Institutional Diaries: Július Koller Society #1


In their first Institutional diary, Július Koller Society reflects on the Islands of Kinship gathering in Bratislava.


Summer is slowly fading and our heads are still hibernating, even if the “to do lists” of our calendars are already calling loudly for attention. At the end of October, we will host the first meeting of all partner organizations of the IoK project. We signed up for this task due to both the logistically strategic location of the city of Bratislava and expedience of the facilities of the Nová Cvernovka Cultural Center, where our organization The Július Koller Society (JKS) is based. 

During the last months of the pandemic, we all adapted to wider use of the online space, but have also come to realize its limits. Casual conversations, gestures and shared experience often help us create a certain bond and help bring about new ideas and collaborations. We were looking forward to meeting all the members of the newly created “kinship” for the first time after all the joint zoom calls and emails we had previously exchanged.

The main goal of the meeting is to get to know each other better, to clarify the basic points of the project together and to participate in two afternoon blocks devoted to the core topics of the IoK project – sustainability and inclusion. Although both of these topics are very close to us, given our capacities and financial possibilities we are still trying to deal with them rather instinctively, and mainly on a less visible, non-public level. Due to the specificity of the artistic environment, we decided to invite both expert theoreticians and those who have practical experience with artistic practice to lead the individual blocks. After a minor research conducted among friends and acquaintances with experience in non-profit (thank you Kristína, Zuzana, Sigi), we managed to find suitable lecturers for both blocks. Nevertheless, the topic of sustainability in particular proved a major challenge and in retrospect we would have opted to look for suitable candidates even as far as six months ahead. 


In addition to workshops, our program included information providing blocks led by leaders of the SJCH organizations and joint activities that were supposed to inspire us to work together and create common experience and bonds. Given the very full schedule, we decided that the place of our first meeting on Thursday morning will be the downtown café of the Gallery of the City of Bratislava where we had breakfast together and presented the opening block of the project. From there we moved to the nearby Kunsthalle Bratislava, where the curator Julius Pristauz guided us through the inspiring exhibition “Something is Burning”, focusing on the issues of burnout in personal and professional environments, with an emphasis on the position of queer subjects. After a guided tour, we moved together to Nová Cvernovka, about 15 minutes away by tram. The rest of the program would take place there. The area of Nová Cvernovka, surrounded by a garden, with the facilities of a local bistro, a café, and a dance and concert hall, provided us with facilities for work and rest without a need to move.  After the afternoon block on sustainability, we had a joint warm-up with the dancer Aďa and then visited together the dance performance “Tatsu” held in the premises of the “Telocvičňa”, a former gym turned into an artist-in-residence center dedicated to the performing arts, where the Friday program of our meeting. 


We started the morning program together with a PR section, followed by a great workshop on inclusion, led by Katarína Slezáková, who has since January also been a team member coordinating inclusiveness in the JKS, together with Zuzana Jakalová, who has many years of experience in introducing inclusive practices into artistic practice and also deals with the topic in her academic work. We greatly appreciated in particular the active form of the workshop, which gave us a quick introduction to the activities and approaches of individual organizations and provided us with a great basis for further discussions and general project setup. During the day we had planned a few freer activities that were intended to help us with brainstorming and relax with mindfulness excercises.


In retrospect, we have come to realize that our program was perhaps too ambitious and taking into account the number of topics and tasks that needed to be discussed, it would have been wiser to reduce the number of activities and leave more space for rest and discussions. What we found very useful was having invited external collaborators. These were Dušan, who helped us with taking notes and technical support, as well as Magda, who helped by babysitting two children. Due to the size of our team, we have to make our plans with a fair amount of precision and we do not always manage to foresee all details ahead of time. Should we ever organize a similar meeting again, we would definitely consider hiring a moderator/coordinator who would help us manage the program and discussions on site and be instrumental in having us adhere to the schedule. Given the number of participants and the number of tasks planned, it was vital to do just that, yet this was in practice not always the case and any assistance in this respect would surely have been extremely helpful. 

Overall, however, we were happy to get to know each other a little bit over such a short time and we are very much looking forward to another chance to meet in person in Helsinki. 

Image: Natálie Zajačíková / JKS