“The CAA is very heterogeneous, from artist ‘stars’ oriented only towards gallery and museum exhibitions, artists prone to selling their works on fairs, to artists teaching art in schools. We have to create chances and opportunities for all of these groups of people.”
Ivana Andabaka has been the head of the Croatian Association of Artists (CAA) for three years now, during which she managed to significantly increase the productivity of the organization, introduce numerous new programs and partnerships, but also began with the much needed fix-up of its infrastructure. As an economist, her world differs from the world of art, but Andabaka has shown that people coming from different academic backgrounds also have the capability to engage themselves with the sensibilities of working with culture, and we use this opportunity to talk to her about the coming projects and the general vision of the further evolution of CAA.
Bojan Krištofić: What does being the executive head of such a large organization as CAA, with all those people and locations, include? I guess it is a huge responsibility, but tell me what it looks like from day to day.
Ivana Andabaka: It includes constantly shifting from one activity to another, and having a very good memory (laughter). Also, it means accepting that certain situations cannot be solved at the given moment, and that there are processes and time required to do it, since we don’t only manage the Meštrović Pavilion, but also a castle in Jakovlje that is in dire need of renovation, co-owned by the ULUPUH Gallery. Besides that, we also manage certain art studios, and we not only engage in exhibitions, but also with the profession itself. We are quite active in the field of EU projects, where we do not focus solely on the production of art, but also on education and the cultural integration of young people, as well as people with reduced opportunities to access cultural content.
Therefore, we look at the very big picture. If you want all of this to function more or less well, the most important is having good coordination and organizing skills, to do long-term planning and create goals, and to unburden the people involved as much as possible, to let them focus on projects they’re working on, instead of doing everything, because it wouldn’t work that way. But, the head of the organization, in this case ― me, has to know everything about everything.
BK: Concerning the integration of young and socially unprivileged people into the world of art, what exactly are your strategies?
IA: We are preparing two projects concerning this just now. The first one will be set up in our castle in Jakovlje, and the people it’s aimed at are orphans, Romani, people with vision problems, the unemployed from the Jakovlje area, and people with behavioral difficulties… In cooperation with renowned artists, we would develop their artistic skills, and lead them through the process of creating art that will be exhibited in the castle.
The other project is being realized with the cooperation of an organization dealing with disabled people from the Kostajnica area, also with artists managing creativity workshops with the intention to help the local population. These are areas without any stimulating content, there’s simply no care for such people, along with all the usual physical issues that they deal with every day. There is simply no opportunity to learn about art and culture, which brings their socialization skills into question.
On the other hand, we find it interesting to challenge artists and put them into different contexts and roles and motivate them to think broadly, because I think that the role of artists changed very much in today’s society. An artist should be a part of society, challenging and helping it, asking certain questions… A lot of our members wants to do something like that. Our society is very heterogeneous, from artist ‘stars’ oriented only towards gallery and museum exhibitions, artists prone to selling their works on fairs, to artists teaching art in schools. We have to create chances and opportunities for all of these groups of people, we cannot afford being concerned only about the privileged parts of our society.
BK: You mentioned that CAA manages a number of art studios. What is their current situation? What are the working conditions for artists in the sense of infrastructure?
IA: The issue of art studios was always problematic, now more than ever before. First, there are not enough studios, second, there is no system in place that would encourage building new ones or the adaptation and the conversion of the existing ones. The quotas are too low and have no tendency towards rising. One studio can be large enough for the production of art, but not for storing it, so that works that remain unsold after an exhibition start being a problem for the artists.
BK: You are an economist by profession, yet you have been working in art and culture for a while now. What motivated you to do it?
IA: Before coming to CAA I used to work in economics. Even though I liked that job very much, I realized that I also don’t like the reason I’m doing it ― the final products and services whose branding and distribution I conceptualized. My work lacked a humane note, something to engage me on a more personal level. I never had the ambition to work in culture from the position of an art historian, because I am not that kind of person, but I wanted my work to develop and fulfill me personally. That’s how I quit the company I’d been working for since my graduation, and immediately started with the study of management in culture, abroad, without a good idea what to do upon returning to Croatia. Of course, when I came back in 2010, the economic crisis was at its peak, and the idea of someone not educated in art working in it was completely unthinkable.
However, after a job interview in the CAA, I started working with the organization from project to project. When their former director Gaella Gotwald announced that she was leaving, I applied for the position because I thought I owed it to myself to try due to the ideals I followed at that time, and it was also a chance to try myself out at something I wanted to do for a long time. Also, the times when I took over CAA were perfect for me, because their financial situation was bad and many changes needed to be done to avoid further decline. Since I am the only economist in the organization, I had the capability to do this. Besides me, there is also the board of directors made up of members of the organization, as well as the artists’ council of CAA that includes non-members such as curators and other experts. There was space for me there as someone who is coming with a different professional background.
BK: What was your specific idea at the moment of applying for the job, what guided you while thinking about the program and new projects?
IA: The thing that probably differentiates me from the former directors is that I never had the idea to promote a program that I personally would be interested in, but to create a program with the help of which we could fulfill multiple goals. These goals are: the complete financial stabilization of the organization, improved inclusion of our members into the heterogeneous program that will allow them multiple opportunities for activation, and the profiling of CAA as a certain kind of incubator for various guest programs ― from more commercialized exhibitions, to an actual cooperation with WHW, whose project itself is the pinnacle of modern artistic activity in our country and wider; and the encouragement of young authors who could use us as their first stepping stone before exhibiting in MSU (The Museum of Contemporary Art), the Art Pavilion in Zagreb, and elsewhere. Besides, this is the role of the Youth Saloon as one of the biennial exhibitions that we organize traditionally.
BK: In the context of the Meštrović Pavilion being one of the central architectural and societal points of this neighborhood, how do you see its further development?
IA: I am really glad that this neighborhood took such a definite route and I think it is going really well in the context of strengthening the program and its visibility. This is great because every larger European city has a neighborhood just like this one, and because its spreading awareness and the feeling of community. Just like many others in the recent years, I moved into the neighborhood, and I think that the direction it is going should not be exaggerated and we shouldn’t allow it to become too commercialized. New attractions are followed by others. The bars and the restaurants being opened here also fit the theme and you can simply feel different atmosphere.