Tijana Palkovljević Bugarski, Director of Matica Srpska Gallery: We are changing the perception of domestic audience… but we are also changing the perception that foreigners have of us!


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Novi Sad is busy preparing to mark the European Youth Capital 2019 and the European Capital of Culture 2021, with all institutions, especially the cultural ones, devising their place in the new constellation. One of the most dynamic institutions is the Matica Srpska Gallery which is run by equally dynamic Tijana Palkovljević Bugarski.

Traditional and digital are two tracks of cultural diplomacy, and it is not complicated to deal with both. Running a cultural institution in the 21st century is a serious diplomatic job, especially for museums, because museums are constantly travelling between the past, the present and the future while trying to combine the three into a harmonious entirety. We are engaged in protecting the Serbian cultural heritage also beyond the borders of our country. For instance, we are involved in Arsenije Teodorovic’s project of the protection of the Serbian cultural heritage in Hungary. We have also been engaged in a very interesting project involving restoration of the 73 icons in the period after the demolition of the church in Budapest in 1949. This is a kind of a project that an institution like the Matica Srpska Gallery is expected to do. Parallel with this, we are also working on several other things including a mobile application.

We must be in touch with the contemporary moment and respond to the needs of the audience. The audience expects the museum to engage in new technology and have new approaches. Concurrently, we are the first museum to ensure such approach through virtual reality. However, we did not go so far as to allow the audience to experience this from home – they have to come to the gallery and see the artwork, and they can also see it via modern media. All the museums in the world do this – they find a way to have a dialogue between the past and the present in order to have an impact in the future.

Success of a theatre play, an exhibition or a work done by an institution is measured against how much it shapes the society. Also, culture changes the perception of Serbia abroad. For the first time in the last 35 years, we have staged an elaborate exhibition in Perugia; rather than a small exhibition in a minor cultural centre. We have exhibited Serbian artwork (18th century icons) along with the Italian renaissance pieces.

Novi Sad was declared the European Capital of Culture which is one of the best EU brands that has multiple benefits since it has been in existence for over 30 years. This is an example of how culture suddenly becomes a hot topic in the city, with everything, including utilities and infrastructure, connected to it. We need to position culture as an investment rather than as an expense. The price of real estate or the number of tourists can go up because of culture which becomes a cohesive factor. Novi Sad allocates 6% of the budget for culture, which is a lot more than 0.62% that the state budget allocates. Novi Sad has wide approach to culture, with numerous festivals, institutions, and individuals involved. It does not observe culture too modernly or to traditionally, but in a multitude of ways. And it is not a coincidence that all of this is happening in Novi Sad.

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