Urban Journalism Institute

A historic year for Novi Sad

Nemanja Milenković

Director, Novi Sad – European Capital of Culture Foundation 

Panoramic view of Novi Sad, Vojvodina, Serbia.
© BGStock72

For every city that becomes the European Capital of Culture, its implementation is a feat. When it comes to Novi Sad, between COVID-19 and the situation in which Europe has been in since March 2022, what happened is nothing short of a miracle. Everything that we promised, we not only fulfilled, we exceeded, even though in 2015, when we first submitted the application, it had seemed ambitious, dream-like even. For example, instead of three new spaces for culture, we now have nine, and there will be even more. Instead of ‘just’ renovating the former shipyard, the “Suburbium”, a 300-year-old neighbourhood, is also being renovated. It triggered the renovation of the Almaš and other neighbourhoods. The City Concert Hall was completed, along with the Music and Ballet School, and no one thought that we would have an artistic director of global importance such as Stefan Milenković for those newly opened institutions. Therefore, everything that was done was twofold, and often even more. 

In terms of the programme, we set a great precedent. It is said that the European Capital of Culture is a co-financing project, however, very few Capitals of Culture work in the way that we managed. By connecting all the stakeholders, we knew that we would get added value. With one of the smallest programme budgets for the European Capital of Culture (ECoC), we practically doubled that value. In what ways? From the start, we advocated the principle with the institutions and the extra-institutional scene: ‘People, this is a joint project’. We advocated that their future programme plans should be connected with and awarded to the most successful cities partaking in this project. The ECoC concept is for them to plan the annual programme structure together with us. Through the culture of togetherness, we have overcome the limitations that stood before us. By working together, we managed to present an incredible 4,000 events and 6,000 artists from all over the world – in a year. 

The year 2022 was an historic one, to put it simply, both in the spatial sense, with 40,000 renovated square metres, and in terms of the programme, knowing the fact that world-class artists were part of Novi Sad’s everyday life, with an average of ten events per day. 

In addition to all that, I must point out that success is all the greater if you take into account the fact that no ECoC had programmes ready before the title year. With everything that happened in 2022, we have already organised six “Dočeks” and five “Kaleidoscopes of Culture” annual events, which themselves have been awarded the European Trend Brand prize in the field of culture. Hence, the only recommendation from the last evaluation panel of the European Commission was that we keep the legacies we had created, which was the highest possible praise. Therefore, I can say, based on the results and numbers, that this is one of the best European Capitals of Culture ever, which is further confirmed by the Melina Mercouri International Prize, which is being awarded to the most successful cities partaking in this project.

Each ECoC gives out a proposal and a plan for a “legacy moment”, and we set those up back in 2016, seven years ahead of our city being the ECoC, through people, processes, places, and programmes. In terms of human resources, young professionals remain living and working in Novi Sad, and the region. We will continue to work on further development of spatial and programme legacies, which are such a unique model in Europe – a network of cultural spaces within neighbourhoods and smaller cities, towns, and villages close to Novi Sad, the District, the City Concert Hall, the Doček and Kaleidoscope of Culture programme and events, the Flags of the Future, and others. 

Moreover, the knowledge that was created during the ECoC did not just stay in Novi Sad, Serbia, it has spread throughout the region of the Balkans and the rest of Eastern Europe. I am most proud of the team of young, creative, and dedicated people that persevered on this unique journey.

Emerik Feješ, Novi Sad, 1960, tempera on paper, 49,2 x 57 cm 
© Ilija Gubić

Emerik Feješ 

(Osijek, 1904 – Novi Sad, 1969)

is considered one of the most important representatives of naïve art in Yugoslavia (former), being the protagonist of urban scenes in art. He worked as a manufacturer and seller of buttons, and as a seller in antique shops in various cities in Yugoslavia. In Novi Sad, due to illness, he left his craft, and in 1949, began painting. He painted cities that, in most cases, he never visited, by looking at postcards and photos of cities in newspapers. Organized within the official programme of the Novi Sad – European Capital of Culture 2022, two exhibitions were organized in October 2022 to showcase Feješ’s art. One in the Novi Sad Cultural Center, presenting Feješ’s art from the collection of the Museum of Naïve and Marginal Art in Belgrade, and the other in the Tourism Office of Novi Sad, where the work of Feješ was shown in contrast to another self-taught artist, Vũ Dân Tân.

Vũ Dân Tân

(Hanoi, 1946-2009)

from Vietnam, is described as one of the first Southeast Asian contemporary artists and conceptualists. Feješ and Vũ, both unconventional painters of the 20th century and autodidacts, were, through their careers, presenting their visions of Europe. Feješ, who never experienced it because of poverty, with his paintings of cities in Europe; and Vũ Dân Tân, a well-travelled artist, with his image-text Money series, where he challenged the artistic orthodoxies of the day with their formal freedom and semantic originality. Vũ Dân Tân is an important figure in Vietnamese art history, both for his artistic production, and his role in providing a platform for early contemporary art in Vietnam.

Vũ Dân Tân
Money series 
Euros – Patria o muerte.
Chinese ink, acrylic and correction pen on paper, 21 x 29,5 cm, 
© Vu Dan Tan Foundation