Pécs 2010. Investment in cultural infrastructure

The whole year had been planned as a large cultural and artistic festival. But this formula was not the most important – it was to serve as a platform for long term initiatives.

The name of the Hungarian city of Pécs probably originates from Slavonic languages and means ‘five’. The German (Fünfkirchen) and Latin (Quinque Ecclesiae) names also refer to this figure and mean ‘five churches’. The number five is strongly connected with the city – the cultural heritage of Pécs may be presented in terms of five cultural regions and five historical and cultural periods.” These are the opening words of the application for the title of the European Capital of Culture 2010. The five regions are the Central European German cultural area, the Balkan region with distinct Ottoman influences, the multi-lingual world of the Austro Hungarian monarchy and the socialism of Eastern Europe. The cultural heritage of the city stems from the early Christian period, the middle ages, the classical period, the culture of the nineteenth century middle class, and twentieth century modernism.1 Complex history, intertwining cultures and the openness of the city fully justify the motto of the ECC 2010 celebrations: “Borderless city. European Capital of Culture – Pécs 2010.”

The cultural infrastructure of the city

The twin pillars of the ECC programme are investment and the artistic programme. It seems that more attention was paid to the former, which was based on the assumption that new facilities, as well as revitalised and renewed spaces would determine the long term success of the celebrations and their positive outcome. That is why the application, filed in 2006, contains five major investment projects meant to secure adequate venues for ECC events, especially international ones, and promoting the utilisation of the cultural and tourist potential of the city in the economic context.

The most important investment of Pécs 2010 was the creation of a cultural district in the compound of porcelain and decorative ceramics works Zsolnay (Zsolnay Kulturális Negyed). The factory forms a very important element of the history and identity of the city. Founded in 1853 by Vilmos Zsolnay, it prospered by creating original patterns and forms reflecting contemporary trends, and selling them all over Europe. Nationalised after World War II, it went into gradual decline and now employs only three hundred people (by contrast: in the seventies two thousand people produced six thousand tonnes of ceramic products annually). Since 2005, when the factory was taken over by the municipality, the authorities had been looking for a conception of revitalising the works – and the competition for the ECC title came in very handy. Production is to be confined to the eastern part of the compound while the rest will be given over to cultural activities. The revitalisation project encompasses forty thousand square metres of space in buildings standing on five hectares of ground, designated for cultural activities, gastronomy and services. In the most beautiful buildings adorned with ceramics a “craft district” 2 is being created, with an exhibition presenting the history of the Zsolnay family and the factory itself (including the renovated Zsolnay Mausoleum), as well as artistic venues, spaces for artistic residences, a creativity incubator and a coffee shop. We may find a Polish connection here: Tadeusz Sikorski married a daughter of the factory owner and became artistic director. His designs are among those on display since September 2010 at the Sikorski House in the factory yard. The permanent exhibition called The Golden Age of Zsolnay Porcelain (A Zsolnay Aranykora) presents more than six hundred exhibits from 1870–1910, donated by László Gyugyi, a collector living in the USA.

Panorama of Pécs
© Zsolnay Heritage Management Nonprofit Ltd.

The so called creative district, situated in the former pirogranite works, is to contain exhibition spaces, workshops, rehearsal rooms and other venues for cultural activities. In December 2010 the first exhibition had its opening in the new building of the Pécs Gallery (Pécsi Galéria): The Masters of Visual Arts from Pécs – an exhibition of Sándor Pinczehely’s works (Pinczehelyi Sándor kiállítása – a képzőművészet pécsi mesterei). The plans also include activities targeted at younger visitors – the ¬Bóbita puppet theatre (¬Bóbita Bábszínház) found a new residence in the building called DoZso (the transfer took place in early 2011), where besides an auditorium for 185 people there is room for puppet making workshops, exhibitions, children’s playgrounds and an open air stage. The Music and Visual Arts Department of the Pécs University will have its base in the southern part of the compound.

One of the flagship projects of Pécs 2010 was the construction of the Kodály Centre (Kodály Központ) for musical events and conferences. There had been no modern concert hall fulfilling international standards within two hundred kilometres of Pécs. The organisers of Pécs 2010 regarded the investment as necessary from the point of view of carrying through the musical programme in 2010 and of placing the city among important musical centres. Also the Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra and a municipal cultural centre found their homes there. The first concert in the Kodály Centre was staged in December 2010 – the opening of the building was graced with the performance of the well known Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov.

Since the seventies Pécs has been the second most important city of museums in Hungary, after Budapest. It was during this period that a number of major museums were created in Káptalan Street, which started to be called Museums Street. The application for the ECC 2010 title provided for the creation of the Large Exhibition Space (Nagy Kiállítótér), by renovating the baroque wing of the Baranya Komitat3 and adding a new wing, where twentieth century works from the Hungarian Gallery of Modern Art are to be exhibited. The renovation was also to encompass eight museum buildings (including the Zsolnay Museum, the Vasarely Museum and the Nemea Endre Museum) in Káptalan Street, along with their gardens and public spaces.4

Another investment was the Library and Centre of Knowledge (Dél Dunántúli Regionális Könyvtár és Tudásközpont), which is to serve as an information centre and a “salon” of the city and the region. The new institution merges three formerly existing libraries – the municipal library, the komitat library and the main university library. Besides storage rooms, reading rooms, exhibition space, a bookshop and food outlets, the building, covering a total of twelve thousand square metres, contains two lecture rooms (each accomodating two hundred people), a conference hall for one hundred and fifty people, desks with Internet connections, etc.

Besides the flagship projects, the preparations for holding the ECC 2010 title were to include revitalisation of public space and parks. The authors of the application were convinced that the quality of public space is of paramount importance to the life of the city and decided to utilise ECC 2010 for reclaiming for inhabitants those green spaces, squares and streets, that had been partly taken over by traffic, parking lots and commercial facilities. Various projects concerned seventy different points in the city, among them the main square, Szécheny Square, the promenade around the Northern part of the city walls (the new park), the Tettye Park, the Kálvária Hill, and the Uránváros Estate. Streets and pavements were resurfaced, new benches, rubbish bins etc. were put in place, green spaces were tidied or created, the Tettye Stream (which had been channelled underground) was brought back to the surface.

These investment plans were to be financed from local, regional and central resources and to receive additional support from the European Union (the regional programme for the South Trans Danube Region, spending the allocation from the European Fund for Regional Development). In 2007 it still seemed that the infrastructure development programme for the ECC 2010 celebrations was not under threat and the successive stages of the projects were going according to plan.5 But later these optimistic prospects were undermined. First of all, there were delays in launching the investments, connected with the schedule of acquiring EU resources. The city filed five applications in 2008 (in June, November and December) and had to postpone beginning the projects until the results of the grant competitions were announced.6 Moreover, Pécs was painfully affected by the financial crisis – banking costs grew, loans became harder to obtain, the forint was devalued against the euro (which was particularly important in the case of protracted tender competitions for building projects to be financed from structural funds). The costs of construction itself grew (35–40% of them related to the costs of imported products and services, bank guarantees became more expensive, and there were difficulties with obtaining credit). As a result the realisation of particular investments was much delayed. Not all projects to revitalise city space and green areas were ready for 2010. The flagship projects described above were not finished by the time of the ECC celebrations. This gave rise to additional problems with finding other venues for some of the planned cultural events.7

Besides financial problems, the city was also burdened with political instability. László Toller, an influential socialist politician and mayor of the city at the time of filing the ECC 2010 application, had a car accident and lapsed into a coma. His successor died within a few months. The next one had to resign before the ECC celebrations, when his party lost its majority on the city council. This instability entailed changes in the vision of the ECC celebrations and the arrival of new people in the institution responsible for implementing the Pécs 2010 programme (Pécs2010

Under the spell of Cézanne and Matisse – “The Eight” – centennial exhibition of an avant-garde art movement of Hungarian artists (active around the year 1910) shown in renewed gallery Modern Magyar Képtár
© Zsolnay Heritage Management Nonprofit Ltd.

Menedzsmentközpont Közhasznú Nonprofit Kft – Centre og Management Pécs 2010, Plc, a non profit organisation). Tamás Szalay, cultural director of Pécs 2010, complained that the preparations had become politicised. Councils and committees with overlapping competences were created, sidelining not only the inhabitants, but also the originators of the projects and the artists.8 Concern about the ECC 2010 preparations in Hungary was reflected also in the report of the jury monitoring this process and in the fact that chairman of the jury Robert Scott made a special visit to Pécs in 2009.

The cultural programme

The first message of the ECC 2010 events in Pécs was “opening the gate to the multi-culturality of the Balkans”.9 The city itself is an example of a multicultural history and present of the region, with the Pasha Gazi Kaszami Mosque in the main square, German influences (Pécs and its region are now the most important cultural centre of the German minority in Hungary), ethnic minorities (including Polish, Serbian, Bulgarian and Greek) and a model Roma education system. Moreover, ECC 2010 in Pécs was to provide an opportunity for presenting the experience of a cultural borderland and the legacy of the socialist era in Central Europe. The main themes of the Pécs 2010 idea were cultural decentralisation, equality for minorities, the socialist legacy, integration of Central European art with the global market and international networks of cultural institutions, relations between youth subcultures and high culture, urban planning, the cultural constructs the East vs the West, and centres and peripheries in culture.10

The year 2010 was to be the climax of a wide ranging programme of cultural events launched in 2006. During the four years leading to the ECC, ¬thematic programmes were realised, with the aim of creating new forms of regional and international co-operation, increasing the inhabitants’ participation in cultural events and promoting the city as an important cultural centre. In a city with monuments included on the UNESCO World Heritage List (such as the early¬ Christian cemetery) the focus for 2006 was on cultural heritage. The successive years were devoted to the following themes: 2007 – education and teaching (on the 100th anniversary of the National Congress of Free Education in Pécs, concerned with the role, tasks and programme of the twentieth century intelligentsia), 2008 – the natural environment, culture, healthcare (within the urban programme Eco city – Eco region and the WHO Healthy Cities Programme), 2009 – religious culture (in the context of the millennial anniversary of the Pécs bishopric and the multi¬ faiths past of the city).11

The year 2010 had been planned as a large cultural and artistic festival. But this formula was not the most important – as Tamás Szalay explains in the document published by Pécs for the opening of the celebrations, which was to serve as a platform for long term initiatives to be developed after 2010.12 In 2010, about six hundred and fifty projects were realised, comprising more than four thousand six hundred events.13In the summing up the organisers divided the events into three groups. The first group included international events, focused on co-operation with two other European Capitals of Culture, that is the German Essen and the Turkish Istanbul – twenty projects with partners from each city and twelve trilateral projects. Examples of joint initiatives include the International Festival of Puppet Theatres in Pécs and Istanbul, the Golden Routes. Intercultural dialogue project based on the experiences of the Turkish historian ¬Evlyia Çelebi, who in 1663 visited Pécs that was then occupied by the Turks, and the exhibition Pécs – Fünfkirchen – Pečuh – multinational city (Pécs – Fünfkirchen – Pečuh…egy soknemzetiségű város tér(idő)képe), staged in co operation with museums in Berlin, Ulm, Potsdam and Pécs. The programme also featured Polish elements. For example, Krzysztof Varga took part in the international programme Writers in Residence with seventeen other authors; an anthology of diaries from the stay in the city is to be published. The second edition of the international film festival CinePécs comprised a showing of Polish productions.14

The concert hall in the music and conference Kodály Centre, one of the flagships of Pécs 2010
© Zsolnay Heritage Management Nonprofit Ltd.

Another group of Pécs 2010 projects was composed of initiatives by particular cultural institutions – festivals, concerts, exhibitions, and workshops. The third category comprised events staged by non governmental organisations, which acquired subsidies via grant competitions prepared by the municipality. Some of these projects started before 2010 and their culmination was planned for the year of the celebrations. Examples of these are the Balkan World Music Festival (Balkán Világzenei Fesztivál és IV) and the International Dance Festival of Pécs (IV Pécsi Nemzetközi Tánctalálkozó).15

Evaluation of Pécs 2010

It is difficult to comment on or judge the ECC 2010 celebrations in Pécs. The official summing up and evaluation commissioned by the European Commission will not be available until September 2011. And it should be remembered that the ECC programme was prepared and implemented in a difficult period of financial crisis, which affected the entire country, and a period of political upheaval.

The most important criteria for evaluating applications for the ECC title are the European dimension of the programme, the “city and citizens” aspect and the long term character of the changes proposed. The Pécs 2010 programme focused on long term effects conceived as permanent investments in the city’s cultural infrastructure. All five planned projects were completed, albeit with delays (and the project in the Zsolnay factory was only partly completed). This reflects the implementation of one of the basic aims of the application, that is creating high quality cultural venues promoting and cultivating culture and arts, international projects and the development of the labour market. The joint cost of the investments was about thirty five billion forint, which makes it the largest investment project of this type in the country.16 But sceptics suggest that the scale of these investments may surpass the potential of the city. For example, it is doubtful if the Kodaly Centre, with a concert hall for one thousand spectators and wonderful acoustics, will be self¬ financing. It was estimated that such an outcome would require two hundred events a year.17 Leaving aside the possibility of renting space for conferences and congresses (in 2010, one hundred and seventy musical events and conferences were held18), it will be challenging for the small Pécs to attract musical giants which would draw a capacity crowd, and to guarantee a full houses with lesser-known artists. It is also unlikely that the investment in the Zsolnay factory will be completed soon.

The criterion of European character of the programme proposed seems to be the second most important element of the application and its implementation. Many projects were realised with foreign partners. Of major significance were events organised with other ECC 2010 cities. The place of Pécs in European history and culture, and its contribution to both were presented. So it may be concluded that the recommendations of the monitoring panel which regarded supplementing the programme with events rich in international content were carried out.

The biggest doubts are connected with the criterion “the city and its inhabitants”. The application makes only scant reference to this issue. The local artists and activists even complain that that their initial involvement during the preparation of the application was later neutralised by the huge influence on the project of politicians as well as institutions and cultural operators from Budapest. The section entitled “The city and its inhabitants” in the document presenting Pécs during the opening ceremony contains only fourteen projects, prepared mainly by local leaders of ethnic minorities (for example, the German Day, the Day of Polish Hungarian Friendship, the European Day of Neighbour).19 But the organisers stress that the social aspects of the projects were important for them and they quote around a dozen projects which received a subsidy from municipal grant competitions. The projects were to focus, among other things, on the excluded groups and communities of the city. One of them was the programme called Art in otherness, which, through exhibitions, conferences and workshops, promoted art created by people with psychiatric problems and disabilities. But surveys strikingly show that seventy percent of the respondents did not participate in the events of Pécs 2010. This figure is even higher among older people (young people and those between thirty and forty-four were the most interested). It calls into question the purposefulness of the entire enterprise or at least the effectiveness of the communication strategy. The latter conclusion is also confirmed by data showing that only fourteen percent of the respondents heard about the programme of voluntary work offered by the office organising the Pécs 2010 events.

But, generally, the inhabitants have a favourable opinion on the results of the ECC 2010 celebrations. Three quarters of the respondents are pleased that their city held that title. Almost the same number regards the realisation of the Pécs 2010 programme as successful. Forty-one percent mention the renovation of the city, thirty-two percent speak about building the image of Pécs and the development of tourism. There are also remarks about the growing revenues from tourism, and expansion of the economic opportunities.20 Csaba Ruzsa, head of the organising office of Pécs 2010, claims that the implementation of the ECC project created more than one thousand four hundred new jobs. A lot of these were connected with investments, making them temporary, but according to Ruzsa eight hundred jobs, mostly in tourism, will continue to exist.21

Assessments and opinions of the media concerning the ECC 2010 programme in Hungary are divided. The media perceived as more right wing judged the implementation of the ECC more favourably, as opposed to the media from the left of the political spectrum.22

© Zsolnay Heritage Management Nonprofit Ltd.

The ECC title doubtlessly contributed to an increase in tourist traffic in the city. The number of overnight stays by Hungarian tourists grew by thirteen percent (to 160,389) compared to the previous year, and the number of overnight stays by foreigners grew by seventy-five percent (to 77,758). This makes for an overall twenty-eight percent increase, which would not have been possible without the ECC celebrations, especially in a year when both Hungary and the world were still trying to recover from the financial crisis. The organisers estimate that overall, about one million people participated in Pécs 2010 events. The opening of the ECC 2010 on the Széchenyia Square (January 10, 2010) was attended by eighteen to twenty thousand people. One of the most popular exhibitions was the Christ Trilogy painted by Mihály Munkáscy, presenting three oil paintings depicting the suffering of Christ – Golgotha, Ecce Homo and Christ before the Pilate, seen by seventy thousand spectators in six months. The Golden Age Zsolnay Porcelain (Gyugyi gyűjtemény – A Zsolnay Aranykora) was visited by seventeen thousand four hundred people in the space of six months, while the three month long exhibition on the Hungarian Bauhaus artists (A művészettől az életig – Magyarok a Bauhausban) was admired by sixteen thousand three hundred and fifty people.23

Due to the strongly centralised political and cultural life of Hungary, Pécs 2010 was marked by a spirit of rivalry with the capital, which, by the way, also competed for the ECC 2010 title. It seems that, thanks to the media attention, increased tourist traffic and improved transport infrastructure (for example, a new motorway connection with Budapest) the city has enhanced its stature in both Hungarian and European awareness. But at its current stage, it is difficult to predict whether such a trend will persist.

Regardless of the statistics and opinions of the inhabitants, tourists visiting Pécs have many things to revel in – the Mediterranean atmosphere, the beautifully renovated monuments and public spaces, and the hospitality of the residents. It is worth experiencing!