Alexandra-Maria Rigler is the Director of the Center for Projects Timișoara, the funding institution, delegated to deal with the cultural program Timișoara 2023. Alexandra-Maria Rigler graduated from the University of Architecture and Urbanism of Timișoara (FAUT), where she studied architecture. She continued her studies at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de la Universidad de Sevilla, Spain. Along the way, she specialized in management and entrepreneurship, being involved in numerous projects in the cultural and creative sector, such as the Bienala Timișoreană de Arhitectură Beta or Anuala.
You studied architecture in the country and abroad. Still, following your professional path, an increased interest in management and cultural production emerges. What exactly stimulated you in this direction?
Architecture is a cultural act of public interest with social, ecological, and economic implications, for which the profession of architect can manifest itself in various ways. An architect should learn, through his basic training, an extensive set of skills and values that help him solve problems, coordinate projects and take responsibility on several levels.
Ever since college, I have been more interested in the way people understand and appreciate the built environment and less in practice in the “traditional” sense (the architect who designs), and this interest brought me to teams and projects such as the Anuala and then the Bienala Timișoreană de Arhitectură Beta, of which I became the coordinator for the third edition of 2020, in the expert committee of the European Prize for Urban Public Space, within the collaboration platform F O R, as well as in various NGOs (IN COMMUNITY, MOJAR, Architecture, FABER).
Gradually, I specialized in cultural management and production and initiated, coordinated and collaborated on numerous projects in the cultural and creative sector.
Timișoara celebrates this year, holding the title of European Capital of Culture through numerous art exhibitions, cultural conferences, plays, concerts, films, festivals and shows. You are the director of the Project Center of the Municipality of Timișoara, the financing institution delegated to deal with the cultural program Timișoara 2023. What was the context in which you took on this position, and how would you describe the whole experience?
I occupy this position following a public competition, in which I participated in the spring of 2021, with the idea that this institution can have a significant impact at the level of the cultural sector through the responsibilities and mode of operation imagined by the current administration.
The role of the Center for Projects in the Timișoara 2023 constellation is an extensive one. To begin with, we are the primary funding authority of the cultural program, running funding programs with amounts from the local budget of the Municipality of Timișoara and the state budget.
We also host the Timișoara 2023 Curatorial Team – the collective responsible for the cultural program’s artistic coherence and strategic coordination. We are also responsible for the relationship with the European Commission and for monitoring and evaluating the impact of this program. In addition, we organize representative events such as the symbolic opening and closing events of the Timișoara 2023 cultural program. Finally, we coordinate the Power Station component of the Timișoara 2023 program, a component dedicated to increasing the capacity of the cultural sector. All this, in addition to the usual activity of Centr, which, in addition to providing funding from the local budget, means adding value to the cultural infrastructure; more precisely, we facilitate access to spaces and equipment, manage and program two of the former cinemas, which we reintegrated into the cultural circuit.
The proposed cultural program supported, to an equal extent, the debutant cultural operators and those with experience in the implementation of cultural projects. At the same time, you have made a series of exhibition spaces available to cultural operators and created creative grants and artistic residencies addressed directly to artists and cultural journalists. You first aimed to position the Center for Projects as a partner in the relationship with them, encouraging dialogue, communication, and transparency. How would you describe the relationship with the cultural operators and artists who accessed the non-reimbursable funds?
Thank you for your question. I can only repeat what you pointed out above, enjoying the fact that from the outside, at least from you, it is seen that we encourage dialogue, communication and transparency. Understanding the complexity of the cultural sector, we have strived to formulate relevant programs connected to the needs and potential of cultural sector professionals with a public mission.
The people in the team are extremely important for the smooth running of the project, regardless of the field. By what criteria do you generally guide yourself in choosing the people you work with?
The Center’s extended team currently consists of 29 employees, each joining the team based on competition, the Center is a public institution. Nine members joined them in the coordination council – members with a fixed-term mandate, in the context of Timișoara 2023, including the members of the Timișoara 2023 Curatorial Team, selected following an international competition and other external collaborators, who contribute punctually to the implementation of some components and processes. We came to work together for several reasons – from the opportunity of a context that set the stage for engagement and change for the better to the presence of some of us that attracted the confidence of others to join the team. In our situation, beyond the professional criteria, perhaps the most important is resilience.
The responsibility implied by the position held within the Center for Projects of the Municipality of Timișoara is enormous. How did you maintain your calm, motivation, and optimism and manage the tense situations generated by the coordination and implementation of the Timișoara 2023 cultural program?
We are not superheroes; we do what we know and can do better. Everything wobbles in a project with such importance and pressure – and I think it’s normal for that to happen. When the motivation is lower, we balance the side of responsibility (to colleagues, citizens, cultural operators, etc.). Tense situations are amplified during periods of accumulated fatigue, and we hardly avoid them. What we have managed so far is to consume various problematic situations intensively and briefly rather than over a long period. You get charged from the things that work and the cultural events you attend.
The public is the main receiver of cultural events. How were the projects carried out within the national cultural program “Timișoara 2023 – European Capital of Culture” received by the general public?
That’s right, the public is and should be the primary receiver. What is extraordinary about this project is the diversity of formats and audience categories addressed – moments with crowds shared together, projects that address less visible communities, events that you stumble upon in your neighborhood, on public transport, in the market of vegetables or vintage market, activities targeting extremely specific public categories, intergenerational projects, etc. We have all been enriched in smaller or larger groups by events that offer us various perspectives from which to learn from each other, to be more tolerant, inclusive, and richer in experiences and meanings.
2023 is undoubtedly an effervescent cultural year for Timișoara. What do you think 2024 will look like for the city? What will be the effects locally and nationally?
2023 was, here and there, too intense. I expect 2024 to be a more settled but consistent year. There are so many wheels set in motion. Some will continue to work like clockwork, and others will need maintenance. After we have proven what we can do and the spotlight will no longer be so intense, I hope we build on the dialogue exercise of these years and come together more often to do things from now on.
There are two months left until the closing of the cultural program Timișoara 2023. Looking back, what is the most important lesson you have learned?
I couldn’t mention a particular lesson. We learned a lot, all of us who contributed to the Timișoara 2023 project. Perhaps one of the most important lessons learned is that there is not much when it comes to gratitude and thanks and that they should be verbalized much more often, especially in the team of which you are a part. Precisely because it is more difficult to process unkindness and unconstructive criticism, we need to balance it with thanks and gratitude.
What plans do you have, and how do you see your professional path in the coming years? Is there anything you would like to experience?
The year 2023 “swallowed” us long before it started and will keep us just as busy, at least until the end of 2024. In the short term, I will try to balance the personal and social areas I completely neglected. After this marathon, I know I can run another, but if you ask me now, in November 2023, I don’t know if I want to. I will negotiate with myself in the spring and see my answers then.
The interview is part of the project REPERE, an approach through which I aim to present outstanding people, with a beautiful and healthy professional career, with inspirational stories, people who have transformed Timișoara into an effervescent cultural city through numerous exceptional events initiated and coordinated over time, but also on the occasion of the celebration of holding the title of European Capital of Culture.
This journalistic material was made through the financing program Energie! Burse de creație, supported by the Municipality of Timișoara, through the Center for Projects, within the Power Station component of the National Cultural Program “Timișoara – European Capital of Culture in the Year 2023”. The material does not necessarily represent the position of the Center for Projects of the Municipality of Timișoara, and this one is not responsible for its content or manner it may be used.
Credit cover photo: Bianca Azap