Practitioners of Culture Association is a Polish NGO that conducts cultural and art projects supporting local communities in danger of exclusion. The association’s co-founder Paulina Paga told BIG IDEA about the funding of cultural sector in Poland, challenges of cooperation with business and perspectives of cultural work in small communities.
We mostly work with local communities that are in danger of exclusion: refugees, teenagers in reformatories, people living in villages or suburbs. Also we are linking different environments. We use interdisciplinary art tools, combining music, visual arts, new technologies and various performative events.
Our association decided not to have an office, so we don’t have to cover a lot of administrative costs. We decided to be a kind of a flying association and cooperate with many other institutions, organizations and local communities. It gives us a possibility to work in any place that is adequate for our purpose and frees us from the office expenses. The only expense is accountant, but most grants can provide money for accountants.
Organizations that work in the cultural field in Poland mostly receive governmental funding. The Ministry for Culture and National Heritage yearly subsidizes core actions in the field with the priority of cultural education. The trick is that they give 50% of the project’s budget. They believe that when you have some of the money, it’s easier to attract the rest. But at the same time, in Poland it is still difficult to get another 50%.
That’s why I prefer other types of funding, for example, Swiss or Norwegian governmental grants. We’ve had them for the last three or five years. Also we can count on support from municipality. In Warsaw there are Culture Office and Education Office, and cooperation with them is really good. But still, these are not large amount of money. The maximum grant we can get from them is 20 000 PLN (5 000 euros) a year.
Also we have received support from business companies PricewaterhouseCoopers and Orange. The focus of these programs is reduction of social exclusion and innovative ways of education. Besides our cooperation, these companies are doing social responsibility projects. PricewaterhouseCoopers is dedicating its CSR path to support intersector cooperation in small communities. Orange is doing Pracownie Orange – a commercial and social alternative for Houses of Culture that are in pretty bad shape in Poland. They give money to local actors that start up things from the very beginning.
We are trying to develop partnerships with business, but it’s not always that easy. I used to work in commercial advertisement company, so I had a chance to see how it works from the other side and learn the language of benefits. I’ve discovered certain logic in the CSR policies of large companies. They have their main mission, and CSR is the first type of expenses that is cut off when they cannot close the yearly budget. There is often good will on the side of decision makers, they mostly understand the idea and see how it fits into their mission, but on the other hand, there is a tough reality of calculations.
Also, when people who are in charge of CSR are hired only for short periods, they cannot plan cooperation with NGOs in the long-term perspective. There would be more chance if they had a sense of safety and could think strategically and wait for the effects. But when they fear that their budgets can be cut off and they can be kicked off, it is not a comfortable position to start new campaigns and develop strategies together with NGOs.
From my observations, we start being involved in two processes of change. On the one hand, there is a governmental process with Houses of Culture that we are about to lead towards another direction. On the other hand, there is support from Bill Gates’ FRSI Foundation and the Polish-American Freedom Foundation. They are working with libraries, and it’s really effective. Libraries in small communities are taking charges of Houses of Culture, and they really find it challenging and developing to get skills of cultural animators. It is the recent biggest change in this sector in Poland.