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After a tenacious struggle that lasted for many years and had begun with determining the property title of a cultural object classified as historical monument, but was not owned by anybody and was registered as swamp in official documents, we discovered, to our surprise, that a small part of my colleagues, artists from Baia Mare that owned studios inside the Colony, had been against the rehabilitation project for the simple reason that they preferred certain personal comforts which they would have had to give up for a while, attitude that seemed to encourage their ego, but unfortunately not the ego typical to an artist.
Any project begins with a fine, noble thought which invigorates you, brings you joy and gives you the hope that when you will share it with others it will generate a positive feeling. Unfortunately, even from its incipient phase, we were sadly faced with the comments, critiques and discontents of these artists who did not have any other proposals or who had never dealt with such issues because they were too egocentric to ever do it. And then we were also faced with their intense opposition to stop this project for good, a crucial project given the buildings’ state of degradation, some of which were almost collapsing. Nevertheless, we did not give in, the insignificant desperate attempts lacking perspective did not intimidate us even though they often surpassed the threshold of decent coexistence.
The community however has been very open to the project. Moreover, given all these oppositions we ended up divided into two teams: the majority for the project and the artistic minority against it. On this occasion, many inhabitants of Baia Mare learned about the town’s cultural identity. We found out that people did not know where the Colony was. Fortunately, the end of these tensions was beneficial. At the beginning of the project, the team was very small, but highly motivated, committed and convincing. We have constantly had the support of the local authorities. The project’s costs, amounting to approximately 3,200,000 Euros, was fully financed from the local budget of the Baia Mare Municipality.
The situation was even more ridiculous and absurd as the “town” invests such a value in the trust in the professional local art, and several representatives of the opposition, constituted in a vocal minority lacking purpose and perspective, had an absolutely childish discourse.
To give history the chance to keep ad litteram this poetic and romantic side of a very burdensome project, we buried three similar boxes in different locations inside the art gallery (in the great hall, the Transform Hall and the hall dedicated to the history of the Colony). The boxes are made of Corten and contain prints of the articles published in the local media and the comments, Facebook posts, e-mails etc. from the period 2011-2014. The construction works lasted from 19 February 2015 to 30 October 2017.
For a century this place has received artists that lived and created here. But there never was a project to save this heritage. There were however various proposals for extensions and new buildings within the Painters’ Colony that had been aesthetically conceived outside the spirit of the place.
The rehabilitation project and its execution. 2009-2017
No issue of financial support could be taken into consideration at any level without the administrative aspect that allows you to have a clear and well-defined approach to the heritage. It would have been ideal if the situation in which the approach to this issue of reconstitution and rehabilitation of the existing material heritage that was in an advanced state of degradation had had different initial conditions regarding the existing property title (solved only in 2012). Various plausible stories went around, but nonetheless there was nothing concrete and significant, not even a little something to start with.
By means of the feasibility study submitted in 2013 and of the usual studies necessary for a historical monument, as well as by means of the technical project in course of being enforced, we have reached a “point zero” where we reconsidered the Painters’ Colony from the perspective of the functions it had initially. Throughout this journey the priority was: the best method to preserve a building is to find its use.1
Two design proposals were realized for public debate and for the DALI approval phase of the Ministry of Culture, proposals that relied on two opposed visions. One suggested the stopping of time around the year 1911 inferring the need for the place’s museum quality and its memory. However, this proposal did not take into consideration the artistic phenomenon that had vitalized and capitalized this space considered today a historical monument of national interest due to the artistic phenomenon initiated at the Painting School and also due to the continuity that had made possible the existence of today’s Artistic Centre of Baia Mare. This version suggested the return to the architecture of 1911 without taking into account the evolution of the buildings that had been transformed, in time, depending on the needs of the era and considering the artists’ creation and living needs. Moreover, this proposal would have led to the loss of several creation spaces and of the space’s function of art gallery.
The second proposal, accepted and approved by the Ministry of Culture, was the one targeting first of all the continuity of the Baia Mare artistic phenomenon and furthermore, its highlighting and development by reconsidering the functions of the creation and exhibition spaces that will serve current requirements. Thus, the emphasis was placed on the natural evolution of the buildings. The needs of a setting that will serve as both creation space and artist residence were also taken into consideration. Moreover, the project suggests a multi-functionality of the spaces, so that they could host classes and creation activities, conferences and large cultural activities. The artists’ residences would become part of an exchange project that will stimulate the Painters’ Colony and allow it to regain its European dimension. By the vertical systematization of the very generous outdoor space with well-maintained vegetation for being in the town center, the colony’s 6 buildings and its natural park-like environment will be highlighted by contrast. In other words, the monument has the vocation to anchor human societies within the natural and cultural space and within the double temporality of man and nature.2 This proposal also improves the number of studios that increases considerably and furthermore, it maintains the function of art gallery which is absolutely necessary for an artistic center with such a history. We had noticed that a memory-space was missing, a space to preserve the essence of the place by displaying personal objects of the artists which could serve as an exhibit discourse for tourists and researchers. Therefore, we created a space with such a function that would partly recreate the memory of the space. For a higher efficiency of the administrative organization of exhibitions, we reconfigured the interior space of the gallery to allow having two exhibitions at the same time. Thus, we created an additional space to showcase either personal exhibitions or small-scale exhibits. Another gain of this proposal is the new storage facilities, highly necessary for a large gallery.
The architectural organization was kept, thus maintaining alive the history that speaks about the establishment of the place. By mounting multiple inscriptions and displaying various images, the circumstances of the development of this century-old place will be revealed. Each studio will preserve the memory of the artists that created there, and the display on one of the gallery walls of all the names of the artists that joined the school and of those who completed the phenomenon of the Artistic Center will explain, once more, the symbolic and real dimension of this place.
This cultural space represents and highlights the community that identifies itself and takes part in its defining. In other words, the Painters’ Colony becomes a powerful device through which the Baia Mare artistic guild produces and reveals its own identity. Thought and created in such a manner, this space becomes a mirror of the artistic guild, a place marked by hospitality, an interface that allows tourists and researchers to know the local specificity within the larger context of the international movement of cultural and artistic values. By everything it is, this place will communicate its own individuality.
Starting with the 1990s these studios served less and less their initial purpose. They became storage rooms filled with objects and things no longer needed at home…. They were used as headquarters for private companies. And among these unfortunate details a few artists also survived, who still came daily to enjoy the studio atmosphere.
Moreover, the exhibition spaces were not suitable because they were not heated, the exhibits were not secured and the entrance door was protected only by a Chinese lock. Therefore, they could only be used from May to September. Furthermore, these exhibition halls were in a building that had been architecturally mutilated in the 1970s when the Secession style in whose spirit the building had been previously designed was completely destroyed and the building was given the look of a Socialist thermal heating plant.
It is certain that, from the moment we reopen the Painters’ Colony on other coordinates which are part of the dynamics of the European dimension that has inspired this phenomenon, through the presence of large-scale exhibitions, of the invited artists and personalities who will restore the spirit of this place, the new generation of artists, and not only them, will celebrate a different heritage than the one we, the present generation, have received.