The OSFA Arts and Culture Program started in 1993. The social and political changes that were happening in the Albanian society soon were reflected in the world of culture and the community of the Albanian artists. After about half a century of extreme ideologization on account of one single official method called “socialist realism”, arts and culture were now able to taste the full freedom of creation and expression.
However, together with freedom, came the challenges and problem which were about to have a direct impact on the development of arts and culture. Now there was freedom to create, but there was also a tight constraint of resources available for artists and creators. The difficulties of the first years of transition were bound to affect primarily and more negatively than any other sphere, the cultural and artistic institutions. Efforts to conceive reforms and implement them both from the institutional and legal point of view were thwarted by the “drain” of artists and creators, who chose to migrate due to economic hardships, but also due to repeated political crisis and instability. Cultural activities started to concentrate in the capital city and two or three biggest towns. The other parts of the country were left without any cultural life. Thus, the already poor cultural life in the provinces suffered further impoverishment.
In this context of difficulties, but also opportunities, lying ahead of Albanian arts and culture, the OSFA Arts and Culture Program started out by determining the main directions of its intervention. Some of the priorities included: support for creators; support for non public institutions to hold cultural and artistic events; creation of NGO-s in the field of arts and culture and strengthening of their capacities; support for alternative arts and junior artists, introduction of modern marketing and management techniques in the field of arts and culture, etc. This all round support eased the difficult transition of the cultural and artistic world in Albania and established structures and institutions which have withstood the times and have come to live to this day. Among them, mention can be made of:
“Përpjekja” (Endeavor) Magazine
“Black- Box” Theatre Hall
“Onufri” International Contest
“Butrinti 2000” Theatre Festival
“Vjeshta e Tiranës” (Fall in Tirana) Festival
The Regional Music Documentation and Communication Center
“Endeavor” can be described as an intellectual and discourse journal, which carried from the very beginning the stamp of Fatos Lubonja, its creator and publisher. The first edition of the magazine “Endeavor” appeared in 1994. It is a typical publisher’s magazine, which was very much popular in pre communist Albania. Such examples include Konica’s Albania or the “Albania Endeavor” by Branko Merxhani which in fact became the inspiring model for Lubonja, not just as regards the name, but also the very spirit and content of the magazine. It was an illuminated, western like and criticizing pamphlet.
The publisher of the magazine is a former prisoner of conscience who had served time and endured the suffering of the most savage of communist prisons for very long. The opening of the Albanian society and country became the one central motive of the magazine.
OSFA provided financial support to the publication of the first editions of the magazine to help it jumpstart. Later it supported the translation into English of a collection of some of the best writings (1997). Support also went to the last editions. Endeavor became the place where some of the most renowned personalities of Albania’s literary and cultural life expressed their views. Their writings were about the need to tear down nationalistic and provincial myths, the past ideologies, the prevailing dogmas, etc. Its pages advocated in favor of taking a critical look at the history pf the country and restoring the real dimensions to some of the main events in Albania’s history, literature and culture in general. Besides the original writings, a number of translations were published by authors who tried to shed impartial and objective light on the main facts of language and culture of the Albanians, but also on some of the most recent developments of the country especially with regard to the pyramid schemes and the accompanying developments of 1996-1997. In addition, Endeavor gave space to the intellectual viewpoints of contemporary philosophers of the stature of Habermas and George Steiner and renowned intellectuals like Adam Micnik.
The Albanian authors who contributed the most were of the middle and younger generation with some of them having served time in the prison together with the publisher. These authors often signed on remarkable pieces of writings some of which they had created in the midst of hardships and battle of survival for life. Regular contributors were renowned signatures of the Albanian journalism and culture like B. Shehu, A. Klosi, E. Rama, F. Kati, A. Vehbiu etc.
“Aleph” is a literary and cultural magazine of the most specialized in the market of literary works of the present times. The first edition came out in 1996 and was signed off by the young poet and translator Gentian Çoçoli. He came from Gjirokastra. As the publisher himself put it, he came purposefully to Tirana to publish a new literary magazine as he was convinced that the younger generation of writers and translators was in need of having their own forum where to publish. Indeed, almost immediately, “Aleph” gathered a group of young writers, poets and narrators, many among whom were also fond of translations. Presently, important names in literature and translations, people like I. Belliu, R. Zekthi, A. Tufa, L. Arapi, E. Hatibi, R. Erebara, R. Çollaku, L. Dushi etc., started to become known thanks to the pages of the magazine.
ALEPH had a total of 15 editions which became a reality thanks to OSFA’s funding. In addition to the good quality from the literary and cultural point of view, ALEPH was also distinguished for the special quality of lay out and printing. Like Endeavor, ALEPH, too, is the publisher’s magazine, i.e., every edition held the stamp of its author whose ideas and individuality were complemented by authors and creations sharing his perspective.
What strikes one when going through the pages of a randomly selected edition is the almost odd mixture of Albanian authors with great names of international literature. This special position with regard to literary phenomena grants ALEPH the leverage to encourage its readers to take an innovative approach at literature, which was suddenly “liberated” from the space and time limits and became a universal library, serving thus the very borghesian concept owned by ALEPH.
“Black Box” Theatre Hall
The “Black Box” Theatre Hall is a working place and a performance theatre at the Academy of Fine Arts. The idea for this project was born in 1993-1994. Students of drama have now the possibility to work like in a true theatre adapted to their professional creations, but also to their real needs and managerial capacities. This new space inside the Academy of arts serves now to host dramas and comedies, but also concerts, exhibitions and working meetings. Numerous were the teachers, artists and students of the Academy of Arts who encouraged and supported this project, which was ultimately made a reality thanks to funding from the Soros Foundation. However, the project was strongly supported and promoted by the London Royal Academy which contributed to the purchase of the lights, voice center and ventilation. The Black Box became operational in the year 1999.
The result is multifaceted. The drama students were given the possibility to stage their artistic works. In addition, they are given the chance to self manage their shows. Given that the Black Box is a more manageable space than a larger hall, it can serve as the venue for other artists’ performances such as music, choreography, etc. The Black Box represents in all aspects of the word a true experimental theater.
The podiums on the scene are moveable which grants great opportunities for experimentation by students. The Black Box offers satisfactory technical characteristics to implement projects by students of the Scenic Arts. However, the Black Box is open to students and other individuals wishing to stage their projects.
“Onufri” International Contest
“Onufri”, started as an exhibition in the month of November where everybody could come and exhibit his/her work. This event was gradually changed into a contest. The same timing was maintained, i.e., the season of fall, but the name was changed. There was now a committee nominated to give out prices. However, there was no platform for the event. The situation changed in the year 1998 by decision of the Council of Ministers which elevated the event into an Annual International Contest. A Jury was instituted to select participants in the event.
The results and the fame of this new format were immediate especially outside the borders of Albania. The activity contributed to the opening of new dimensions of visual expression which in turn gave life to a scene of Albanian arts. Artists such as Anri Sala, Adrian Paci, Sisley Xhafa, Erzen Shkolovi, etc., who have recently become renowned on the international scenes, have in fact emerged out of this platform. Every year, the hosts aim to invite new personalities.
The Arts Gallery has acquired a valuable collection of contemporary works, thanks to the work of one of the Onufri hosts, Ian Dibbets, a Dutch, who called on about 45 artists in his home country to donate one work for the Arts Gallery in Tirana. OSFA funding made possible this event for years on end, while also setting an example to be followed by the Albanian institutions which took on the continuation of this event.
“Tirana Biennale” (first edition 2001), is the most important international event in Albania in the field of visual arts. For the first time ever, it established the practice of bringing regularly to Albania an important fragment of world and European visual arts. Ever since the idea of holding the event was born, the Arts and Culture Program of the Soros Foundation considered it to be an important venture which would have a long life in the Albanian cultural world.
In the region of Southeast Europe, “Tirana Biennale” occupies the second place (following the Istanbul Biennale). The first years of its life were characterized by a broad based participation of all types and kinds of artists. However, currently participation in this event is subject to a highly selective process.
Following the third edition of the “Tirana Biennale” participation became particularly selective and the event took on a clear international character. The reasons for the upgrading relate to the high quality of the works by Albanian artists, their closer cooperation with some of the renowned world artists and the structuring of this event to compete according to high standards established internationally.
All these elements combine to represent the best developments of contemporary arts in Albania and the Biennale itself is a perfect “ambassador” which contributes to the projection of a new positive image of Albania and the cultural and spiritual life of the Albanians, in general.
“Butrint 2000” Theatre Festival
The Butrinti Festival of 2000 brought to Albania the Balkan dynamics in the field of drama. From that year, the festival continues to be held annually in the town Butrint. Until 2000, Albania was the only Balkan country without international theatre festivals. Today, Butrint has become a reference of Albania’s cultural life. Butrint is the scene of dramas from antiquity. However, middle Ages and the Renaissance are the periods most reperesented. This is true to the point that even the modern pieces brought to the Butrint event, borrow their motives from the classic drama.
Although there have been sporadic participations from theaters from Northern Europe, such as the Swedish Royal Theater, the greatest number of participants are from the neighboring countries. This is mainly due to two factors which give Butrint 2000 its characteristic traits: a) the site is home to one of the cradles of World Theater which took its roots specifically in the regions of our Peninsula. It is a scene mainly for pieces from classical and antique times, even though sometimes they may represent post modern experimental re-workings; b) this festival was born following the nightmares of the ethnic and religious wars in Former Yugoslavia in an effort to establish new bridges of communication among the Balkan artists.
Among the theater troops participating in this event mention can be made by the “Atis” theatre in Greece, “Toursky” of Marseille, the National Bulgarian Theater “Ivan Vazov”, the Albanian National Theater, etc. Mention can also be made of renowned stage directors like Alexander Morfov, Richard Martin, Terzopulos or Tsakiris.
The Soros Foundation for a relatively long time contributed to the increase of contacts and exchanges between/among individual or groups of artists. Thanks to OSFA funding, the hosts of the festival were able to upgrade the technical and professional quality of the Festival by inviting high level artists and theatre troops. Presently, “Butrint 2000” is a consolidated festival supported primarily by the Albanian Government and encouraged by professional opinion in Albania and beyond its borders. Efforts are currently being made to introduce other genres in its editions such as concerts, chamber music, etc. after the examples of reference model festivals held in Avinjon, Montpelier, Budva and Ohri.
The Festival “Tirana Fall”
The first edition of “Tirana Fall” was held in the fall of 1994. It was the only cultural event of the year and was funded almost entirely by the Soros Foundation which remained its funder for many years to come. The first edition contained only music concerts. In 1996, the Festival was enriched with painting exhibitions and in 1997 experimental films were also shown. At that time, events like “Onufri”, “Tirana Biennale” and the film festival did not exist. “Tirana fall” was for three years in a raw the venue where about 100 experimental films were shown.
With the passage of time, each genre started organizing its own event which turned into a tradition and the festival had to change format. Following 1997, it was no longer a festival, but an artistic season. There was a concert every Saturday and an exhibition every other week. In 1999, “Allegreto Albania” came in life and in 2000 the Theatre of Opera and Ballet resumed its regular artistic activity. In the newly created situation, “Tirana Fall” returned to its concert-like characteristics. It is today, a festival of new music, without further alterations in nature. In spite of the occasional presence of any classical and romantic works, Tirana fall brings to the Albanian audience new and modern music created by both local and foreign musicians. The new music has its own fans in Albania, too.
Regional Music Communication and Documentation Center
The Regional Music Communication and Documentation Center is a structure designed for purposes of documenting, preserving and transmitting the Albanian Musical heritage. It came into existence in 2000, but its inauguration was held in June 2002 at the time when its first products came into being. The center hosts a number of programs which give it a multifunctional character. It serves as an information and resource center thanks to its database which is the most accomplished in the whole of the Balkan region with addresses of music undertakings in all of the Balkan countries. It also has a register of all the CV-s of the music composers in the peninsula and is currently publishing their lexicon.
The Soros Foundation contributed to the installation of a high quality registration studio in the center. In addition, the Foundation contributed to some of the publishings of the center, like, for example, “The Art of Music in the Balkans”, by Prof. Sokol Shupo. The book is about 8 musicologists from 8 Balkan countries. In 2—25 pages each, these personalities tell the history of the development of music in their respective countries.
While working to collect and preserve information on Albanian music, the center gave life to the encyclopedia of the Albanian composers which is now being re-printed with improvements and editions. Although in the beginning of its life, the center limited itself to the art of music, it now also covers folk music. The activity of the center is being supplemented by a series of publishings which come both in print and electronic format. Also, the center provides trainings on the new music, the electronic music and music writing techniques.