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The Cluj Factory

Published July, 2010
by Easterndaze

After spending some quality time – no pun intended – in Bucharest and meeting all the incredibly driven local culture operators, festival organizers, experimental music afficionados, label heads, producers, angry old men and plethora of stray dogs, we reluctantly had to bid farewell to this wonderfully deranged city and head to northwest to Cluj-Napoca, Romania’s major creative hub. Most of the contemporary Romanian visual artists are either based or spent a formative period of their lives in this Transylvanian hotspot, the fourth largest city in the country.

Cluj’s art life is epitomized by Fabrica de Pensule, a former paintbrush factory situated in the city’s working class area. The derelict edifice furnishes several alternative arts initiatives that last year decided to put their forces together and rent it (the factory is run on a purely independent basis).

We spoke to three of them – Rarita Zbranca, who runs the Alt Art collective that throws new media events and interventions in public spaces; Kinga Kelemen, the Hungarian-Romanian contemporary dance organizer behind the Ground Floor group – interestingly, the tension that can be felt in let’s say southern Slovakia where I come from, pertaining relations between Slovaks and the Hungarian minority, seemed non-existent here, at least from what I could tell – and theatre director Mihaela Panainte leading the Sala Mica theater project. In spite of the not-so-easy conditions that independent cultural operators have to function these days, especially in corruption and economic crisis-battling Romania, there was no whining or grudge that you often hear from alternative arts activists in the more affluent countries. There’s no time for complaining – things gotta get done, projects started, collaborations forged…