What Caminul Cultural is

A thinking and action frame, not a particular venue/specific space / A performance/performative and discursive frame for artistic and political practice / An initiative through which we will address absent or marginal issues/topics in Romanian public space (gender and racial) / A platform for subjective radiographies in performance related projects - in the field of dance, performance and visual arts - willing to scrutinize in a rather radical and uncompromising manner the artistic and socio-political reality / Căminul Cultural tries to pinpoint the way rampant lifestyling and Romanian youth culture is collaborating in the build-up of a new upper-end, closed and rigid glam ghetto / The result of the need to review the implications of the 'scene' being involved in internal colonization as 'the scouts' of neoliberal expansion to see the way we may function as harbingers of doom / A frame for contemporary discourse and action that is missing in a culture dominated by rather traditional and conservative public institutions and art policies / A bridge between independent voices.

Historical background for Căminul Cultural

During 50 years of Communism in Romania every little small town, village, all over the country had its own Căminul Cultural. The best translation for it would be: a home for culture, or a cultural home. In Romanian cămin is also the name of the home as centered around a fireplace, a sort of warm, welcoming and protective environment. It also pointed out the need and necessity for a homely place for culture in general. Culture had to be protected and fostered inside a singular space of its own where it wouldn't be immediately dependent on the whim of other more powerful institutions. The space had to be available no matter how small the demographics, or how remote the region was. Everybody was supposed to have access to a Căminul Cultural.
Căminul Cultural was initially also the spearhead of a very mundane and profane sort of cultural propaganda – be it medical, hygienic, mostly involving practical, technical, problem-solving skills. It was also about knowledge production of a sort that involved the distribution of different kinds of specialized knowledge very important to the local survival. That is why we should emphasize that the Căminul Cultural was foremost a place for material culture.
But it was not only survival. It was not supposed to be an exclusive space, closed or work-related. The Căminul Cultural was becoming the center for leisure activities such as village parties, movie screenings, or marriages.
As a distinct secular and administrative space it managed to brake with older traditions, enlisting activities outside of the church and its influence. Also very importantly it was also distinct from the local school, even if it had strong links to the traditional educational system.  It offered a more varied cultural spectrum and was also hosting lots of activities that never had a place of their own. It was more spacious than a schoolroom and not so much based on gender and age groups, as was usually the norm. Depending on the town, the village, the largesse of the mayor, the Căminul Cultural could greatly vary in its size, architecture or facilities. 

Also the Căminul Cultural should be regarded as separate from Casa de Cultura (Kultur-Haus, the House of Culture) which was more upscale, with much and higher cultural status. The comparatively lofty House of Culture had a much more top-down approach to knowledge and local problems. It was also celebrating the Unions or other big and important associations. The House of Culture also had a lot of aesthetic overlay and artistic commissions – with sometimes huge heroic murals or mosaics, adorning its walls and halls as if to permanently celebrate the Victories and Triumphs of Romania.
That is why we should make a clear distinction between Căminul Cultural and Casa de Cultura. Căminul Cultural was always a seemingly innocuous, pretty neutral building, keeping a functionalist angle and famous for being easy to maintain. People coming from outside of the immediate borders of the town or village were entertained in the Căminul Cultural. It was appropriate to present the newcomers there to the town or village people.    

What happened to the Căminul Cultural in Romania, happened maybe to culture in general in Romania, after 1989. Studying the fate of the Căminul Cultural is a good way to test the fate of culture in general. As culture became more and more spiritual in official tourist propaganda as a means to brand Romania as a “fabulous country”, not to say fairy tale country, material culture was thrown out and pushed out of the domain of culture. It became a nearly exclusive part of commerce, entrepreneurship, and self-help and marketing, it was sold and bought out.

The ultimate result of that was a disappearance of funds allocated to the Căminul Cultural all over the country. The buildings and facilities suddenly faced total neglect. They had to become more commercially oriented, to change into restaurants or clubs or face extinction. They were immediately cannibalized by vested interests and started becoming more and more centers of cultural imperialism.
Some of them still kept their functions to this day. They offer in fact immense economical resistance to the capitalist system. They manage to reroute activities and concerns that would otherwise be prisoners of the system. Sometimes the people in the town and villages can thus make a choice to circumvent the usual restaurants and expensive clubs. In a village or town with a functioning Căminul Cultural they will probably choose it for their marriage venue, so as to invest it in other more appropriate and for them more important ways. 

We can still say that the Căminul Cultural has an important role to play in view of its previous function and hosting role. It should be an active and secular place, a place dedicated to debate and knowledge distribution. It should fill the gaps of usual more conservative educational and commercial institutions.  It should also counter-act the moves towards a new spiritualistic view on Romanian culture symbolized maybe by the lumping together in the name of the Ministry for Culture and the Cults. A single person or a single institution watching over both culture and religion is like some kind of ridiculous high priest/overlord of culture.
Culture should have never become a cultist domain, just another venerated national sect, beside the other official cults. Because then, it will immediately develop its own particular brand of intellectual and esoteric priesthood and grand cultural ceremonies and pompous festivals.
Now galleries and other cultural centers are faced with the same extinction rate as the Căminul Cultural was facing. They are being moved out, taken over and practically swamped by official decrees, by brutal and competitive practices right in the middle of Bucharest. A new Căminul Cultural would pull together the strength and peculiar qualities of its initial purpose and meaning into a new urgency arena.
This new Căminul Cultural should point out to these and other problems and try to overturn the tide even a bit.

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