Barbara at a poetry project in the abandoned spirt factory in Volgograd, June 2015.

Barbara at a poetry project in the abandoned spirt factory in Volgograd, June 2015.

BARBARA ANNA BERNSMEIER, Germany

“I think that art does not contribute to a society, it is society! It never exists without referring to current political and societal questions.

LOUDER interviews gather contributions from activists, community organizers and civil society professionals from Romania, Finland, Russia and all over the world.

Barbara joined the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum as a Project Coordinator for “Europe Lab” in 2016. Before that, she worked as a teaching assistant for German language and culture at the Novosibirsk State University. Afterwards, she was based in Volgograd obtaining a 2-year scholarship for the Programme “Cultural Managers in the Russian Federation” by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the Goethe Institute. As a cultural manager, she implemented several international projects mainly dealing with urban and public art, literature and audio-visual arts. Barbara studied comparative literature, Russian language and literature, and German philology at the Ludwig Maximilian University (Munich, Germany) and the Orenburg State University (Russia).

LOUDER: What does it mean for you to contribute to your community?

My first question to this first question would be: What is “my” community? Ever since I work as a cultural manager, I found myself in very diverse, transnational and multilingual communities all over Europe. It is extremely interesting to discover and observe how local communities in different regions and countries have different needs, problems and challenges, but still also the united power and strength to make a change in society and on political levels. At the moment I live and work in Berlin, Germany, but my everyday work reaches out to people from Siberia, Ukraine, the Caucasus, Poland, rural Eastern Germany up to south Eastern Europe. I think, we should appreciate that we can live in a world where community can mean so much and where we can be part of communities, even though we live miles away from each other. Let us keep being active so that the world stays like that!

Community based art is of course a special tool within the genres and forms of art that allows us to reflect immediately on challenges and find answers from the (civil) society to them.

LOUDER: Could you tell us an inspiring story about your activity or you working for your community?

While working as a cultural manager in Volgograd, Russia, in 2015 my colleagues and I quite randomly discovered a “hidden treasure” not too far from the city centre – an abandoned spirt factory. The owner of the territory had the plan to sell the 8 hectars to investors in order to build an elite living quarter. Together with a group of young artists, students, architects, urbanists and performers we intensively worked with the context of that factory for more than half a year. We researched and investigated the history and the present, searched for documents and leftovers of the workers, talked to citizens of the districts nearby. In the end, we invited Volgograd people to our “SpirtZavod” for one week in summer, where we presented exhibitions, performances, participatory urban plannings, readings and concerts. It was amazing to see how awareness for the place and practices of participatory art was raised in different communities. We gave an example on how the factory territory could look like, if it was not sold to an investor: As a creative, artistic space still showing the spirit of history. Needless to say, the owner has not succeeded in selling the territory up until now.

LOUDER: Do you think art can contribute to a better society/community? How?

I think that art does not contribute to a society, it is society! It never exists without referring to current political and societal questions. Community based art is of course a special tool within the genres and forms of art that allows us to reflect immediately on challenges and find answers from the (civil) society to them.  

LOUDER: Any words for our LOUDER participants.

Take part in “Europe Lab” (every year in July), network and exchange, develop new initiatives, travel slowly and don’t forget to catch a breathe from time to time.