How do Cultural Houses and Cultural Hearths Matter?
Towards a New Immagination of These Institutuions
Whether resembling vacated shells or remaining fully functional, either commercially repurposed or relatively busy with paid or unpaid ‘leisure activities’; cultural houses and cultural hearths are still present throughout Romania.
Easily identifiable due to the centrality of their location and large scale, institutional names boldly written in distinctive fonts ranging from the acutely contemporary through to ‘nostalgic typographies’ from the 30s, 40s, or any other era up to the 80s. The signage is still there, just above the entrance and front doors that remain open or firmly closed.
During the period of ‘actual existing socialism’ these state-funded institutions were designed to centralise cultural and informal educational activities within a socio-geographic area. Consequently, they enabled regional authorities to both survey the leisure time of the population along with providing a foundation for the production of the ‘new’ multidimensional socialist subject within a collective context.
Their ubiquitous presence has been (re)perceived for a while. Immediately after 1990 they were seen as either a nuisance or a historic reminder that needed to be turned into an absence, a void: the epic but invisible institution.
The article makes a case for why they deserve another chance in a punctual and specific re-evaluation that ultimately desires to insert a number of critical points for a possible re-imagination of these models of organization in which both stable and transitory communities collectively produce what we may call culture. It provides an extended timeline/lineage that opposes one-dimensional readings of the institutions as objects of communist propaganda. It argues that the ways in which they were planned during 1955-1989 counteracts contemporary monetarist visions towards the role of such cultural institutions. Ultimately, cultural houses were part of a national plan that considered culture as central to the ‘common good’ rather than a laissez-faire approach that places economic efficiency above all else. An open and flexible institutional format that could accommodate known or unknown actions has largely been replaced by a much narrower vision of what can be officially scheduled by cultural managers and governing authorities. Paradoxically more contemporary versions of cultural houses and hearths are often far more restrictive that their early predecessors.
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