Putting people in their place

Czech Position

The Street for Art festival aims to bring some public debate — if not the public itself — back to the capital’s underused public spaces

Prague has a number of squares and pocket parks — although they are not used as much as similar spaces in Spain and Italy. If the organizers of the fourth annual Street for Art Festival have their way, people will see more interactive space in Prague.

“This year, the festival is about public space while last year focused more on art in public space,” David Kašpar, the festival’s program coordinator, told Czech Position. “The main message is to create a model situation of the ideal public space, fill it with useful and nice objects and a design that serves people.”

Street for Art is coordinated by KC Zahrada, a cultural center in Prague’s Jižní Mesto (South City) housing project, and is held near the Opatov metro station on the C line. Kašpar said the festival started when the center was looking for more space for programs. Center members realized there was lots of unused space in their own neighborhoods.

“The first year was really about art in public space – street party, skateboarding, graffiti,” he said. “Then we realized there are more things, a community dimension, not only passively showing [art], but interaction.”

In 2009, Street for Art built a giant inflatable bubble six meters high and 20 meters long. Designed by the German art and architecture firm Raumlabor, the other-worldly space invited people from the neighborhood to come out and meet each other. The following years saw the programming grow, but each festival is anchored with a unique building concept, designed and built solely for the festival. This cross between art and architecture is designed to get people talking and serve as a meeting point.

“We started to organize workshops, dinner for the neighbors in a public space, projections on the houses,” Kasper said. “Last year, we built a contemporary art center practically in the middle of nowhere.”

In 2010 the festival focused on the interconnection of contemporary art and life outside the city center. A temporary three-story art center called Blox consisted of 18 construction containers housing a exhibition space, a studio, café and information center with a music stage. An exhibition of contemporary Czech art was displayed throughout the festival.

This year, though, the focus is more on people. “We know public space should be made for people and serve them and their needs,” said Mr. Kašpar. “Everyone uses public space and has different needs — you walk through it, sit for a break, people watch, these are needs we want to observe, to create an ideal zone for life in public space. What is the ideal use?”

The program kicks off with a special PechaKucha Night dedicated to public art and outdoor space. The festival center (30 meters long by 7 meters tall and wide) will be constructed overnight from scaffolding and hold an information center, host discussions and performances, as well as serve as a covered public space. Most days have a theme; May 24 the topic is art, and events include a workshop where participants can help design art for public space. The film “Exit Through the Gift Shop” about British street artist Banksy will also be shown.

Jirí Sulženko, director of KC Zahrada, is looking forward to attendees’ responses. “I’m really curious as to how people will participate,” he said. “We have five public workshops, and I am wondering if we will manage to attract them.” Last year, about 4,500 people attended Street for Art, whose funding of Kč 1.2 million is mainly via grants from Prague 11 and the Culture Ministry.

Talk of the town

One highlight mentioned by Sulženko will be Urban Human, an acrobatic theater performance piece premiering May 26 based on Jan Gehl’s book “Life Between Buildings.” Design firm Raumlabor will participate in a discussion in English that day on public space and the people.

An international conference on May 28 organized by Raumlabor called Some Ideas for Better Cities will highlight cities in transformation and new possibilities in urban development.

“Raumlabor is a Berlin-based architecture studio; they aren’t building houses but are interested in the public space between buildings,” conference coordinator Katerina Vídenová said. “There will be guests from abroad and the Czech Republic, experts in urban planning, presentations but the main focus is on discussion.”

Vídenová added people will be situated at food-filled tables to encourage small group communication. Organizers hope for a broad discussion on creative urban development, introducing new practices and discussing how a city can successfully evolve.

“We want to open a discussion that brings something that will remain in the minds of the people, introduce a brand new topic to Czech architecture; it’s very interesting to think about what is inbetween buildings,” Sulženko said. “It is strange to say you are an architect but don’t design buildings, but architects think about space, function and the people who will use it.”

“The debate about public space in Prague is rising and what the festival is doing is an add-on, offering concrete examples for simple ways to enhance public space” Sulženko said. “We want to show that it is there to be used by people, and that our ideas and tools will help them understand how to use public space.”