Slovakia, ministry funding withdrawn from Bratislava Kunsthalle. Director resigns

There are fears for the independence of culture in Slovakia. The Ministry of Culture has withdrawn funding from the country's main contemporary art institute, the Kunsthalle in Bratislava. And director Jen Kratochvíl has resigned: "we are seriously concerned."

The air is not good for culture in Slovakia. In fact, the center-left government of Robert Fico, known for its nationalist and conservative stances, in office since October 2023, is intervening rather heavily in the sector, and among the first institutional players to suffer is the Kunsthalle in Bratislava, whose director, Jen Kratochvíl, resigned this week (the leadership of theinstitute has gone to administrative director Denisa Zlata), as the Ministry of Culture has revoked, through 2024, the funding it gives the museum each year to support its artistic and educational program, which had, moreover, already been prepared by the museum’s curators and also by outside professionals, the institute announced.

“We are at a point where,” reads a note from the museum, “experienced and respected professionals, scholars, artists, pedagogues, curators and cultural workers are being accused of spreading values that ’endanger the future of the children of Slovakia.’ We are disturbed by the steps the Ministry of Culture is following, and we have serious reasons to be concerned about the independence and freedom of this national institution. Nevertheless, we will continue to proudly uphold the values that we promote and that were presented in our program, and all those with whom we have collaborated.”

The Kunsthalle Bratislava was founded in 1958 and is the country’s leadingcontemporary art institute, known for its inclusive policies, its program that gives ample space, for example, to issues related to feminism, queer culture, otherness, and migration, and also for its support of the LGBT community (many pro-LGBT events in which the museum has participated, or which it has organized). The LGBT community itself has become the object of government attention, as news of the reduction of support from Slovakia’s Ministry of Culture to the community itself is of recent hours. “LGBTI+ organizations,” said Minister Martina Šimkovičová, “will no longer exploit the funds of the culture department as parasites. I will certainly not allow this under my leadership.” The minister’s views reflect those of most Slovaks: according to a 2023 study by think tank Globsec, 63 percent of the country’s inhabitants disagree with the statement that LGBT rights (e.g., the right to marry) should be guaranteed.

Returning to the Kunsthalle, the Ministry of Culture responded to director Kratochvíl’s resignation with a note saying that the Bratislava Kunsthalle is the only state-run Kunsthalle in Central Europe (a “Kunsthalle” is a museum-like institution where exhibitions, events, and art projects are organized, but which does not have its own permanent collection) that “has not taken advantage of a historic opportunity in terms of program content, public expectations, and even management efficiency,” and consequently the withdrawal of funding is aimed at a management change: the institute, in fact, will be turned over to the management of the National Gallery of Slovakia. At the moment, however, it is not yet known how the merger between the two institutes will take place. The topic, however, is enough to make the entire cultural sector of the country, which is concerned about its independence, discuss.

Image: the Kunsthalle in Bratislava

Slovakia, ministry funding withdrawn from Bratislava Kunsthalle. Director resigns
Slovakia, ministry funding withdrawn from Bratislava Kunsthalle. Director resigns

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