Describe the main features of the measure/initiative:
Based on a culture forum model that was previously established in Novi Sad (at the initiative of local governments), in 2018, the Association ICSS initiated the launching of four more comparable bodies in Šabac, Požega, Užice, and Subotica. Culture forums are a powerful participatory mechanism that allows for a greater number of small local entities to participate in the process of decision-making, proposing measures, and aligning program activities. They are organized by local self-governments, most notably the Secretariate or the Department of Culture, and members of the three sectors—public, private, and civil—can all participate equally. The Culture forum’s goal is to empower individuals and collectives to actively participate in the creation and implementation of local cultural policies. This model proved to be successful in Novi Sad as an excellent example of participatory practice, and for that reason, the Association ICSS formed a team that, inspired by the Novi Sad ones, launched similar forums in several cities in Serbia. The reason for selecting the abovementioned cities is that the current local scenes are becoming more active, especially in terms of developing mechanisms for advocating for better conditions for, primarily, contemporary art development. Local self-governments foster little or no communication with entities, resulting in misunderstandings and a lack of timely support, while institutions, organizations, and individuals are often left to their own devices in terms of organizing and surviving. The most common form of support is through public calls, through which small funds are granted; however, even more, important than this financial aspect is providing systematic, institutional support for solving immediate and long-term problems, which entails constant dialogue as well as the establishment of new models for connecting to achieve greater efficacy. A collaborative approach to addressing challenges could have long-term positive effects such as program partnerships, reciprocal technical support, and professional exchange. This especially refers to the potential cooperation of cultural institutions with civil society organizations. It is the same when it comes to decision-making. Culture forums, as a powerful participatory mechanism, provide permanent insight into the scene’s demands and, more importantly, the challenges it faces. The participation of the professional and general public in discussions on relevant cultural topics also creates an active audience that has an opportunity to take part in the decision-making process. Even more important is assigning new roles to culture workers. Although this is still a long way from qualitatively significant outcomes resulting from participatory decision-making implementation, it can serve as a first major step in creating the conditions for something comparable.
What are the results achieved so far through the implementation of the measure/initiative?:
During the first cycle of the Forum’s inception, the model was not successfully and fully implemented in any of the aforementioned cities, like the one in Novi Sad. This was because local self-governments were completely unavailable for communication and inclusion. The only exception was Šabac, where this type of communication was possible but there was not enough enthusiasm to implement programs like these. In Užice and Subotica, the city’s cultural officials did not respond to the first calls for cooperation. In Požega, due to previous issues with cooperation and political disagreements, which have hurt the work of individuals and cultural organizations in various ways, this sort of dialogue was deemed impossible from the start, so no one even reached out to their local self-government. The most fruitful discussion took place in Subotica, and it concerned the use of space designated for contemporary culture, as well as the lack of such spaces for the demands of local production. The topics in the other two cities were connected to local difficulties, relationships with decision-makers, funding culture, and available sources of finance, as well as the need for more extensive communication. This initiative is important because it launched the question of citizens’ participation in making decisions related to planning and implementing cultural policies.