Englishmaninslovakia has been wanting to post something on Stanica for a while and we thought there would be nothing as good as catching up with the guys behind Žilina’s – and one of Slovakia’s – most innovative cultural projects. The idea is simple – stanica means station in Slovak and this artistic hub (inside reconstructed old station buildings) is at a still functioning train station, too, where people can, in the words of the owners, “stop off as they’re passing by to share news and experiences from their travels”. This place is cafe, bar, gallery, theatre, festival venue, artists’ workshop and general cultural powerhouse: cool enough to make a special visit to Žilina for and certainly, if as most visitors you’re in town for the wonders of the Malá Fatra National Park just outside, cool enough to waylay you for an afternoon or evening.
Anyway, here’s the Q & A we did with Stanica’s very own Dušan and see here for the city of Žilina highlights.
Can you say a few words about how Stanica was formed and the idea behind it?
Stanica is a train station on a local line between Žilina and Rajec (Slovakia). At the same time, Stanica is a cultural node: a project-space operated by NGO called Truc sphérique that has been developing cultural and educational activity since 1998. It started as a collective of young people who wanted to deal with contemporary art in all its forms and genres, interconnecting with everyday life and current social issues. After several years, we all realised the need for a larger space in order to fully progress the activities we wanted to run. So in 2003, we found this abandoned building in a train station and the railway company rented it to us for 30 years under the condition we would reconstruct it. So we did.
Since then, we have been operating Stanica as a cultural hub with a broad programme of cultural events from concerts, theatre and dance shows, movie screenings, discussions, readings, exhibitions and educational activities for kids, pupils and university students. The point is to present high quality contemporary art to the citizens of Žilina and to make art as a usual part of everyday life, as something necessary and vital, not something extra and special.
Žilina is not a city people normally associate with tourism. How does Stanica boost the city’s image? What does it offer visitors to city? And what are some of the best events on at Stanica?
Stanica is also an example of a project that is known outside the town, and indeed Slovakia. Thanks to participating in various international projects and cooperations within Trans Europe Halles, people all around Europe know about what we do.
Our work represents us best. For example, after realising we needed one more, larger venue, we have built a multifunctional theatre hall under the bridge, made of beer crates and straw bails. Thanks to this hall and attic hall inside Stanica, we are able to organize or host various arts events, shows and festivals.
The best known of these festivals is Fest Anča, an international animation film festival which is the largest event of the year. Another one is Kiosk, a festival of contemporary dance and theatre, which is also taking place during summer. There is a park next to Stanica where summer visitors can camp in the tents for free. Together with our bar (open 7 days a week), Stanica is a lively space even when there is no event. People now always drop by for coffee or beer (along with some typical Slovak snacks) and Stanica has become a kind of meeting point in Žilina.
Pretend I am a tourist visiting Žilina for first time. Tell me why I should go to Stanica and what I can find there. And apart from Stanica what else would you recommend seeing in Žilina itself?
First, you should check our programme. We try to keep it translated into English, as well. For a summer trip, I really recommend the already-mentioned Fest Anča, a festival which is great for foreigners since many guests are from abroad. But at any time, most of the people involved in Stanica (staff and audience) speak English. Besides that, we host international volunteers from all around Europe which makes our team permanently international. This attracts many other foreigners living in Žilina to our venue, so there is always a good chance of meeting someone who can show you everything that goes on at the venue – and maybe even Zilina too.
Apart from Stanica, we are simultaneously working on another project – reconstruction of Neologic Synagogue [in central Žilina] and its transformation into a gallery of contemporary art. This national cultural heritage built in 1930’s is one of the most significant architecture pieces in Žilina and also in the whole of Slovakia. Even though the reconstruction is still going on, it is no problem to see it from inside, with a guide and commentary by some of us.
Outside of this, in the city itself I recommend lunch at Na Bráne restaurant on Bottova Street in the Old Town and a visit to Žilina’s oldest building, Kostol Sv. Štefana krála (Church of St Stephen the King).
Stations (this is Englishmaninslovakia again wrapping up by the way) are often in drab areas of town and – especially in Slovakia – have been crying out for a refurbishment for decades. How nice, then, to see Žilina’s Stanica shining out as the region’s cultural beacon, and leading the way in revamping the city with a very contemporary artsy vibe.