Creativity in Slovenian Cities: How the old military barracks can be transformed into creative hubs

Slovenia is the country that one can feel. It is felt predominantly in green tones, in the magic nectars of the rustic vineyards, in the mountains and sea, in the peace of an apparently orchestrated order that invites you to stay, to discover something more, because yes... Slovenia is about places, people and about how much creativity this orchestration can generate. We discovered and felt all of this during a study visit in several Slovenian cities alongside a group of cultural managers from Eastern Partnership countries, who saw here good examples of how art and culture are reinvented and adapted to the new realities.

In the first article from the series that will follow, we told you about Pekarna, Metelkova and SALON - the first two being spaces that reborn from old military bases, which today host young artists, and the latter being an old building left without owners under the State management that became a creative café.

Pekarna, former military bakery - cultural centre in Maribor

Maribor is the second largest city in Slovenia and it is situated at slightly over 120 km away from the capital city of Ljubljana. Designated as the European Capital of Culture in 2012, the city hosts creativity in many less traditional places, which served for other purposes before. As suggested by the name itself, today’s Pekarna was an important bakery for many military bases during Yugoslavia. The buildings, which now form one of the largest artistic hub in Slovenia, were built at the end of the 19th century during the Austro-Hungarian Empire and were used as garrisons. Today, each of these buildings has its own peculiarity depending on the activities taking place here.

Young Artists occupied the Building in the early 1990s

After the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army during the Ten-Day Independence War, and once these buildings remained empty, they came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. As their access request was rejected, many activists simply occupied the space in 1994.

Meanwhile, the municipality came into possession of the buildings, and over the years the relationships between the local authorities and “tenants” oscillated between love and hate. However, nowadays the artists use the space free of charge, and the Mayor’s Office pays the costs for water and electricity. The evolution of this artistic hub has encountered obstacles as well. Thus, in 2007 the Mayor’s Office wished to destroy these buildings in favor of building new blocks of flats. The press, other specialized organizations, and the Ministry of Culture as well, succeeded in putting enough pressure to prevent this from happening. It was at that time that the Minister of Culture decided to attract European funds to renovate the place.


In 2010 the Conference “New times. New Models” supported by the Trans Europe Halles Network was held with the aim to establish a new space management style, which included its renovation among others.

“We had to consider three aspects: the people working here, municipality and community, and during the conference the relationship among all of them was clearly established. The model was applied only to one of the buildings, which was renovated. However, the renovation itself rather did harm to the Pekarna community, both because of the created appearance, and also because the organizations previously existing here had to move during the works and once they were completed, other organizations took their place. As regards the condition of other buildings, some of them received certain improvements, for example, the roofs were changed. Many problems still remain unresolved.  Hence, it could be very cold here during the winter, and the activists use their own resources for heating”,Urška Breznik, the representative of Pekarna community, said.

Who are the people from Pekarna

At present, Pekarna hosts troupes, associations that organize theater performances or concerts, painters, second-hand bookshops, youth cultural organizations, sports organizations. Most programs conducted here are free of charge or have a symbolic entrance fee for visitors.

Once a place is free, which rarely happens, other organizations can register to fill the vacancy following a public call. The administration, which is made up of all Pekarna members, decides who is admitted. "But this rarely happens. Usually, the new organizations wishing a place here should come and present their ideas to the community. But, as a rule, those who leave secretly pass the place to the others, and so this exchange is made in a non-transparent way. This is the thing that does not work”, Urška added.

Metelkova - the city in the Capital, a place for nocturnal exhibitions, murals, workshops and clubs

From Maribor we headed to a place in Ljubljana, which few tourists reach, either because it is somehow hidden from the eyes of the world, or because it is a less traditional space. Metelkova is an autonomous social center, located right in the heart of Ljubljana, and it is considered by many people a city within the city. The history repeats or rather starts right from here, since Metelkova is also a former garrison transformed into a creative hub in 1993 when it was occupied by a group of cultural activists. It consists of seven buildings and got its name from the Metelko Street located nearby, the name originating from a Roman Catholic priest. With dozens of activities, organizations, events and initiatives, Metelkova is considered the most active and efficient cultural center of the country.

Miran is one of the dozens of artists hosted by Metelkova. He has a workshop here and is a renowned craftsman in Slovenia, distinguished by his original style. When I entered to visit him, he was crafting a table for his own kitchen, and traces of the former and future creations were everywhere in the small workshop. Not far from Miran, there is a unique exhibition that can be viewed only at night outside the building. There is a high installation equipped with a microscope for visitors, wherefrom the exhibition can be seen exclusively after the sun sets. The installation is also used as a meeting place for the community here.

At Metelkova you can also find an innovative children's garden, which has various games created from recycled equipment, and next to it there is the most colorful wall in Ljubljana, which was painted by a group of Roma children from Macedonia within a social project. The creative site hosts also a building for the activities of the LGBT community, whose members initiate projects here, form associations, or have fun in pubs and discos. By the way, Metelkova has several such places, where in the evenings people from the nearby regions come together to spend quality time with interesting people. On the territory of the center there is also an unusual hostel constructed within the old prison. The former cells, in which the detainees were imprisoned, were transformed into hostel rooms.

Neither Metelkova lacked problems with the municipality. In 2006 a building hosting different trainings was demolished by the authorities. However, the center is legally connected to the city's water and electricity systems, and the artists pay for utilities from the account of the commercial activities (concerts, bars, art galleries). The space is provided free of charge to the members.

Back to Maribor: SALON - from a former casino to a creative café

Borut Wenzel set up SALON in 2013, after Maribor was designated as the European Capital of Culture. Originally, it was a space where the local designers and artists could exhibit and sell their works. ”The economic circumstances were not quite favorable, therefore, we introduced the concept of café, and with it the organization of different cultural events”, Borut says.

The building was built at the beginning of the 20th century by the Germans, which at that time developed the city of Maribor from several economic perspectives. The place used to be a restaurant and a meeting place for the Germans at that time. During the First World War, they lost the rights to the place, which in the '70s was turned into a casino. Later, the casino was closed for about eight years until 2012, when it was used as an exhibition space during the events related to the designation of Maribor as the European Capital of Culture. “Since then, I started looking for opportunities to bring this place back to life," he says.

During the 1960s, when the space was still a meeting place for various communities, many families were created following the meetings here. At the reopening in 2013, they were the first guests of the café. "We have started to recreate the same atmosphere of the old times through cultural and musical events similar to those performed at that time," says the founder. Now, SALON is a café during the day, and in the evening it is a place for concerts, public discussions, lectures, literary evenings, different meetings of the artists. Thus, from their perspective, the place has a different appearance each time, and all its decorations have been collected for 20 years by the founder and the members who joined later.

To be closed

Having no property rights, Borut will have to leave the place in less than one year, since after the Second World War the State took over many private properties, as well as this building. Now, they intend to privatize it, that is why they put it out for sale. "Probably someone very rich will buy it and invest in any business. I do not think that SALON can arise in any another place, since there is a special connection with this space”, Borut says.

23 representatives of the cultural sector from Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine spent five days in Slovenia, where they visited 21 creative and cultural spaces and met over 60 Slovenian cultural organizations. Besides Ljubljana, the guests visited the city of Maribor in East, as well as Vipava, Nova Gorica, Šempas and Osek in West. The visit was hosted and planned by Motovila team, Centre for the Promotion of Cooperation in the Cultural and Creative Sectors from Slovenia. More details about the visit and the participants can be found out HERE.

The article was drawn up in cooperation with the 2015-2018  EU-Eastern Partnership Culture and Creativity Programme –

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