Interview with project manager of SPOTs, Blanka Berkyová

The SPOTs project is one of two key projects of INTERFACE 2013. With this key project Košice won the title of European Capital of Culture 2013. It´s aim is to reconstruct the unused heat exchanger stations, to promote cultural development in large settlements.


The reconstructed stations will serve as Edge Cultural Points (ECP) and support the process of cultural decentralization from the center to the peripheries. They will complete the lack of cultural infrastructure, emphasizing modernization. Final output of the project will be 7 modern multifunctional cultural objects, with impact on cultural development in the city and in the region. An inside peek on the project was given by its manager, Blanka Berkyová.

Can you tell us what the impetus for the project to origin was?


Blanka Berkyová: The idea to begin a project like this started during the nomination, when the city of Košice was applying for the title European Capital of Culture 2013. The process of mapping had revealed that there are certain heat exchangers in the city which thanks to the advances and changes in heating technology offered free space in the buildings. It also proved to be reasonable to reconstruct these buildings and use them for a different purpose in the future.


Was it tough to bring the project to life?

Blanka Berkyová: I have to admit that the early beginning, before the project developed into a final given form, was really hard. First of all, we had to provide the means and build capacities needed for community development. Everyone thought that the SPOTs project has no results and is just about a reconstruction of some buildings. The project itself was started in the district Košice Západ (West) in 2009. One has to realize that the housing estate we are talking about has approximately 30.000 inhabitants and in the direct neighborhood of the ECP live about 2.000 of them. We had to address these people and start communication. Community workers together with students of social studies did the so-called informational interviews. They visited 1.500 households, interviewed the citizens in person, explained what does it mean that Košice gained the title of European Capital of Culture 2013, how they can get involved in the SPOTs project and that there is going to be a reconstruction of the heat exchanger. We have done some hard field work, where we talked to these people in person, explained the project to them, mention the reconstruction of the heat exchanger station. The key element of the interviews was to find out what kind of activities would citizens prefer to take place in the Edge Cultural Point and whether or not are they willing to participate. This way we have found people who are willing to collaborate and prepare various events for their neighbors nowadays. We are talking about theatre projects, theatre cafes and creative workshops. The basic rule is: reach to the people, attract them, motivate them, spend time together and build a relationship, give them space for their own activities and self-realization. It is a never ending work of a community worker without the SPOTs project would not work.


How did you get involved in the project?

Blanka Berkyová: People in the Košice 2013 team needed to get a “human dimension” in the project, which is how I got in the project. Thanks to a recommendation from Mišo Hudák the team contacted Centre for community development. I worked there as a manager and also as a community worker. At that time was the center focused on Ťahanovce housing estates, where we have implemented various projects on activating youth and other citizens, but we were active also in the local policy making. Therefore I had both theoretical and practical experience in building community and socio-cultural centers, how to create suitable conditions for citizen participation in community building in the housing estates. Already during the candidacy, we have been working with public and other NGOs, so when the evaluation committee came, we were already able to present partial results: that participation in housing estates is possible and that people, who are specifically activated, are able, but moreover interested in the agenda and willing to revitalize the community via the community center. When Košice won the title, Center for community development, where I had previously worked, was the sponsor of the project. We were in charge of its implementation, determining the basic objectives, program structure and building a quality team.

In the previous part, we ended up talking about your personal involvement in the project. Who are the other members of the SPOTs team?

The stable core of the team is 5 people. Christian Potiron had joined us during the first year, he is in charge of the agenda and art projects. In present we have 3 community workers in the team, a cultural mediator and we cooperate with external photographers on an occasional basis. The current development shows that we have a very good team. They overcame the initial problems, stabilized the project as a whole and became its soul.

What parts does the project consist of?

After the first year, the program concept and its structure became final and clear. Currently, the project has 4 operating areas: community development and civic participation, informal learning and volunteering, community and social art, reconstruction of the heat exchanger stations, and development of public space. Based on that, it is divided into 3 basic programs: community development, dialogues and housing estates. Within these, there are several subroutines. When creating the SPOTs’ structure, based on the original concept of INTERFACE Košice 2013 project, we were looking for links between the two projects, therefore there are many common activities such as the inter-generational inter-cultural dialogue.

What do you think was the hardest part of the project?

This project simply can not work otherwise than from the bottom up. Although we have given the project a soul, we can not implement it ourselves. I have to do all I can to establish a connection, a relationship between the citizens and the ECP, without their interest in it, we cannot operate. We can provide support, a guarantee, sponsorship, leadership, but citizens themselves have to be at the core of the project. When once the project ends, we have ensure that in the future there will be active people willing to work in the community, who will continue in the work we are doing today. The purpose of the project is building capacities, including human resources, for the future. One of the elemental sources of a community is a person. We are now trying to mobilize people and teach them to be creative. I look forward to the moment, when each ECP will be managed by an organization, they will continue developing and implementing projects due to the basic program structure. And I will no longer be a manager, but a guest.

How does the public reflect the project?

We had a big problem with communicating the project to the media and thus to the public, explaining it to them. We had to clarify the nature of the project because it was understood as reconstruction of the heat exchanger stations and nothing more. The reconstruction is, of course, important, but it is not the most significant part. I remember a statement of mine during the application for the title of European Capital of Culture 2013, where I said that I don’t want people to watch soap operas. I wanted to revive the community, to offer new possibilities. Now I see happy people, they are happy they can spend their free time in the ECP, they can be creative and participate on projects.

How do you see the future of the project?

The basis of our work, present or future, is in having active partners. Without the interest of citizens, active partners, we cannot implement the project and in particular, it does not make sense, it is not the goal of the project. As I said, I hope we can create a good environment and conditions for our successors. At present, we have reconstructed two heat exchanger stations to ECPs. Further work on the project should proceed more easily and quickly, because we have gained vast experience. Finally, the positive impact of the SPOTs project on the local community motivates us greatly. We are happy to see positive changes as the community progresses and it gives us energy to carry on. I believe that in the future, SPOTs will be seen by people like something their, in cooperation with local governments. The municipality has a key role in creating suitable conditions for community development. It is a challenging and never-ending job, but it is worth it.

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