Czech Republic: NGO starts risky recording studio on edge of Romani ghetto
On the border between Brno's Romani ghetto and the "normal" city center, a recording studio full of energy and symbolism is slated to begin growing on the premises of a former gaming room. "There are other ways to play" is one of the slogans accompanying the studio's vision.
Other metaphors, such as "A border that does not divide", come to mind as well. That is the possible contrast the project will pose to an infamous school in Brno that is located just 100 meters away from the future studio.
That school occupies two buildings, one on each side of the street. "White" children attend school in the bigger, nicer building.
Romani children are taught in the school's smaller, uglier facility hidden a bit aside from the street. In future, though, young people from both sides of that border might meet in the recording studio and create a unique multicultural center governed by yet another symbolic thesis - "When people play music together, their prejudices disappear".
The project, however, may not go forward after all. The studio needs CZK 1 million to complete construction.
Completion of the project has been delayed until October, for now. The question is whether the Brno-based nonprofit IQ Roma servis (IQRS) has not overestimated its strength in this case.
We'll open in May!
In an interview for Radio Wave, IQRS director Katarína Klamková said on 10 February that if all goes well, the Amaro Records recording studio could open on 1 May. She described both the difficulties and the hopeful sides of the work's progress.
"The gaming room was so typical - it was stickered over like crazy. Basically there were enormous windows with natural light there that were completely covered up. We took that all off because we wanted to find out what was underneath. The planner told us it was all a bit tangled up, so we tested to see what was underneath and how complicated it would be," Klamková said.
"The gaming room is good, in its own way, for a recording studio," the director said. "It's also good because people have been used to a gaming room being there. Neighbors and tenants will certainly be startled when a Romani nonprofit begins some kind of creative activity there, but at the same time they'll say well, it used to be a gaming room and now it will be something better, maybe."
It was at exactly about that time, however, that the people from IQRS began to determine that things were more "tangled up" than they had believed.
One million crowns needed. What about professionalism?
This month an article in the local daily Brněnský deník warned that not only is the studio not ready, it needs a million crowns to be completed. "The building is very old, during the reconstruction we determined that more alterations will be needed. We had to take out the floor, the building still needs to be soundproofed, and ventilation has to be arranged," the daily quoted Andrea Macháčová of IQRS as saying.
Her colleague Robin Stria added that so far they have "removed all the stickers and the carpets and fixed the floors." It seems the nonprofit has gone about the entire project with a large dose of naiveté in wanting to reconstruct a forming gaming room in an old building and turn it into a recording studio.
Once their volunteers removed the carpets and wallpaper, they discovered there was a bit more work to do. Approximately a million crowns' worth.
Lenka Maléřová, Deputy Director of Finance and Projects at IQRS, rejects the notion that the nonprofit is naive or unprofessional. "We know what we're doing. We have weighed the risks from all sides, it's feasible," she says in an interview for news server Romea.cz.
We'll make it
Maléřová explains that IQRS had to make a fast decision last year as to whether to go into the project or not. The offer came from the Faculty of Social Studies at Brno's Masaryk University, which is participating in an international research project focusing on young people, "City Space".
As part of the research, the university was able to spend CZK 130 000 on a "practical" part, and agreed to use it to equip the IQRS recording studio. Then they succeeded in getting the appropriate spaces from the Brno-Střed Municipal Department for the symbolic rent of one crown.
"Several things came together that way. For six years we have been running a musical hobby group led by the excellent Romani musician Gejza Horváth. We have talented young people who want to dedicate themselves to music but cannot access an ordinary commercial recording studio," Maléřová recounts.
"The impulse came from the Faculty and the Municipal Department helped," she said. "The project has enormous potential, so we went for it."
This unique multicultural potential, according to Maléřová, was clear right from the beginning - two "non-Romani" experts provided the consultations and studies needed for the building permits and design of the soundproofing free of charge. Romani youths, meanwhile, began cleaning the former gaming room up.
Then, however, they became more thoroughly acquainted with the state of the building. "We knew from the beginning it wouldn't be easy, but we didn't have all the necessary information - even the city didn't know what state exactly the space is in. For old buildings some documentation is just missing," Maléřová explains.
Gradually the nonprofit arrived at the conclusion that they will have to reinforce the ceiling, reconstruct the floor, and that the norms for a use permit as a recording studio are stricter than those for a gaming room. All of this will cost a million crowns more than anticipated.
"I don't believe we were naive," Maléřová summarizes. "We knew we were taking a risk, but we weighed the options and decided not to let this unique opportunity go. I'm insisting on that even today. We are raising money everywhere we can, even though it's difficult because this project doesn't fit standard grants. We believe that a realistic deadline for opening the studio is October of this year."
IQRS has launched a public collection for the studio. The nonprofit is able and willing to invest its own money into the project and is reaching out to various foundations, as well as planning to raise money through crowdfunding.
Nonprofits in a minefield
Maléřová rejects questions as to whether the risk involved isn't too much, whether IQRS might fall into debt, and mainly whether failure might harm the NGOs' good name. "If nonprofits never took risks, they wouldn't be able to do anything," she says.
"If you don't fulfill the indicators in an EU project, you risk sanctions on the order of millions," says the Deputy Director of Finance and Projects. "We're used to working with risk, we don't even have any other choice. In this case we are convinced it is decidedly worth it."
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