An interview between Kateřina Bajo, the main coordinator for the membership of Prague as a city of literature in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and David Dittrich, main coordinator for the membership of Brno as a city of music in the same network. The UNESCO Creative Cities Network was set up in 2004 and its main aim is to support cooperation and international cooperation and creativity. Now it brings together 180 member cities from 72 countries from around the world. The cities fall into 7 creative areas – literature, music, design, film, gastronomy, traditional crafts and media. A city applying for membership in the network has to fulfil very strict criteria, and it must be supported not only by the commission of experts but also by all the member cities.
DD: Hi Kateřina, welcome to Brno! I am glad that we can show at least part of our beautiful and creative city. And I will start with a tricky question: you know that we have a ‘Prague’ in Brno? It is a town-planning and creative centre and also a cafe. Do you have a ‘Brno’ in Prague?
KB: Not yet, but it is certainly an inspiring idea, especially now, especially now when as creative cities within UNESCO we will be working together more. But you should rather tell how it is to be accepted into UCCN (UNESCO Creative Cities Network)?
DD: It is a great source of joy and a success for everyone in Brno trying to create culture and especially music. As the patroness of the project, the mezzosoprano Magdalena Kožená, said, it is truly historic for Brno. I would add that with this Brno has found a place on the musical map of the world. Now it is up to us what we do with it. Our thanks go to all who were involved in the candidacy, as it was a team effort. Personally I am convinced that UNESCO valued the current leadership of Brno for its well thought-out cultural policy.
KB: What is your aim in joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network?
DD: One of the main aims is to take to a successful conclusion the building of the new concert hall, the Janáček Cultural Centre, where aside from the Brno Philharmonic a range of institutions, events and associations will find a refuge. It would be a source of shame to be a music city in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and not have a decent large concert hall. In the application we focused on the artistic education of children and its support. In the Czech Republic there is a unique system of specialised artistic primary schools and we undertook that within the network we would be initiators of joint projects in this area. It is important to us to develop contacts between Brno and the surrounding regions that are rich in folk customs; we must not only preserve traditional folk music but also create the conditions for its development. We also undertook that we would support the Brno Music Marathon festival as a key musical event in Brno and we want to actively cooperate within the network.
KB: Brno got into the network on the second attempt. I remember our first encounter in 2014, when you initiated the first application and were interested in our experience. We met again in 2016 at the annual meeting of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in Östersund in Sweden. I would say that many of the ideas you used in the second application were created there.
DD: That’s true. The annual meeting in Sweden was fundamental for me. I would like to thank you and literary Prague to start with; I thus gained space to present our project, even though we were not yet network members. I learned there how people from UNESCO think. For that reason in the second application we did more to connect Brno with the surrounding exceptionally musical region, dealt with the education of children and presented projects coming out of unmanaged cultural and club-based activities. I also got to know most of the representatives of musical cities. Overall I left there with great enthusiasm but remained a little sceptical.
KB: What do you mean?
DD: Well, I got to know what a great and active city the network creates and what a huge benefit membership would be for Brno, but on the other hand I also saw how great the interest was in membership and how complicated it is to become part of the network.
KB: I understand that. I think that Brno made it in truly at ‘five minutes to midnight’. Already when Prague applied there was talk of restricting the acceptance of new members so that the network could work well. Today the network has 31 musical and 28 literary cities.
DD: What has membership in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network brought you? Certainly you joined with the same expectations as Brno but how was the reality?
KB: To start with there was overwhelming joy, because the preparation and application themselves were highly complicated, requiring much effort, as you experienced. In a restricted space it is necessary to explain something that others cannot have a precise conception since they do not know the environment in which the candidate works. Of course getting the title and becoming a member of this network is truly satisfying. Once the first euphoria had passed, we began meeting people from the other member cities. One became aware that there really is a point to it, and that specific people in particular cities really are great. Sometimes they work in modest conditions but despite that are very communicative, endlessly creative and willing, able to imagine and realise what are sometimes almost inconceivable events. A basic requirement for becoming well engaged in the network is your own activities, and that cities cooperate, also between fields; Prague of course cooperates mainly with literary cities, but now we also have a project with a city of design. In this direction the network will in future develop. I am now looking forward to excellent cooperation between Prague and Brno, but in the same way together we will certainly manage to conceive of cooperation with others among our nearest neighbours, that is Krakow, Katowice, Mannheim and Heidelberg.
DD: Thanks to Prague Brno already has a path a little bit trodden in and can join this specific cooperation.
KB: Some cities are admirably active, such as Heidelberg. We have worked with them on many projects, recently for example on translation workshops. Krakow and Katowice will be organising the UCCN annual meeting in June, where Brno will be officially presented to all the cities in the network.
DD: Several days after acceptance into the network Brno received some further excellent news: The Janáček Archive was entered into the Memory of the World Register, which is a UNESCO programme dealing with the world’s cultural heritage existing in documentary form. For Brno this is clear confirmation of its musical direction, a proof of the appropriateness of the title “music city”. For UNESCO just as important is what underlies it musically, the work of associations and institutions which give space not only to professional musicians, but also amateurs. The people of Brno are also in this way exceptionally active, there is an incredible number of folk groups, choirs, activities for kids...
KB: As part of your candidacy you made a lot of the project ZUŠ Open, which is undoubtedly a completely unique event, which had to enchant UNESCO!
DD: A fundamental role in this was played by the mezzosoprano Magdalena Kožená, who in 2016 set up a foundation based in Brno to support primary art schools. It was this foundation which this year on 30 June organised the event ZUŠ Open, which involved an incredible 130 000 pupils from primary art schools from 280 towns and cities around the Czech Republic. That day Brno held a big event on Moravské náměstí, where the city’s schools performed. At the end Magdalena sang with them, we filmed the whole thing and sent it to UNESCO.
KB: How did Brno’s music focus actually begin?
DD: Brno has after all been synonymous with music since time immemorial! (smiles) But I know what you are asking, so: in 2002 we set up the project Brno – music city. Our aim was to make more visible the local exceptionally colourful range of musical activities which draw on a strong musical tradition and a very active contemporary scene. We planned a web portal, the Brno Music Marathon festival which would bring together all the genres, thought up a pass to cover all the musical genres, etc. We wanted to convince Brno, to have the term musical woven into its shield. Over time we invited into the project a range of interesting personalities such as for example Marie Kučerová, David Marečeka, Vilém Spilka and others, who helped us to shape it all. In 2009 we managed to set going, also thanks to ROP support and then a significant contribution from the musical promoter, the professional web portal www.mestohudby.cz. At that time we also became aware of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
KB: I still don’t see the connection of the city …
DD: In the autumn of 2014 we presented the project to the representative of the Brno City Council and were received with great understanding, especially from the new Deputy Mayor for Culture, Matěj Hollan. He greatly helped our candidacy and can take much of the credit for our acceptance.
KB: Of course, because although you thought it all up and wrote the application, the title itself belongs to the city.
DD: But the application wasn’t just my work, it was a team effort. In culture in Brno at present there is a concentration of a number of wonderful people have ideas and a desire to work together. And it can be seen in Brno’s cultural life. In such an atmosphere the preparation of the demanding candidacy is far easier; we drew on the ideas and energy of an advisory team and a number of other people. Without the city playing its positive role it would not have happened. So now we are happy that Brno has this significant title, but there is mostly work ahead of us in order to fulfil all the resolutions. Prague will soon have to submit the first report on its activities, won’t it?
KB: Exactly. The philosophy of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network is based on the idea that the city will be active and do what is said it would in the project. Every four years it has to submit a report on its activities. Of course there are also cities that undervalue this and then they are even threatened with expulsion from the network. For example Prague in its application undertook to provide residencies, and so every year we invite six foreign authors to stay with us, arranging a programme and accommodation for them.
DD: Among other things Brno undertook to support the festival Brno Music Marathon, which introduces a brand new concept: it presents the best musicians and projects from Brno across the genres, from classical through jazz, musicals, folk and rock all the way to new circus and busking. It is a kind of a showcase for Brno, supplemented with major musicians from around the world. The Marathon has ambitions to become a key city music event with great potential to attract audiences also from among tourists. This year in August at the second festival more than 16 000 people came over three days and in the future this number is expected to treble. During this music festival I want our city to literally breathe. But in Prague you have now managed a tour de force …
KB: It seems that we are getting the so-called Kafka House not far from the Old Town Hall! There can also be two flats there for our residency programme, meaning that authors will be able to write in that highly inspiring environment. There should perhaps be also a café there and we are planning exhibition spaces.
DD: That sounds really great. We would also like s part of the residency to support cooperation of Brno’s musicians with those from other UCCN cities. Brno has changed unbelievably in the last ten years, the creative atmosphere can be felt and we are convinced that we have something to offer. At the same time we look forward to inspiration from outside, as it could greatly enrich Brno’s musical life.
KB: I can only recommend creative residencies to you. And we can boast of the first results: the Australian writer Liam Pieper resided in Holešovice near the Bubny railway station, from where the transports to the camps departed during the war. Under the influence of the genius loci he wrote the book The Toymaker, which has just come out in a Czech translation. In the summer another very beautiful book was published by another resident writer, the Argentine poet Juan Pablo Bertazza, named Na prahu Prahy. I can recommend both to you, they are certainly worth reading.
DD: Thank you very much, and I look forwards, as part of our cooperation, to literary inspiration, since I haven’t had much time for reading lately. I have gotten into audiobooks; I travel a lot and in the car I have a chance to listen in peace. My favourite currently is Všichni moji strýčkové by Viktor Fischl, brilliantly read by Josef Somr.
KB: I am already looking forward to all that we as a literary city and a music city can come up with together and offer the other cities of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. I am certain that in this sense Prague and Brno have great potential.
The interview took place for the magazine KAM/ WHERE.