The West Bohemian city of Plzeň is known for many things, but culture is probably not the first that would spring to mind. But the industrial city is seeking to change all that as one of only two European capital cities of culture in 2015. And, as Chris Johnstone reports, preparations for the Czech city’s place in the European cultural spotlight are well underway.
With a budget of around 420 million crowns, the organisers have put the onus on events that will appeal to locals, Czechs, and visitors from neighbouring countries and the rest of Europe. Jiří Sulženko is the programme director.
‘The main aim is to transform the city of industry and beer into a city of industry, beer, and culture and to really start to change things so that the talent in the city can be transformed into creative industries and really be sustained in the future and start a new vision for Plzeň. We are focusing not only on audiences from Plzeň and the region but also Czech audiences and also very practically on German and Austrian visitors which are in a radius of 300 kilometers, which is the main focus of our efforts. Of course we are open for all audiences from Europe and around the world. We are travelling to tourist fairs and presenting the programme for general audiences from Europe.’
The circus, traditional and new, one-man shows to large troupes, will be one of around eight main themes of the programme with the organisers hoping to tap into the enthusiasm that the medium can evoke early on in the year.
Jiří Sulženko again: ‘The reason why we chose this form of art is that it is very accessible so that we would like to build up new audiences for arts in Plzeň and the region. It is easy to set up because Plzeň does not have much infrastructure. Se we have chosen circus tents to be there and available as a venue. And it is also possible to put it in different locations to show off Plzeň and to be very close to the audiences.’
In fact, circus troupes will be honing in on the city from France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and Canada.
But the city is also seeking to present some of its cultural personalities and jewels to the wider world. There will be a special exhibition featuring multi-talented puppet maker, sculptor, animator, and illustrator Jiří Trnka. Four interiors designed by world famous architect Adolf Loos will be on public display, and there will also be an exhibition of Plzeň-born Bohumír Lindauer. He left for New Zealand in the mid-nineteenth century and painted the native Maoris as if they were European bourgeois. The collection of painting is leaving New Zealand for the very first time.
Some new venues, such as a European house of culture, Světovar, are being constructed for the year of culture but in many cases local factories and spaces, including parts of the city’s famous brewery, will be dusted down and transformed for the duration. Local spaces will also be transformed by street art and massive puppets will pop up in the city and surroundings.