The main organizer of the event was The Dance Centre (Vancouver, Kanada). I got in discussion with the executive director of it, Mirna Žagar who happened to be also very active in her country of origin, Croatia’s dance life as well. I got to know exciting parallels and contrasts.
– When did you move to Vancouver and since when are you the executive director of The Dance Centre?
– I moved to Vancouver initially to join my husband after the war in Croatia in 1995 and then slowly got involved with the dance scene initially as volunteer then applied for the job of Director and started in 1998.
– Did I understand right that you are a founder of it?
– I am not the founder of The Dance Centre, the organization has been there since 1976, i am however with The Dance Centre on the project of building the building and involved in all major aspects from design to fundraising from the beginning. When I came to the organization the ideas was already there, some money about 25% was in place, however they had lost the land and the project had to start all over again, or to return the funds and give up. So the decision was made to start all over....we had to find the land which had to be in the City of Vancouver (as a condition of a grant the organization was promised), we had to convince the funders we can still do it, we were not allowed to purchase the land or any property (as a condition of other grants pending), so the challenge was multifold. We got lucky (with some passionate supporters backing) to receive the land and building of Scotiabank as a donation (Hence the name of the building)... it took a blitz period of time to get pledges in and seal the deal so we broke ground in 1999 and opened doors in 2001. By 2007 we retired all the mortgage we had and today run a fully operational building that is debt free and has contingency to sustain major repairs. In a short period of time we had found the land, we raised over $11milion dollars for a building which at the time (with previous investments into past architectural drawings and lost prior project) amounted to a total cost of 12.5MilCAD$.
– What percentage is the for profit support to run the building and the programs? What other income helps you to have the total budget?
– Our joint budget is just over 2million dollars (combination of building and programs). In the case of the building operations 100% is generated from rentals in the case of the programming side 30% is from public sector, 31% from fundraising from mostly individual donors and the balance comes from earned revenue (combination of member services, ticket sales, workshops and building management fee).
– Since when do you organize Dance In Vancouver – did you start this platform?
– I indeed did start the program even before joining the Dance Centre, I was visiting at the time Vancouver and was a member of the Artistic Advisory Council of the Rencontres Choregraphiques Seine Saint-Denis in Paris, and there were at the time national platforms and in larger countries there would at times be two to address the geographic scope. So I proposed that there be a Vancouver platform in addition to an existing Montreal platform. When the Rencontres transformed into its current format we continued as Dance in Vancouver. so this was its 12th edition (biennial)>
– From where did you get the support last year to host international guests? Am I right, it was the first time in the history of DIV?
– The support for the first time came for the regional funder BC Arts Council and the relatively new fund supporting international presence of BC artists. This indeed was the first time we were given any official support to undertake and support attendance of international presenters. Until this time we had to find our own funds (fundraising) and were very limited in how many people we could invite. Thanks to this new funds we were able to bring in a larger rnumber of international's presenters and dance professional and this has significantly contributed to making the event more visible.
– Do you think you can keep this support to bring over international guests in the future as well?
– We hope that the government will recognize that this program is worthwhile and that they will continue to secure funds and grow these as BC funding of the arts has traditionally suffered for a very long time, we in the arts welcome that it seems to turn more to support the developments within the sector and its ability to connect to the world. There is lots of talent and potential !
– How long have you been running the program of Zagreb Dance Centre?
– In initiated the idea of a centre for dance in Zagreb (along with a network across Croatia) and advocated for this throughout the 1980's *as a result of this we now see also the Mediteranneian Centre for Dance in Istria. And out of this rose the idea of the Centre in Zagreb. It was a long a winding battle often misunderstood by both the political spheres and the community. Due to the war the development was stalled, and that was one of the reasons that after the war and the slow reaction of the City to go back to the project all was stalled. However, The organization I founded in early 1990, Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance initiated the vision for a centre for dance already in early 1990's, the idea picked up as the organization continued to lobby and I believe partially because of my success of building a centre in Vancouver there was a bit of trust that this is viable. There were many misunderstandings of what it means to have an independent organization not for profit manage a venue that physically belonged to the city but on behalf of an art form. I volunteered my help and advise and brought in many colleagues from across Europe to advise with architects *some suggestions were kept others were dictated by funds and structural realities. The Centre was opened in 2009 and our organization run it very successfully for just over 7 years when we were effectively evicted. Our organization provided 50% of funding to operate and run programs we engaged with numerous EU projects and dance houses and exchange of residences and developed an audience. The same model I believe still continues, however fully funded by the City through a municipal theatre that took over, it hasn't from what I hear developed further and no more investments have been made into maintaining the structure or support. The eviction cost the Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance quite a bit as the staff lost jobs, and also funding continues to erode, in part I believe in an effort to obliviate the efforts and impacts this organization has had on the development of the dance scene in Croatia, something that is unfortunately a symptom of how current cultural policies (or the lack of) and individuals behind current developments due to the lack of understanding of how and what it means to have a vibrant not for profit, non-government sector means and how vitally important this sector is in conjunction with the public sphere which cannot always fulfil the needs of a dynamic and ever evolving spheres in society. In Croatia today, unfortunately, most of the cultural activity undertaken by the independent sector is being vilified, funding is being denied and it is becoming extremely difficult to operate. Young people are discouraged to engage with such structures as they in general feel demoralized with perspectives moving forward and not only in the domain of the cultural sphere which is likely suffering the most in the current political and economic climate in Croatia.
The Dance Centre in Zagreb is now run by a municipal theatre. We are not engaged unless renting the space.
– What is the difference and common things between the two centres?
– The difference was in the climate and context that both centres operated at the time. Canada is a democracy and with a very well founded principle in which the work of not for profits is seen as a vital contribution, administration of any type of business is relatively simple and all is very transparent. In Croatia as in many of the CEE countries unfortunately the value of the not for profit sector if highly ignored, administration of any type of business of overly complicated and the conditions of doing business in Croatia is highly nontransparent with so many barriers and slow processes. Comparing the two centres is not easy, though some overlap of vision and potential certainly existed and primarily in the notion of connecting to the world, being open to ideas and supportive of the art form as an imperative. In Croatia, based on positive experiences in Canada, I tried to implement the notion that the pubic and private sector could partner in the achievements of a greater good. The model we carried (not without risk!) in Croatia proved that it was possible (and no, it was not at all easy) to generate 50% of required funds to operate and program and develop. Had we been given a bit more encouragement it would have been possible to do better. However at the same time this model only proved how the civic venues, theatres were badly managed, and how much all with the cultural sphere depended on the public sector even if they said they were independent. The model in place I now see was not something that either side of the dance sector understood or was willing to support (each for their own reasons). However, comparisons are almost impossible as the context is so very different. At the time we run the centre we supported annually through our EU projects and collaborations over 20 croatian artists to engage internationally, over 50 were supported to use the centre for free annually, we produced/ presented over 200 shows annually. There was no debt to society, the city. I now see that the eviction was not only politically motivated and a result of ignorance and lack of understanding of how this type of spaces operate function, Zagreb also saw several other larger, more visible similar ventures disappear such as the Zagreb Film Festival as most recent… the result of developers greed as both of these entities sit on prime development land and likely there are plans underway to either appoint politically likeminded persons to manage it, and then in time to give over and repurpose – only time will tell. It is still a very painful memory and experience for me personally, but more so a testament to how a community can bring down its own potential for lack of understanding and the will to engage in communicate until it is too late. When the centre was working well everyone seemed happy, the moment the model was jeopardized it was fascinating to see that hardly anyone of the many artists we had supported stood up for the organization that made all of this possible, and most likely as several of my colleagues told me out of fear of retaliation, and many others hoped that they would be appointed to run the space. The takeover was carefully orchestrated and in our desire to do good and prove we can we failed to acknowledge the reality unfolding. Sadly. It is now behind me and I hope that I can continue to engage and assist the developments in Croatia through other avenues.
– Since when do you organize the indigenous focus during DIV (or maybe all year long)?
– From the first days of the work and programming of The Dance Centre we have been very open and supportive of the work of indigenous dance artists. So initially the program was inclusive as well but the indigenous dance community was not as developed as it is today and with more resources now so productions are increasing and are more and more diverse and interesting. We had initiated a program called the Aboriginal DanceLab of which Raven Spriti was one of the more active participants and went on to carry this program. Over time it all evolved quite organically to have special the focus some 3 editions ago, and it grew each year. The core intent is to show not only the specifics of the art forms, preoccupation and put more focus on this evolving and dynamic dance community, but also to provide space for the general public and also our international and national visitors to appreciate and learn more about the burning issues regarding the history, the efforts for reconciliation underway and the need and desire to grow a stronger and also vibrant dance community in our case, but in general a stronger society and engage through arts in cross cultural dialogues.
– Is it something special you initiated or in general Kanada is paying attention with special care on this?
– The Dance Centre takes great pride that we have been actively promoting, supporting and engaging in this development since the very opening of Scotiabank Dance Centre and the start of our more extensive programming efforts since 2001. It is perhaps since 2010 that Canada has been investing into this particular cultural sphere more funds and of recent with efforts around reconciliation that are permeating and in a way mandates as well across the arts and culture sphere, that we also see the dialogues being more focused and occurring at so many different levels and not only in culture. The work has really only began, the injustices done will never be able to be undone, but we can all do our very best to ensure that the mistakes and injustices of the past are not repeated in the future. Arts and Culture have a critical role to play on this journey, dance of course as part of this.
– Who did write the "land acknowledgement" text which we heard each night?
– There is a specific wording that is proposed through the public sector in consultation with the nations of the territories. However, I personally in expressing this acknowledgement personalize the the messages as a reflection of what our role as citizens and as arts professionals is in general in society and what the words today mean for our future.
– How successful was it for you the platform and how can you measure it?
– The measuring of success can be through both quantitative and quantitative. We survey for level of satisfaction and to inform where we can improve both participating visitors and also artists. And so far the response is overwhelmingly positive! There are also recommendations for improvements that we will consider carefully as some are tied to logistics we may not have, others are things we may not have considered so as ideas it is great.
On the numbers side, the investment is huge and the return on this investment can only be measured in time. We know already that as a result of DIV in general, over the years visibility and awareness for BC and Vancouver dance has increased nationally and we see it through increased tours, cultural exchanges.
This edition of DIV success is measured somewhat more quickly as several groups and artist were "picked up" by attending presenters and tours are being extended, there is dynamic talk about cultural exchanges artist to artist and of course we are most excited that as a result of this event The Dance Centre has been invited to organize a Vancouver Day during Tanzmesse 2020. We are still learning how to follow up on these impacts as they resonate for so much longer after the event that sometimes we all forget that something might have been triggered here, and then materialized several years later somewhere there!