Places of cultural and heritage importance have been affected by over-tourism for some time. This phenomenon is something that cities all over Europe are facing and tourist cities in Croatia, such as Dubrovnik and Split are no exception. As a response to this situation, the non-profit association Culture Hub Croatia has produced a remarkable project as a resolution to the effect of over-tourism in the city of Split.
Author: Hana Kohout
Culture Hub Croatia (CHC), led by cultural professionals Marina Batinić, Jasmina Šarić and Kristina Tešija, in 2020, created a project named Voids2020 (Praznine2020) as a socially engaged art practice in order to create social engagement and react to this particular state pertaining to over-tourism in the urban space in Split, Croatia.
The essential purpose of the project was a reaction to the longstanding problem of growing mass tourism and the ineffective situation in Split. Essentially, one of the effects of mass tourism is that many spaces in the Diocletian’s palace (the historical core of the city) are closed during the “low-season” period, during the winter. Thus, with the Voids project the idea was to convert these temporarily closed spaces in the historic centre of Split in the winter, which are otherwise used for tourist purposes, and to used them to engage the artistic practice and the local audience.
Artists from all over the region are able to use a space as their own Open Studio for a few days, and all citizens and other civil society organizations in Split can also “adopt” one of the spaces and use it in whatever way they want, to organise workshops or organise artistic projects. This way the locals and their creative community are able to reappropriate the spaces in the historical core and gain back the “ownership” of the heritage. This practice indicates a possible alternative model of action that aims to preserve the authenticity and “reappropriation” of the urban area, i.e. the city centre of Split, but also the activation of society in matters such as these.
In order to know even more about the project, Alen Marić one of the individuals who “adopted” a space and also worked on the Voids projects visual design answered a few questions. Alen is a design student and particularly uses the medium of photography in his work.
Can you briefly describe your impression of this year’s Voids2021 project, despite the pandemic, how the project managed to successfully complete and address the situation currently in Split, Croatia?
Despite this Covid situation at the moment, I think the project went great. There were no problems, the response was great, people in this city recognized it. It would certainly have an even bigger turnout had it not been for the pandemic, but I think everyone is very pleased with how it all went.
The project itself has grown this year in terms of reaching out to more people. I think that this problem has been spreading in the centre of the city but also outside the centre of Split for years, only no one has decided to deal with it. With this project, a lot of people recognised the problem, but also saw how the city centre can actually look like even when there are no tourists.
Do you see this kind of artistic practice as successful in addressing the longstanding problem of growing mass tourism and the situation in Split? Do you think that more of these practices could be used in other cities that suffer from the issue of overtourism?
Yes of course. It seems logical to me that if some spaces are empty in the winter, why shouldn’t they have some other purpose. The artists are delighted with the location of the project, and if they could spend more time here, it would be great for the community itself, for the employers because the space would have an additional function. Many new ideas could be born there, and I hope they will.
Do you think that the creative community in Split positively reacted to this project and was able to connect with its cause and be actively involved?
Yes, I think it did. You can recognize how much love and effort has been invested, and that is why people came. Things like this are missing in this city and people are eager for it. I also think the project has not yet experienced its full potential. It just takes a little more time.
As well as being a part of the CHC team, you also managed to “adopt” one of the spaces as a part of the Voids2021 framework. Can you tell us a bit more about that experience and how it influenced your artistic practice further?
Yes, I participated with my “experiment” because it seemed like something appropriate for this project. For me, the experience went better than I expected. The response was great, through communication with people I met, and I saw a lot of things that I can apply to the continuation of this project, which is most important to me. This project connects my thinking about photography, and this is something I will rethink through my practice and there is no end to this, it’s just a question of how it will continue.
What do you consider for yourself the biggest learning lesson or maybe even a realisation during Voids2021 (about yourself, your city, its creative community…)?
Well, the first thing is I realised there is a huge community of creatives in Split and people who are interested in supporting and participating in any way they can and that’s why I’m overjoyed. The other is that I’ve met so many great people who love the things they do so much and I’m glad that despite everything they keep pushing and not giving up.
If there were no such people, it is questionable what kind of society and community they would have, because these are positive things of which there should be more of and they should be encouraged and participated in any way. And for the end I just want to say Kristina, Jasmine and Marina thank you and to the whole CHC team and I hope this is only the beginning.
Consequently, instead of just debating and contemplating of this growing problem that just increases each year, Culture Hub Croatia actively seeks with this project Voids, to create a change that can in some way affect this problematic with tourism.
About the author
Hana holds a BA degree in Art History and English Language and Literature (University of Split, Croatia) and a MA degree in Arts and Project Management (Birmingham City University, UK). Trained as an art historian, researcher and writer, she focuses on modern and contemporary art in relation to women artists and the notion of voice. She has volunteered and gained experience in a few contemporary art galleries. She enjoys working in a creative environment to enhance the productivity and organisation of arts businesses. Besides her passion for contemporary art, she cares for preservation of heritage and recently she became a European Youth Ambassador for ESACH, Europa Nostra and European Heritage Tribune to share the voice of young people in the cultural sector and promote collective European heritage.