We were testing the ability of art to change the world

Vladimir Us told about development of public space in Moldova and explained why city’s budget should be allocated by local residents.


Yuriy Kruchak interviewed Vladimir Us

August 29, 2014
Bialystok, Poland


Vladimir Us – is a curator of Young Artists Association Oberliht in Moldova. Vladimir studied painting in Chisinau, cultural management in Belgrade, participated in the international program for curators in Grenoble.

Yuriy Kruchak: How many years does Association Oberliht exist? What is its structure?

Vladimir Us: Our association was founded in 2000. I was a third year student of Academy of Music, Theatre and Fine Arts in Chisinau. The purpose of our organization was assistance to young artists to present themselves, as students didn’t have opportunities to exhibit their works. Those times we knew about civil society little, and association was the tool for practical purposes.

Initially, there were 10-12 artists in the collective. We prepared various exhibitions. For example, thanks to the association, we got a place in the historical museum for free. We have exhibitions in different cities and villages of Moldova. One project we even made in Transnistria, then we wanted to show, what young Moldovan artists were doing, and also we wanted to see what young artists in Transnistria were doing.

We also made the site and newsletter, which now is called Oberlist, with its help we informed youth about opportunities of participation in various exhibitions and educational programs. This information resource has grown, and now it’s used not only in Moldova.

Later, many artists from our collective moved to other countries by economic reasons, some of them started to work in other spheres. Experience obtained within first few years helps us today to realize complex international projects.

Since 2006-2007 we started to rebuild activity of our organization. We began to actualize the theme of public space. We didn’t have such space but we needed it as a place for work and a place to show what we do. To some extent, it pushed us on the street. Now Oberliht is a group of people with different professions and different experience. We not only organize exhibitions, but also think about transformations of public space, development of the region, the state, and society.

In the first decade of the 21 century we began to invite local and foreign artists to work in public space. Thus we started our residence program, and we’re continuing it up to now. In 2006-2008 we prepared a series of projects «Interventions»: artists worked in public places in order to change something there. So, we investigated how art can change the world.

Afterwards, there was a project «Сhiosc». It was a platform installed in the public space in Chisinau, such a place of interaction between artists and community. That platform was implemented by Stefan Rusu. He proposed to make an open flat from concrete, designed according to principles of frame-and-panel houses. This construction still stands in front of the Department of Culture of Chisinau, and work for artistic and social purposes.

When we started to use public space in Chisinau, we realized that it’s also attractive for businessmen and politicians, who have their personal interests. Thus, the public space is a place of conflict between different groups, and needs of local residents, who use these spaces, are totally ignored. In this way, it gave us a theme that still has been developing in our works. Now we collaborate not only with artists, but also with architects, sociologists, historians, activists. All these professional groups are aware of the public space, how it works, and they design it. Together with sociologists we explore needs of residents of the particular location, with historians we study the past of the certain terrain, we work with activists, when destruction or disappearance threatens to public places because of somebody’s personal interests.


Yuriy Kruchak: How do different social groups influence the activity of the association? How do these communities interact with each other?

Vladimir Us: We form a particular team for each project. Different people unite due to projects. The association is rather a platform for group of programs. It’s not an institution, but it allows initiating projects and engaging lots of people.

We don’t want to create an institution on the base of the association, because it would make work more bureaucratic. We try to function horizontally. We form new team for each our projects, and all teams are equal in taking decisions. The government should have the priority to create institutions. Institutions should protect artists, give them opportunity for development.


Yuriy Kruchak: What programs besides residences do Association Oberliht realize?

Vladimir Us: A residence is just one of the formats we are working with. Within this format we invite artists, architects, anthropologist to share their experiences. In this way, representatives of different professions explore an unfamiliar context. But in the same time this program is educational for us, as we realize principles of work with different people by communication with them.

Other programs are connected with «Open Flat» in a frame of «Сhiosc». In 2009 we started a program of open-air projections, where we demonstrate films about public place, urbanism and activism. Political cinema is the new topic for us, in this way we’d like to tell that politics concerns not just political parties but also usual citizens. Also in «Open Flat» we show video-works of artists from different countries.

One more project is the groups for reading. Different people read scientific literature about transformation of public space. There are philosophy and sociology books among others. The library of public place is based on it.

Last few years we’re making sociological interviews with residents of places, where we want to work. I wouldn’t consider it as a particular program, it’s a constant process we are involved in.


Yuriy Kruchak: How big is community you are working with?

Vladimir Us: Local art-community is very small, independent institutions of Chisinau can be counted by fingers of a hand. Our audience is also small, and this is a problem that should be solved. One way to do it is the art education. Center of contemporary art in Chisinau has ideas connected with this question and we help them to develop this direction.

We work not only with art communities, but all these groups are small. There are lots of students of the architects in Chisinau but not many from them work with public place. We try to expand this group by inviting “our” architects with lectures in different universities, so, they inform students about things we are keen on.


Yuriy Kruchak: How would you describe your political views and, accordingly, position of the platform, you are developing?

Vladimir Us: Association Oberliht is the nonpolitical organization, but our work can be considered as political activity. We try to work on two levels. On “bottom” level we communicate with people and communities. On “upper” level we connect with media, and deliver necessary information to somebody who takes decisions in the cultural sphere. This work is connected with shaping of cultural policy and participation in economical discussions. Also we regularly make propositions about improving cultural policy in the country and present them to the Ministry of Culture. Recommendations mainly connected with support of independent art organizations and with development of urban space. One more aspect is the art education. We develop our activity in these three sectors. Also we’re going to develop other directions in the future.


Yuriy Kruchak: How many people work in your organization?

Vladimir Us: At the present moment it’s a group of three people and the accountant. Also some volunteers and trainees help us. In addition, we collaborate with specialists from different spheres.


Yuriy Kruchak: How do you take a decision about launching a new project? How difficult is to shape a new team?

Vladimir Us: Decisions about each project are taken by the team. We have a supervisory board from artists, who are members of the association. The supervisory board ensures implementation of particular ideas, namely, support of young artists. Youth are engaged in all projects of the association, and we try to help them. Besides, we want to help society in general.


Yuriy Kruchak: Your association exists nearly 14 years. What are the main results?

Vladimir Us: There were two periods in the association. Firstly, it was a collective of artists, who organized exhibitions in different cities, and then we start to work with public spaces. The second stage already has results. We’ve realized projects that still functioning, and created programs that demonstrate results.

We are very small organization, and it’s difficult to measure what we did in terms of quality. It should be at least 20-30 organizations in order to have some obvious results.


Yuriy Kruchak: How difficult is to develop Oberliht? Is there any support from authority or society?

Vladimir Us: Our organization is financially independent, we always rely on personal sources. And now the association is developing thanks to people who invest their funds in this activity. But now it’s easier time for us as we’ve learned how to collaborate with international funds to develop our programs. We’ve collected human and financial sources that allow us to work for ourselves. Firstly, we were just surviving, now situation is more stable, though still not good.

The support is the task for the future. For several years we’ve been trying to work on educational program. We give the theory, in order to form knowledge about transformations of public space, and factors that influence on these processes. Now we’re able to form more adequate recommendations and propose some concrete strategies to the authority.


Yuriy Kruchak: What are the mechanisms of fundraising?

Vladimir Us: There are some international projects in European Union to support cultural initiatives. Also we’re trying to apply local programs of financing culture and propose to increase the quantity of local foundations which support culture.

We haven’t proposed any legislative reforms yet, but we constantly inform authorities about activity of independent organizations, which, as we think, the state should support. Also there is an initiative, not ours, to create cultural fund of Moldova. Such fund potentially could finance independent culture and initiatives of NGO organizations. Moreover, there is drafted a bill, by which at the end of the year the people should redirect 2% of their taxes to support activity of certain organizations. Besides, we think about participative budget, which could function on the local level. Thus, certain percentage of local budget will cover initiatives of local communities.

Theoretically, the city budget should be participative on hundred percent, but let’s start with a small. This model is functioning in Poland, many cities there have commissions that explore propositions from citizens, and distribute the money between different local initiatives. From the one side residents are involved in the life of the city. From the other side, the budget of the city is distributed much more effectively, because people know better what they need to change in their backyard. Participative budget is more effective and democratic.