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Katarina Živanović: The Nitra smile is the brand of Nitra

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Katarina Živanović previously held the position of Director of the REX Cultural Centre in Belgrade, headed the Department of Culture in the Serbian capital and served as Executive Director of the Museum of the History of Yugoslavia. Six years ago, she came to Slovakia from Serbia to make the most of her many years of experience in the field of cultural management as the general manager of the cultural centre Tabačka Kulturfabrik in Košice. Today she is the director of the Creative
Centre in Nitra, which will be built in the former Cinema Palace on Radlinského Street and in the former barracks on Martinský Hill below Zobor.

What is the state of preparation of the creative centre? What are you currently working on?

We are working on several things at once. It’s a complex project, pioneering work. We are learning a lot. Each of us has different experiences from previous projects. At this stage we are expanding the team and clarifying the project activities. Right now we are working on the documentation for the renovation of the buildings. The tender for the reconstruction of the Martinský Hill, which will be the first to start, is underway. At the same time, consultations with the Ministry of Culture are underway. In the second phase, we will be filling the capacity of people who are connected with culture and the creative industries. These are both entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, whom the project aims to better prepare for the labour market. In the third phase, we will work more with the public.

The creative centre is to be built in two locations. One in the city centre on Radlinského Street and the other on Martinský Hill in the former barracks. How will they differ?

The structure of the spaces will be different, but they will be complementary in content. The former Palace cinema will consist of one auditorium, along with a café. It will be a space for various forms of live culture, mainly theatre and dance, but we hope to be able to organise concerts as well. We’ll see how the building will be isolated so that it doesn’t disturb the people who live around it. The space on Martinský Hill will be
more complex. There are plans for workshops, music studios, coworking, a shop. There will also be a space focused on visual arts, but we want it to be as multifunctional as possible. There are independent cultural centres in Slovakia, there are city cultural centres.

Visualisation – Creative Centre in the former Cinema Palace building

Will it be something like this?

What we are doing will be a little bit different in that our project will include a creative part. It’s not just going to be a presentation space, but it’s going to be a space where a large part of the creative industry is going to be creating. It won’t just be culture and art, it will be the creative industry as well.

What do we mean by creative industry?

In our case, that means performing and visual arts, music, audio visual, multimedia and crafts.

I’m a creative, I have an idea, I apply to one of your programs and you help me get my foot in the door?

Yes, you have an idea, you’re wondering if this is the job for you, you don’t have to worry about not being an entrepreneur, you sign up for one of the programs we’re going to offer and you go through the whole process with us – what’s your business plan, financial plan, how do you build a team.

And if I’m an entrepreneur?

You know how it is when you’re an entrepreneur, that job breaks you. Every day it’s something new. With us, you can take a little distance from things and with the experts that our center will offer, you can look at the problems, figure out what to improve, do differently.

Visualisation – Creative Centre in the former barracks on Martinský Hill

What will be the sustainability of this project?

Let me put it this way: we are building a Cultural and Creative Industries Academy here. If the whole project grows, there is no question whether it will be sustained or not. We are building the project based on an analysis that I believe in. Yes, different things have happened to all of us in the meantime. During the pandemic our perception, even our outlook on life has changed. I also believe that thanks to this project, the creative and cultural industries will take another breath. It is important to remember that this is not just a project of the municipal authority, it is a project of the city of Nitra. It is a huge chance for Nitra to build another aspect of its identity that will make it more visible. And then the way will be found.

Nitra is applying for the title of European Capital of Culture 2026 this year. What do you think Nitra, as a bearer of this title, should have?

I think Nitra already has it. The title of European Capital of Culture is not just something invented, it is a recognition of what the city already has. The title is a boost that will make the city stronger.

What was the motivation for you to come to Slovakia? Didn’t you hesitate to swap Serbia for Slovakia and start all over again?

For me, people are important. Working in Tabačka in Košice was a challenge for me. Anyone who understands that they can bring something to the team, to the project, knows what I’m talking about. I felt that my experience is already such that I can take it further and it will be an asset.

What was the motivation to come to Nitra?

I like building and new things. It’s a pioneering thing that’s happening here. We’re looking for a way to do it. The whole process is innovative. Personally, I think a project like this makes a lot more sense in a smaller city like Nitra than in a big city where a lot of things are already built. What is interesting about Nitra is the energy of youth. The city’s leadership is young, the Nitra 2026 team is young, and this is a chance for us, who were born in a different year. I am 53 years old and for me the motivation is that I am selling experience to young people who are the people of the future.

Have you grown to like any places here?

There are places, but for me the city is primarily about the people. That energy motivates me. Yes, I enjoy some walls more than others. But my focus is on the places we are renovating now. I also like to take pictures of places that could move the culture and creative industries somewhere. For example, I really like the steps from Parish Street to the Piarist Church, where my favourite graffiti is located. I also like places by the river or Fraňa Mojta Street. I like asphalt, but I also like nature. I also happen to go to the shopping centre and look at people, what they are interested in, what they talk about, how they communicate, where they stay, how we could use the space where there are a lot of them to promote us. I just walk through the city and observe. I don’t listen to music when I walk to hear the sounds of the city.

What was your first impression of Nitra?

It seems to me that you don’t even know what you have. For me, the Nitra smile is the brand of Nitra. It is the people who are in Nitra and how they act. Since I’ve been in Nitra, everyone just smiles at me, everyone has time for me and I feel like they care about who I am. That doesn’t happen very often. Nowadays there is a big buzz around things that are perfect, unique… and I get the feeling from Nitra that Nitra is human. We are who we are and we don’t pretend to be something else. In my opinion, that’s enough and there’s no need to inflate anything anymore. People just don’t see what they have here. And that’s why for me the creative centre and Nitra 2026 is that we open our eyes, we look around and we say – aha, we have that too.