The lively activity of the European Capital of Culture 2012 in Maribor, Slovenia, has sparked the creation of the Centre for Alternative and Autonomous Production (CAAP), connecting social and environmental organisations and initiatives in Maribor, and striving to support self-sufficient and engaged citizens.
After the extremely busy cultural activity in the past year the atmosphere in Maribor and its partner cities in the project European Capital of Culture (ECOC) is calm now. According to the representatives of the Maribor 2012 – European Capital of Culture organisation it is time to evaluate the project and to ensure its long-term effects. The City Municipality of Maribor, on the other hand, intends to reduce, if not completely abolish, the already scarce funds for the final phase of the project. How many and what kind of long-term results the project has brought cannot be said yet, but it is more than obvious that it has contributed something to the changing atmosphere in Maribor.
Claiming that ECOC had an impact on the development of the protest movement in Slovenia requires some reserve, but its role in promoting deliberation of alternatives to the established patterns of thinking, acting, problem solving and production cannot be denied. Maribor’s most visible sustainable acquisition which grew out of the ECOC project is the Centre for Alternative and Autonomous Production – CAAP. “It arose from the programme section called ‘Urban Furrows’ (‘Urbane brazde’) and is an umbrella organisation which ensures the continuation of this programme section’s mission through its individual members. It consists of five legal entities that were either formed or consolidated in the past two years – association Rizom, local eco food cooperative Dobrina, Varuhi semen (association for preservation of cultural plants biodiversity), Frekvenca and Maribor Cycling Network. They were established together and have since their beginnings in 2011 been evolving collectively,” says Karolina Babič, manager of CAAP.
The aim of ‘Urban Furrows’ was to provide CAAP with spatial capacities for joint production and creation in order to strengthen their local importance and positive outcomes of their mutual efforts. Originally, CAAP was meant to be located in a building of the former railway colony leased from the City Municipality of Maribor. According to the possible disbursement of EU funds for reconstruction of cultural heritage the building restoration and revitalisation plan was prepared. But in the end the municipality terminated the contract, i. a., because of opposition from the district community to whom the building was assigned virtually at the same time as the original agreement with Urban Furrows was set. The district community opposed the establishment of CAAP on this location because they wanted to use the building for their own programme. Supposedly the part of CAAP’s programme connected with empowerment of immigrant and Roma communities aroused dissatisfaction of local residents as well.
“We wanted to place CAAP on the right bank of the Drava River which lacks such infrastructure in general,” says Karolina Babič. The ECOC programme did not pay as much attention to the right bank, where most citizens live, as to the left bank with the city centre. As the City Municipality of Maribor, despite many empty industrial buildings, did not manage to offer CAAP any other space for temporary use, they were forced to rent a place on the market. They are now situated in two large storehouses sized 800 m² at 42, Valvasor Street in Studenci district. In the 50s and 60s the premises were part of a textile factory and later on a furniture store. Babič says that they were completely renovated with minimal budget and volunteer work; industrial windows were replaced with conventional ones, additional walls were built, electricity cables were laid, etc. So that they now comprise offices of individual organisations, a large communal event space, a bicycle repair shop, a seed library and a Dobrina cooperative grocery. Although individual associations and cooperatives operate independently, each with its own programme and its own resources, they do not share only the rent costs but also some of the projects (which they want to multiply in the future) and, most importantly, a vision.
The basic mission of this juncture of social and environmental projects and ideas is, according to Babič, to promote self-sufficiency in all perspectives. From food – with the seed library and by shortening the journey from pitchfork to fork with the Goods Cooperative – to transport through efforts of the Maribor Cycling Network organising mechanic workshops and offering people the possibility of repairing their own bicycles. CAAP also offers desk-sharing to encourage creative use of community space and endeavours to change it into a place of constructive discussion. The partner organisations organise events to promote engagement of the local community as well as events relevant to the whole city.
An interesting contrast to the livable centre, which aims at connecting with the local community, especially with the social part of its programme, is the construction pit of the planned megalomaniacal project of ECOC called Maribor Cultural Centre (MAKS) directly behind the building where CAAP is now located. The relationship between the two and the tragedy of lost opportunities is illustrated by a photo wallpaper on one of the walls in the centre showing the gray construction pit with CAAP members in brightly coloured raincoats walking in it. “Sometimes we joke that we do not have MAKS, but we have CAAP!” says Karolina Babič.
Link to the original article (in Slovenian)