Salon of Applied Arts (Salon uporabnih umetnosti)
My name is Borut Wenzel. I’m one of the members of the Salon of Applied Arts, the place where we are now. The place is in the old city center, on the main square, number 1. Actually that’s the address, the central location in the town. It used to be the main coffeehouse about a century ago, when the building was built, until the late 1980s when it became a casino for about 10 years. Then they went bankrupt, they were broke, and it was closed for another 8 years until we rented the space and we started our story, which is happening up to today.
We are having here a coffee shop, a concept store, and we are organizing a lot of events, from musical concerts to readings, lessons, theater, and different kinds of art events. We have quite a wide spectrum of audiences, from young people to very old people. A lot of them, they used to be users of the space, or visitors in the past. The place used to be, in the late 1950s and in the 1960s, one of the main musical events spaces and was a startup space for the musicians of that time, mainly popular music in Slovenia. A lot of dances were also organized in the space here, where people met, fell in love, got married, a lot emotional memories are stuck within these walls here. And a lot of these people are coming back to the events to refresh their memories, and so on. A lot of nostalgia is present in what we are doing here.
For sure, if somebody else was doing the program it would be different, but we have a kind of an open concept with what we are doing, so we are accepting suggestions from the people, which form our visitors or audiences. In a way, we are also honoring the good things that happened before here. So we invite some of the musicians to perform again in the same place where they used to perform when they were just starting their careers.
Of course, the concept store, where we present the products of young designers, local designers, is also generating a kind of audience, because people which are affected with design, they know it’s a live activity going on here. So they meet here, they discuss things here, they see things which are made by their colleagues.
We have very different levels of socializing here, if I may say so. We also have tango lessons, where people are dancing during the day here. It is not so common in Maribor, I would say, partying in the evenings and the night, yes, but somebody coming at 10 o’clock in the morning to dance for an hour or two, it’s quite rare for Maribor. And also the kind of societies building around these events and activities, which we are trying to provide here. A lot of people are coming to suggest if they could do some activities here. We have quite a big space here, it’s about 600 m2 all together, and we don’t need it for our purposes, all of the space, all of the time. So why not do it?
To the character of the building, or to the history of the activities which were happening here before. To assure you, when we won’t be able to rent it anymore, and if we’re going to do another story somewhere else, it’s going to be completely different, of course. It’s in a way, whatever you are doing, you have to consider what the people are expecting and what is making sense to have it in a special environment or a special point somewhere.
Question: As you’re working with a lot of nostalgia, and probably your audience is much older, you don’t have a problem with mixing them? They are able to cooperate together?
It’s one of the advantages, I would say. Like when we are doing musical events, people around 20 are together with people around 70. The older, they feel younger. The younger, they don’t really care. They are, in a way, functioning really well together. Also, in the discussions, which we are organizing from time to time, we invite people that have a special importance in the city life of the past, and they’re telling stories from that time because these memories are fading in a way.
A lot of young people are coming, and they discuss together and they’re asking things about how it used to be, what is maybe also connected with the fading of some values, which used to be present in the time of Yugoslavia. Where the socialistic system was establishing politically, but it doesn’t really matter, some values, which in today’s neoliberal concept of capitalism that we have here, are not really important anymore. People miss a lot of things, and they’re idealizing and romanticizing the past in a way. But through the discussions, it’s somehow calibrating their point of life somehow, what is important today, and what to follow.
What we noticed in the beginning, that the older generation. They don’t have spaces where they can go. In the bars, normally the music is too loud or the presence of younger audiences is so strong and visible that they don’t feel comfortable. And this building, because of its past history and everything, it’s allowing. People are in the same space, but nobody is taking the atmosphere over it. It’s big enough, and it has its own story, which is somehow giving a core shell around it where different things can happen at the same time.
Co-establishing, somehow, open spaces or public spaces in a way. Pekarna, it’s an independent cultural center, I don’t know if you’ve been there already. It’s one of the stories where I was also there from the beginning. I was in my mid-20s when it started, and it’s now going for more than 20 years already. And it’s completely different from the beginning, because the people who were involved from the beginning, they went old inside and they were stuck in some positions, maybe not so much
positions but some influence in the space. Accepting younger people inside with ideas. it’s not so easy, or it’s not so natural, in a way. To make it possible that this mixture of newcomers and old-schoolers are functioning together, somehow, it’s really a topic to find out how.
We had the basic idea there that five years is the maximum for somebody to do something in the space. Because you get tired, you’re starting to act comfortable, you’re not alive anymore in a way. And most of these spaces, they’re really having the fruit of energy in the early beginning, when there’s a big possibility for something to happen there. The people who are the right people to do it, they’re coming in an undefined way together. So this transfer of ideas and experience and everything, it’s working spontaneously, just happening, you know. There are people, who in a way are opinion-makers, and they connect the audience around them.
But after some years, the level gets lower. I don’t really believe that you can structure this, it’s just happening when the possibility is there, with the right timing, it can happen. Like you have Scandinavian concept where they make subculture mainstream in a way, because they’re thinking it all over, they’re structuring it, they’re counting how many people are going to come, how much they’re going to spend on what, and what to provide, and what kind of program which is also functioning, but it’s selling. It’s not the right thing, if I may say so.
Also, we’re adopting these models, we have these cultural center for youngsters, which are founded by the town or by the state somehow. They have concepts behind how to do it, and what the young people need. They have good statistics, that so many visitors are coming. Of course, they are coming to the concerts, they are coming to the event. People that are not emotionally stable personally, they are attending the workshops. But it’s kind of a fake life, in a way. You are building your personality up by a service, which is provided by the big brain of the city or the state. It’s happening.
At first, of course the right people. The people who have some charisma, able to connect people. They’re not really opinion-makers, but magnets, people who are creative are coming together around them. They’re able invisible to organize a kind of working space where things can happen without a lot of effort, like organizational or financial or whatever. They can just make it happen somehow, that you are coming there with an idea, that you can discuss the idea, that you can make it even better or more able to realize it, and that you can put it in the space. That it’s not belonging to a kind of, it is not subculture, if I may say so. That it’s not defined, that something does belong here but others are not, it shouldn’t be restricted.
If this is possible, you need this kind of environment that is not defined, architecturally, within design, within organizational structure, it should be open. Whatever this means. People shouldn’t really feel that they are entering a defined space, you know. It should be more that they are near to possibility, that they feel near to possibility, where everything can happen somehow.
Normally, spaces like these, they have the trial period in the beginning, then they have a big boom period where it’s happening like it could be or should be forever, but I guess it’s not possible. You can keep it for a year maybe, or two years, then it’s getting tired in a way. It’s really depending also on the generations. It’s about, as I notice it here in generation. Every four or five years you have, you have in the upcoming generation some critical mass of people which are magnetizing, which are having charisma or they’re doing some events which are attracting other people, they’re starting a story.
No, of course we have a special profile for the younger audience. We don’t have all the youngsters here. Okay, now we are sitting on this floor, it’s a mess all around with furniture, which is waiting to be refurbished and put back into function. Downstairs, it’s looking quite a bit different than here. A lot of young people who are coming, we see the affinity for them, that we are establishing some values, which are not so much present in this time. That we appreciate a piece of furniture, for instance, which would normally be ending in the trash. But as we put it in the space back again, it’s connected to design, what our colleagues on the team are doing. That we have a relation not only to the house, but to things, or to beautiful things in terms of design. I guess some of them, they feel the same. They’re accepting this and they like this approach, and they feel connected to this idea.
And the other is musical events, where we are hosting and inviting young performers, which are doing their own music, but it’s honest and it’s related to the good part of popular music from the past. In the last year, vintage and retro stuff has been quite trendy. Part of the audience is also coming to visit them, and then they see the shop and we don’t have coffee to go, we have coffee to stay, which means they’re coming back to discuss or just to work with their laptops. Sitting in the café for several hours, drinking tea, the time is going much slower in our place than in most of the bars or public spaces in the other locations in the city, actually.
We are making this down tempo, somehow. That relations are quite important, that people feel valued, we don’t have customers, we have guests in the space. This is making kind of a difference, that they feel that they’re not coming to a place where somebody will get a few euros for a coffee or whatever, but they’re coming to a space that they’re going make alive if they’re also here.
In terms of visual communication about the events that we’re organizing here in the space, the posters are quite different than most of the posters promoting events around. So we’re exposing people, we invite performers before their event for a photo shoot, and we’re making it quite creative. On year, just a setup in the space, somewhere here, different spots to expose the space and the people which are actually in this space. It functioned very well, and then we used all the possible spots, we started to make portraits of them with objects that we’re using a chair, a piece which we’re selling in the store, and so on.
It’s going so well that people are stealing our posters from the walls and collecting them. The bands are coming for some conditions where normally they wouldn’t go into some other space. We don’t invite them anymore, but they are just asking if they can have a concert here—after two years now. They’re all really satisfied. Their experience is going among their professional circles—that they’ve been there, that it all was so beautiful, that the audience was so interested in what they’re doing on stage. So it’s not only going to drink because there’s a concert and they’re going to meet some people there. It’s really this relation between the artist and the audience, I would say.
I used to set up a workshop downstairs, and the whole building consists of windows. So on the ground floor you have shop windows with people passing by really, a lot of people pass by this location daily. They were fascinated just looking at somebody doing some craft. They went inside, and were looking under their fingers what they’re making, if they could bring something to be repaired I would even say that a lot of services, which used to be present in the city center for the shopping centers, concepts and so on they’re really missing. The people, the younger people, they even don’t feel it’s so natural, that they’re missing, because they know it out of the storytelling of the older people.
Today, it’s kind of impossible to cut a board in the city center. You have to get in the car, drive somewhere out, to have a service or to buy a screw or a nail. A source of creativity, in a way, craft working, and crafts. Maribor was quite known for having a lot of services in the city center, especially where we are. And today, you really two or three shops that are still alive. They’re also fading.