Мr. Glubokyi, I know that you are a very busy person as you will organise soon an event from which I actually distract you.
Indeed, this week we mark the anniversary of the date when the Izolyatsia territory in Donetsk was seized and turned into a prison and a military base. Of course, this is not a celebration of the very process of transforming Izolyatsia into a military base but a celebration of the fact that the institution survived and managed to continue its existence, that a new transition to a new page in the history of Izolyatsia took place. In fact, Izolyatsia survived and continues to operate, even on a larger scale than it did in Donetsk. And it is obvious that the people who seized Izolyatsia in Donetsk did not want it to continue to exist and spread its ideas, its vision of Donbas and Ukraine. We are very happy that we were able to escape and continue the existence of the institution. We have been marking this day for seven years. Over the past six years, we did that in Kyiv in our IZONE space, which we opened, and this year we will do this in the town of Soledar, Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine. Because we believe that cultural decentralisation, decentralisation in general, is a very important issue for the development of Ukraine and Ukrainian culture. In addition, a lot is happening in Kyiv. There are many institutions, organisations, projects, everything. But the regions are not so lucky… Although this is also such a big question. We can say that there are many initiatives in the regions. It is very good that young people are taking over cultural and social life in their cities. But we hope that our appearance there will also stimulate this development a little more and give these organisations more opportunities and support.
Can you tell us more, what is Izolyatsia?
Actually, Izolyatsia is a cultural fund. We call ourselves a “platform for cultural initiatives.” It was founded in Donetsk, in the territory of a former plant of insulating materials, in 2010. At that time there were many factories in Donetsk, industrial premises that were not used, were abandoned and nobody was interested in them. Although there is great potential for the development of culture, art, creative industries, i.e. for the replacement of the old industry, which existed in Donbas and was gradually dying to some extent. Many factories were closed, there was no great demand for their products. In general, the economic system of Donbas was devised with a focus on other Soviet enterprises, other countries within the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Union, many of these ties were severed and many businesses simply could not continue to operate. So Izolyatsia wanted to change this situation, giving people the opportunity to work not only in traditional industrial enterprises but also in the field of culture, art, creative industries, services, and more. Of course, the process is joined by education, culture, foreign and local experts who can inspire and share the experience of implementing such projects.
In 2010, there was an idea that the process would be supported by local authorities. There was a German honorary consulate in Donetsk that had long promoted the idea of creating a concept similar to that of the Ruhr area in Germany. However, Donetsk authorities did not really need that. Therefore, we held a large conference in 2010, invited many people from European organisations, who told about their experience, told why the project was necessary and how to implement it. It did not work, so it was decided in 2011 to create such an institution by our own efforts to show how it should be done and that it is possible to be done precisely in Donetsk.
What is your function in the organisation?
I am the Development Director of Izolyatsia. I have been working since 2011. Unfortunately, I did not catch the first project. But I have been working in Izolyatsia for all 10 years and all further projects have already been created with my participation.
What status does Izoyatsia hold? Is it a non-governmental organisation?
It is an international charitable foundation.
Is it membership-based or supported by sponsors and partners?
Our model has changed a bit since the beginning of the war. Until 2014, we had donors among various Donetsk enterprises. Of course, we chose who we would work with. We did not work with controversial companies and those associated with the so-called “Donetsk mafia.” Those were enterprises that saw the development of the Ukrainian Donbas, development towards the West, and enterprises that cooperated with European companies and tried to adhere to European standards in their work. In addition, of course, there were various international sources of support. After 2014, when the war began, all these enterprises stopped working. They are occupied now. So, we didn’t have that kind of support anymore, and we changed the model. Now, we have little donor support, but most of the money comes from international funding, various grant programmes, EU and US international programmes. We also created the IZONE creative hub to channel all its profits into the projects implemented by Izolyatsia. Unfortunately, the hub is not working at full capacity due to problems with the coronavirus pandemic. We cannot implement various projects, arrange events. However, it was profitable before 2020. We managed to make a profit, and the income we received was invested in the development of Izolyatsia cultural projects.
What are these projects? What did you do before the quarantine? What events were suspended due to the quarantine?
I need to brief you on these two organisations. We have IZONE which, in fact, was aimed at the development of creative industries. These are projects that took place in our premises: the British Council programme entitled “Creative Enterprise” to support creative economy entrepreneurs, educational projects, grant support programmes, competitions. For four years, if I’m not mistaken, we were implementing the Creative Business Cup project. It’s a Danish initiative of creative economy startups competition. One project is chosen, then it goes to Copenhagen and competes with other organisations from all over Europe. We were implementing this project for four years, and now the House of Europe has been implementing it for two years. This year, we participated as experts in this programme, selected the winners.
So, these are large-scale educational programmes that we have implemented together with international partners, festivals. Unfortunately, now these projects moved to the electronic plane. Everything continues, but online… Of course, the biggest source of income for the creative hub was the lease of the premises we used, and now that source has disappeared for us.
Who is your audience, apart from the creative businesses for which you do projects? Are there children among your audience?
We have a fairly wide audience. It’s our goal because we believe that we must change, transform Ukrainian society for the better through culture and art. The Izolyatsia Foundation has been conducting art projects in the IZONE premises for a long time. We invite people to take part in projects, to create them together with artists. And these are the projects that address pressing social issues. For example, a few years ago we did a project dedicated to the Ukrainian service members who belong to the LGBT community. It was a very powerful project! On the one hand, this is a controversial issue. People said, “How can this be?” On the other hand, the real military came out and said, “Yes, we are members of this community.”
We managed to invite representatives of the General Staff, who came and told us about their policies, how they work on this topic, how they deal with prejudices… That is quite unusual, we did not expect them to come, but they came and spoke about the situation quite adequately.
Also, of course, we work with the topic of the occupied Donbas, the topic of war. We draw parallels between what is happening in Ukraine and other countries. For example, we presented a Georgian project done for the Venice Biennale in 2015, if I’m not mistaken. It is dedicated to the borders of Georgia. The Russian Federation is gradually shifting them, capturing new territories in Georgia, and no one can do anything about it. We showed that was not the first and, unfortunately, not the last conflict.
In addition, we worked with the Balkan countries, with Northern Ireland. It’s also quite a lot of work. We have a lot of projects, a lot of topics, and we can talk about them endlessly, although every time I just focus on one topic. But there are actually a lot of them: memory, public space, decentralisation, and so on.
Who are the members of your team, and what were the reasons why you joined the organisation? Why do you like working here?
Our team consists of about seven people. It depends on a project. However, we often invite other people to join the implementation. And after the project is over, we are looking for other ways to cooperate… Now, due to the cancellation of projects or the transition to online, our team has become quite compact. I hope that will change over time. But, on the other hand, we have new people in Soledar who work with us, so there are already about 10 people on the team. These people are also involved in production. We organise and make exhibitions and art projects on our own, most of them at least. We have communications, administrative, fundraising teams. We all work on these issues together.
Izolyatsia has a rather chaotic format because we are in a constant “state of emergency.” The events are constantly happening around us to which we have to react quickly. Unfortunately or fortunately, it has become a style of work over 10 years.
I have been working at the Foundation for 10 years, I studied at the Donetsk University. Having graduated, I studied Polish and had the opportunity to go for an internship at the University of Warsaw. When I was in Warsaw, I visited many cultural centres. The dormitory where I lived was right in front of Ujazdów Castle, and I spent a lot of time there, dreaming that something similar might appear in Donetsk one day. I had no idea how I could have a hand in it, what contribution I could make to such a project. When I returned, about a year later, my acquaintances from the university addressed me as they were looking for people to join the team, so I immediately agreed.
But for most of us, Izolyatsia is no longer just a job. We live here and are constantly in context. This may sometimes be bad, but we give 100% of our energy to this project because we consider the work of Izolyatsia to be very important. We have to tell what is happening in Donbas through the prism of our experience. In addition, the ways in which this happens draw us in each time and it is very difficult to keep a distance.
Can you name a project or something else, looking at what you would say, “Yeah, that’s what we’re really working for”?
We did different things. First, it is the development of creative businesses and cultural startups. We see already quite a large number of small organisations created by locals now in Donbas. And many of them were inspired by Izolyatsia or the projects we did. I go to conferences, and people say there, “Yes, of course, Izolyatsia! We respect you very much!” or “Your work inspired us” or “We want to cooperate with you!” This is a big achievement. Moreover, many people moved from Donetsk to other cities and create various initiatives there. It’s nice to see that, it’s inspiring.
In addition, there are many things that we were the first to do in Ukraine, and we see how these ideas are developing. In fact, we were the first organisation in Ukraine to revitalise industrial premises. In 2010-2011, nothing like this happened. And then, when the first “fruit” of this trend began to appear, the Povydlo Factory in Lviv and the “Teple Misto” in Ivano-Frankivsk opened. In principle, we participated in those projects, communicated, and consulted them.
So, did you also influence the creation of the Teple Misto platform?
Yes, we did. We once actively communicated with the organisers. Moreover, Alyona Karavay was our employee in 2010-2011. Everything is very much interconnected. Unfortunately, the cultural scene is not as big as we would like it to be. Everyone knows each other… But the circle is expanding, and since 2014 we have worked a lot with local government bodies, the Government, the Ministry of Culture to develop the selection process for the Venice Biennale.
It is a story of its own. We delegated our employees to the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw which deals with this issue in Poland so that they could research their experience and bring it to Ukraine. Mrs. Ostrowska-Luta was in charge of this issue at the time. Until 2014, participants were selected for the Biennale in an incomprehensible way without a transparent competition. In 2015, unfortunately, it was the same, because Pinchuk was elected and he said that he would pay for everything because the country did not have money… However, in the following years, open competitions were held, and they are still held. This is something that we have managed to change to a great extent.
Do you now cooperate with the Ministry of Culture?
No, we haven’t cooperated with them for a long time. When constant changes started there after 2015 and it was not clear what was happening, we began to move away from it. Recently, the minister held a press conference and raised the topic of the development of creative industries. And again, in 2015 we talked about that, brought experts, but nobody needed that much back then. This experience could be useful in the future. Although, unfortunately, we see that now a lot of efforts and institutions created in recent years are collapsing, and it is very sad to see.
In the same way, for example, we cooperated with the Kyiv City State Administration when working in public spaces. It’s also the experience that is interesting to talk about. We discussed the first installation on the site of the monument to Lenin, which was demolished in 2014. It’s still empty, nothing was erected there. We made a Social Agreement project: we invited artists to create installations on this site. It was an open competition, we offered an opportunity for Kyiv residents to vote. For some reason, Kyiv residents chose artists from Mexico twice. But those were very powerful projects. Initially, the Kyiv City State Administration was wary of this initiative. But then they saw that everything was good, that it was a great project aimed to unite, that it wasn’t some kind of political provocation, that it was open to interpretation. So, in the end, we still managed to build cooperation with the Kyiv city authorities, which helped with many things.
The same way, we also work in Soledar now. It was also difficult in the beginning, but we have already established cooperation with local authorities. This is very important, because there was actually no such cooperation with local activists, with the non-governmental sector in Ukraine until 2014. Also, many people within society did not understand what they received and how they could influence the development of their communities. On the other hand, it was not clear to the local authorities that such projects were necessary, that people needed to be involved. And fortunately, these are the things we have managed to change.
MARTA BARANDIY, EDITOR IN CHIEF OF BRUSSELS UKRAЇNA REVIEW – Follow on Twitter