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Solutions 19:25 16 Aug 2022

"If this disappears, defenders will have nothing to defend": how the Center for Contemporary Culture in Dnipro launched its program for displaced persons

To remain useful and do what they know how to do — these are the tasks the Center of Contemporary Culture in Dnipro set for themselves after February 24. In March, a newly created social and humanitarian hub started working here. Voluntary organizations were allowed into the vacant premises, and they undertook to organize the emigrants' leisure. What came of it? What problems did they encounter? Is it even important to think about culture now?

Reference: at the end of July, almost 300,000 internally displaced persons were registered in the Dnipropetrovsk Region.

Dnipro Center for Contemporary Culture  is a kind of House of Culture, home, and physical space. The public organization "Culture Media" (the head of the NGO and the initiator of the DCCC Andrii Palash is the hero of our text), the gallery Artsvit, the laboratory of experimental art Ksi Prostir and the center of French culture and language Alliance Française found their home there.
The idea of ​​creating the DCCC took root in Kultura Medialna when Donbas was burning with war seven years ago. It became clear: Dnipro needed culture to keep a distance from the "russian world."
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What is the problem?

Lack of space for volunteers and free time for settlers

The full-scale war, which stopped our calendar on February 24, also affected the work of the Center of Modern Culture. According to Andrii Palash, everything was closed. The first weeks were complete chaos. What to grab? Who to help? How to volunteer? DCCC staff members had these questions.

Центр сучасної культури у Дніпрі запустив свою програму для переселенців

Andrii Palash / Photo Ukrainer

The very first idea that appeared was to use the building to approach our victory. This is a landmark of local importance, the former Katerynoslav Provincial Zemstvo Administration or simply Zemsky Dim. Once upon a time, several Ukrainian regions were managed from here, and military headquarters were established here during the Soviet regime.

A room of almost 3,000 square meters — high ceiling, wide doors, elegant stucco — everything is imbued with the spirit of decisions that have been made here for decades. But it also stood neglected for a long time. Until 2018, the Center for European Education undertook the repair and reconstruction of the rooms, and the DCCC became its new resident.

At that time, the house still had no windows, normal doors, heating, or water but had a leaky roof. It was just an empty box. "Already at that time, we partially held the "Construction" festival here, a residence for artists and philosophers. The events of the first GogolFest were also held in this building." Despite the ongoing restoration of several rooms, the house is quite suitable for comfortable accommodation.

With the onset of full-scale war, it became clear how functional the building the DCCC has for itself is — many organizations that have deployed humanitarian activities since February 24 were left without shelter. "I met with a representative of one organization. We went together to see what is currently happening in shelters and volunteer centers, what kind of help they have, and what don't. We saw: there is accommodation, there is food, there are minimal services — legal aid. But there are not enough activities for children or psychological help. Then I suggested that volunteer organizations settle here, and now we have four of them working here," says Andrii Palash.

What is the solution?

Give the building to the needs of volunteers and create an educational program

Центр сучасної культури у Дніпрі запустив свою програму для переселенців

Photo: Vita Popova

Zemsky Dim opened its doors for volunteers. They occupied premises that the DCCC did not use. On the first floor, humanitarian aid began to be distributed — food, hygiene products, and everything a displaced person might need. And the Center of Modern Culture workers took charge of their social and humanitarian hub. "The most important idea was: we need to create something — not cultural projects, but something more social: helping displaced people, doing educational events for adults and children," Andrii Palash says.

The first was a co-working space where everyone could come to work — displaced persons and locals. Because Dnipro coffee shops were closed in March, there were no open places to work in the city.

"We decided to make a free co-working space, but it didn't really work for us. Not many people came. We had up to 10 visitors a week — that's not enough."

Therefore, they abandoned the idea of ​​co-working and focused on the educational program. They began to prepare what they had worked with before. It was difficult because 90% of the center staff are women who evacuated abroad — the managerial team. But they did everything they could remotely.

"We started with the activities we engaged in before the war. For example, Artsvit had a program for children from 5 to 13, and we had teachers with whom we cooperated. These are graphics, painting, performance, and dance. Ksi Prostir held workshops for adults and teenagers because they had them before the war."

The hub became operational in March and could be visited on all DCCC's working days. Andriy Palash says about the first visitors: "At first, local children came to us more. Because they, too, were without schools, kindergartens, and leisure time. But we talked to the volunteer headquarters and told them we have such educational services. And somewhere in the second-third week of the hub's operation, 30-40% of the children were already small re-settlers."

In addition to the educational program, the center started holding Curfew Jazz with Dnipro musicians. These are concerts where money is collected to help the soldiers.

How does it work?

Educational program

Центр сучасної культури у Дніпрі запустив свою програму для переселенців

Photo: Olia Vasylets

The Center for Contemporary Culture created almost all of its program with grant money because DCCC residents are non-profit organizations. Before the full-scale war, they cooperated more with Ukrainian cultural foundations and local programs. And after February, everything changed. There was no budget for volunteer activities, but foreign partners began to offer money and support.

"These are cultural institutions in Germany, Slovakia, Poland, and Great Britain. Thanks to their support, we could cover the Center's current expenses, such as purchasing materials for workshops, water, cookies, or cleaning. These seem to be small things, but they are important. It wasn't easy to deal with the program and fundraising simultaneously. But at the beginning of the war, there was a terrible adrenaline rush, and I wanted to tear everyone apart."

After some consideration, we changed the hub's schedule: instead of 1-3 workshops in five days, only two weekdays were left — Tuesday and Friday. But at the same time, on these days, three or four events were held at once so that parents could leave the child under supervision for a few hours and take care of their own affairs during this time.

What's in the program?

  • Classes in collage, painting, and graphics for children from 6 to 13 years old.
  • The public organization Shift from Kramatorsk was also sheltered at the DCCC; it also opened its art co-working space, where you can play the guitar and create toys or souvenirs.
  • In addition, there are Ukrainian language courses and educational courses such as Digital Communications.
  • There is art therapy with a psychologist and watching Ukrainian movies for adults.
  • Volunteer organizations also offer first aid training.

 How does it work?

Curfew Jazz

Центр сучасної культури у Дніпрі запустив свою програму для переселенців

Photo: Arsen Dzodzaiev

It is a joint project of DCCC and the Dnipro music community. European Union allocated grant support for the creation of concerts. In the first season, Curfew Jazz was held 14 times, and each time an average of 100-150 people came. It was an evening of relaxation for them and an opportunity to donate money to the defenders.

Центр сучасної культури у Дніпрі запустив свою програму для переселенців

Photo: Oleh Samoilenko

"Curfew Jazz was created with Zhenya Honcharov (the head of the art studio Module). When you have a very small team, it is better to cooperate than to do everything yourself. Zhenya Goncharov is the best in music in Dnipro, so we created a joint project. I am more involved in managerial tasks like talking to donors. Zhenya's responsibility is negotiations with artists and organization of high-quality equipment."

The music played at "Jazz" is different, but, as Andrii Palash says, it is free. Sometimes it's underground or rock, and sometimes it's electronic.

A few weeks ago, the new season of Curfew Jazz began, and until mid-September, one concert a week will be held. Funds received from donations are sent to musicians or people from the cultural community who are currently defending us in the Territorial Defense or Armed Forces.

Does it really work?

From March to July, DCCC hosted 193 creative classes from the Artsvit gallery, which more than 860 children attended.

Центр сучасної культури у Дніпрі запустив свою програму для переселенців

Photo: Olia Vasylets

There were 18 first aid training, including 500 people who learned how to care for the wounded.

Центр сучасної культури у Дніпрі запустив свою програму для переселенців

Photo: Olia Vasylets

Eighteen workshops were held at Ksi Prostir, attended by more than 125 people.

Центр сучасної культури у Дніпрі запустив свою програму для переселенців

Photo: Olia Vasylets

And Curfew Jazz, where 32 musicians performed, 2,000 visitors listened to songs, collected 300,000 hryvnias. The money was sent to TRO and ZSU.

Центр сучасної культури у Дніпрі запустив свою програму для переселенців

Photo: Arsen Dzodzaiev

These are just numbers. But behind each number is hard work and the desire to bring our victory closer.

Working in March and now are different things, Andrii Palash shares. It is more challenging to take care of the hub nowadays because foreign countries have already started to distract themselves from the topic of Ukraine.

"Our country is not in the trend. There is less talk about the war. And we need to spend more time conveying information about the difficult situation here. Our girls who went abroad are very helpful. They organize cultural events there, reminding the world that Ukrainians die daily. One of my colleagues held a charity event in Lucerne, Switzerland. She collected 6,000 euros, which she donated to various Ukrainian organizations," Andrii Palash says.

The number of grants and donor funds has decreased, but more money is needed to maintain the hub. Because if, at first, the employees were ready to work out of sheer desire, now they need to feed their families. However, the DCCC is also thinking about this: they are currently signing an agreement with USAID.

Preparation for the new season

The fall season at DCCC will be greeted with an extensive educational program comprising eight areas. Masterclasses for children and workshops for adults will remain, and a separate film program will be added. Now they are showing Ukrainian films, and there will be international films with subtitles. The plan is to invite guests to viewings: directors, producers, and actors.

Andrii Palash shares that the Center is preparing to launch a new project — the Community kitchen. "We are developing this format specifically to make it easier to integrate temporarily resettled people into our educational and cultural program. We are sure that it is easy to unite the team through food. We want to organize themed evenings of Crimean Tatar or any other cuisine. Together with the participants, prepare dishes, talk about the culture of other regions or countries".

A separate room on the first floor of the building is being prepared for this project.

According to Andrii Palash, creating a discussion program is high time. There will be 10 panels in the fall, each with speakers on topics and a moderator. The Center wanted everything entirely offline, but many specialists left Ukraine or were afraid to visit Dnipro.

The first topic is "Modern frontiers: what are borders in the global world?". The next is "What is the future of industrial regions and monocities after the war?" — to talk about how to put everything together correctly and what is already being done in the country."

Now, as always, we need to pay much attention to culture. Together with education, it is the foundation of our country, adds Andrii Palash:

"If this disappears, the defenders will have nothing to defend. Because they are fighting for the language, our identity, and, of course, their families. We understand that culture is vital so that such scenarios do not happen again in the future. So that people understand why we must build bridges with European countries".

Today, Andrii Palash is proud that the DCCC remained useful even during the war. Hub works and continues to do everything it can. "We did not fall into depression or despair. We believe in victory and want to be a part of it. And we are already waiting for our entire team to return home, and we will continue to fill Dnipro with cultural meanings," Andrii Palash sums up.

If you are in Dnipro or have come here, you can see announcements from the Center of Modern Culture here. And here is how to help the temporary DCCC hub.

The material was published thanks to the support of the FOJO media institute.

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