We are glad to be working with incredible people around the world. The ILUCIDARE community is packed with inspiring and enthralling people and stories. This is why we are launching ILUCIDARE Folks, a series of conversations featuring people we have encountered as part of ILUCIDARE activities.
We are thrilled to start this new series with Ares Shporta, co-founder and director of Lumbardhi Foundation in Prizren, Kosovo.
Ares Shporta, born and raised in the city, lives and breathes the Prizren art scene. Throughout his youth, the old Lumbardhi cinema played a significant role as a social and cultural gathering place. The cinema would become even more important later, when he returned to his hometown after studies in Pristina and Istanbul, to become the co-founder and first ever director of the Lumbardhi Foundation in Prizren.
The foundation is the heart of an ambitious project to revive the old cinema in Prizren and the artistic and public programming around it, to develop a sustainable cultural institution which is, as Shporta describes it, “a combination of a city museum without a collection, a concert hall, an alternative cinema and a community space”.
This multi-functional space will not only have an artistic programme, but will – together with a number of other local partners – also generate research, produce knowledge and stimulate local development and community-building. In this context, the Lumbardhi Foundation played an important role in the first ILUCIDARE capacity-building activity concerning the development of a heritage-based creative hub in Prizren, which took place in March 2020.
Who, what and why
The Lumbardhi cinema was built in 1952 during a wave of cinema construction in Yugoslavia aimed at educating the masses with the new ideology via the big screen. After 47 years of being the main gathering place for citizens of Prizren, it was closed down after the war. Ares’ parents also took him there for Dokufest, the festival he would work for (and together with) years later. Dokufest is Kosovo’s largest film festival and it takes place in Prizren each summer. Both the festival and cinema became a way for young people of his generation to identify with the city, as volunteers or by hanging out, for example, in the improvised café that was run there for a couple of years until 2014:
“This made-up bar was like a free zone in the middle of town with sporadic cultural events. You would enter this beautiful garden cinema that was left into decay and the building was left in complete decay. But it was a very alternative spot, where you were free to be yourself in your small town. And you were not under the watch or radar of anybody.”
While pursuing a business degree in Istanbul, Ares was never far away from the artistic scene in Kosovo, via friends and through initiatives like organizing exhibitions or events for Kosovar artists in Istanbul. When asked by Veton Nurkollari (artistic director of Dokufest) in 2014 if he would be interested in turning Lumbardhi into a sustainable multi-functional cultural centre, Shporta did not hesitate and jumped aboard.
In 2014, the cinema was actually at the brink of being privatized and torn down – to make place for a shopping mall and parking lot. That was when Dokufest (and a number of other organisations) protested and used the momentum of public attention to start an awareness-raising campaign for the cause of saving the building. The initial goal was to stop privatization and make the building public property and a protected cultural heritage site. Emergency interventions to save the building were foreseen and a multi-stakeholder group would have to decide on the management and future of the cinema.
It was in early 2015 that Ares Shporta officially became director of this new-born Lumbardhi Foundation. “The mission was on the one hand to keep [Lumbardhi cinema] open, but on the other hand to build a long term vision for the institution,” Ares says. “The first moment the space was reopened there was a bad café, there were some concerts, some pirate film screenings, some talks… We were inviting lots of friends of ours to do one program or two.”
With not much staff, funds or capacities; the first year was a challenging operation, which focused on strengthening the local network of cultural organisations and on starting a debate on the cultural strategy for Prizren. All this whilst pushing for the property issue of the cinema building at the same time. This more short-term issue of improving the physical infrastructure and increasing the number of events and visitors coming to use the space was central to the first phase in the development of the organisation, which was called “Lumbardhi Public Again”.
“The idea was to make it feel as a publicly owned property or something that belongs to the public and that can be used and enjoyed by all.”
The Foundation wants to reconnect the cinema with the city and to open it up to its inhabitants, through building sustainable relationships and partnerships with local heritage and cultural partners. “The Lumbardhi Foundation leads this process of institutional transformation, but for each part of this development it has different partners,” explains Shporta. Besides its funding partners, Lumbardhi has worked with research and heritage partners (like Oral History Kosovo), infrastructure partners (mainly Khora Office and Cultural Heritage without Borders Kosovo - editor's note: also ILUCIDARE partner), as well as core institutional development partners (like the municipality of Prizren and the Ministry of Culture).
The project of a heritage-led creative hub: ILUCIDARE capacity-building in 2020
These local partners – many of which collaborate already through a Network of Cultural Organisations (RrOK Prizren) – are also the starting point of the project for Prizren’s creative hub. This hub was the subject of the first ILUCIDARE capacity-building workshops in March 2020. For Lumbardhi, “the project of the hub is one of those potential sources of working together with partners we had already been working with in the past years in connecting heritage with learning and with economy,” says Ares Shporta.
“We see the hub as an interesting platform to activate others also and to create a new product and new approaches. And start to understand the economy better and become more conscious in the economic nature of our activities and try to see how to build that capacity.”
“For the participants it was a good exercise in thinking differently,” explained Ares. Because many of the cultural and heritage partners usually start from a more content-driven and artistic perspective, it was interesting to look at the sector from a more economic and metric point of view. The capacity-building was the first time that the group gathered. “It glued the community together and gave a sense of purpose and dedication to most of us from the group”, says Shporta. As for most activities in the cultural sector, the COVID-19 strongly impacted the follow-up of this activity. However, the group has stuck together and GërrGërr Co-Creation Platform was born in September 2020 as a a common space for co-creation, education, production, to revive and generate new possibilities of interaction with existing heritage sites and discourses in Kosovo.
(Challenges of) cultural entrepreneurship in Kosovo
Although the initial challenges for Lumbardhi were practical and acute – with a building in total decay and a difficult funding quest to survive the first year(s) – the biggest long-term challenges are structural. Lumbardhi’s visions for the city are in essence supported by the government, but Ares Shporta explains there is a general lack of knowhow and adequate policies and institutional frameworks. Kosovo went through an accelerated institution- and state-building process; the cultural sector in the country is organically established by enthusiasts and it cannot rely on any structural funding. This also means that the sector has to be crafted from scratch – from drafting policy strategies to legal and financial matters –and tailored to the specific context of Kosovo.
“It’s a process of learning from outside but also crafting your own solutions. And getting public support for that.”
Through the ‘collaborations and advocacy’ programme (one of the two pillars of Lumbardhi’s newest activities; the other pillar focusing on ‘research and programs’), Lumbardhi would like to put culture higher up in the local development agenda of Prizren, to contribute to the preservation of the historic centre neighbourhood where it's located and advocate for the creative of a Fund for Independent Culture. It is in this context – a pilot programme that puts together cultural policy and advocacy work with local development and community building activities – that the Lumbardhi Foundation is unique in Kosovo. Lumbardhi was developed alongside other cultural spaces and also revived cinemas from Yugoslav era, such as Jusuf Gërvalla in Peja or Kino Armata in Prishtina, sharing values and learning from collaborations with various research, education and independent cultural institutions, both locally and internationally. One specific inspiration for Lumbardhi was SALT in Istanbul, which also provided mentorship and guidance in the visioning process.
The new research & programme department (which will conduct long term research on cultural history and social change through the prism of the cinema) fits within the next phase in the development of the Lumbardhi Foundation, aimed to officially start in November 2020 and called ‘Lumbardhi, an institution of the public’. The aim of this phase is – through more digital production and programming, research and opening up all data – an open inquiry into what it means to be a public institution and how to know who that public is. The goal is for the entire long-term process to be finished in 2022. “Hopefully by the end of that strategy, we will enter stage three where all the restoration is finished and this space comes into function 365 days a year in its full capacity,” says Ares.
“We try to capitalize over the long term being the most successful civic initiative – and the only one to stop a privatization – in Kosovo. So the thesis was that if we persist long enough, because of its position in the city, because of its history, because of the legacy, and most importantly because of all the people involved, there is a potentiality to build something that is actually major, but also sustainable and that we can leave behind. But to bring it to a condition to be left behind, you need to invest a decade.”
Lumbardhi’s heritage and ILUCIDARE
In its thought exercise on which type of institution Lumbardhi should be, the cinema’s own history and heritage is inevitable. Lumbardhi’s mission is to go beyond showing art and films in abstract form and find ways to engage with art as well as with the history of the place; a history which is inextricably tied to the identity of the institution. Lumbardhi looked into its own history and restored a documentary on Prizren from 1972 (together with the French Institut National de l'Audiovisuel), which was made publicly available. It will also use its kitchen to link gastronomic heritage with the (visitor) experience of the cinema. Ares Shporta stresses the achievements of ILUCIDARE partner Cultural Heritage without Borders in linking heritage with other fields – like the artistic scene – in Kosovo.
Today, over 650 events have been held at the Lumbardhi cinema and 100.000 visitors have been counted since its re-opening. Major infrastructure renovations have taken (and are still taking) place and further capital funding has been secured to complete the revitalization of the cinema. There is active public programming on-site and on a wider level, Prizren’s role as Kosovo’s cultural capital has grown further over the years.
For the long-term development of Prizren, “it’s this bottom-up and entrepreneurial logic that is needed,” says Ares Shporta. “We need to be able to shape the economy around us. And that is a key aspect which, for most of us who don’t come from an economic background, we are missing out on the most.” It is in that context that the ILUCIDARE workshops in Prizren provided very relevant capacity-building. Ares explains how “Lumbardhi’s learning has been more intuitive and process-led, and help could come in structuring all this learning”. Nonetheless, Shporta stresses that the learning process should not be unidirectional and the Prizren perspective is just as instructive for others:
“To get this perspective and to read into some of the things that could be done in this context and under this political and economic realities, there are many valuable lessons that could apply in other regions of similar socio-economic and socio-political reality.”
Prizren is an example of how communities can work meaningfully and of how sustainable initiatives can be created within a relatively loose structure of partners and within a nationally barely financed sector. The Lumbardhi Foundation shows that there are many ways to develop a cultural institution and the ILUCIDARE network could be a way to create genuine and long-term participation and involvement in the region. For example, Ares Shporta would love to bring in young professionals to stay at Lumbardhi Foundation and to learn from there, but also to leave something behind. For that process of mutual learning and intuitive crafting of (one of) Kosovo’s most innovative cultural institutions, the ILUCIDARE network provides an invaluable source of potential partners.
Get in touch with Ares Shporta on LinkedIn and Twitter.