeah, I’m curious about things and finding ways about mixing them, how they can trigger someone’s imagination or make some change. I’m not talking about life altering events, but I think there are always little seeds that can be planted in everyone’s work and they can grow or not. But each time, each encounter, there’s this change in relationship. Make a difference.

photo – Andreea Sasaran

Developing Art is a Cultural NGO dedicated to facilitating artistic processes to the public and to improving the relation between artists and public. DA is based in Bucharest and since 2017 has developed and coordinated a number of interdisciplinary cultural projects that have as priorities contemporary dance, mixed media, education and research and visual arts.

Irina Marinescu has worked for The National Dance Center Bucharest and participated at the Cultural Management Academy 2019, is cofounder of Developing Art and currently she is an independent artist and cultural manager.

Irina was talking with Pasi Pirttiaho in Bucharest and online

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