“Booksa has definitely become one of the reasons to come to the neighbourhood, but the development of the neighbourhood itself occurred more or less spontaneously.”
Kulturtreger association, the founder of Booksa, was among the first to unconventionally deal with literature after the 90s on the local level, and its opening move was the foundation of the club. Booksa was conceived as an “open-type space that offers the possibility of active and educational spending of free time to its members”. In other words, it is a place where everybody is free to come and relax or work, drink their favourite drink and read some of the books and magazines from Booksa’s rich library. Or just socialize or surf the Internet. The only condition is club membership because Booksa is not registered as a hospitality facility, and today the number of members exceeds 12,000 people.
The club stands out with its varied program, encompassing literature and art in the wider sense, so the visitors can enjoy literary nights as a part of Booksa’s Literary Budoir. Booksa has welcomed numerous authors; prose writers, poets, musicians and comic writers, local and foreign, more or less famous… Once a year a manifestation called Revija malih književnosti (Small Literatures Review) is held, which presents literary scenes of certain countries that are less known in Croatia (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Albania…). Also worth mentioning is Škrabica (Coin Bank), an adventorous musical-acoustic program encompassing a number of songwriters and lo-fi musicians.
Furthermore, there are continual creative writing workshops, as well as the Centre for Documenting Independent Culture, where Kulturtreger in cooperation with Kurziv association collects materials produced within the Croatian independent cultural scene from the 90s until today. Among the numerous and multitalented members of Booksa’s team, we decided to interview Miljenka Buljević Mika, one of the Kulturtreger association founders and Booksa initiators, as well as with Luka Ostojić, the main editor of the excellent literary portal Booksa.hr. They told us about the past and present of Booksa and the reasons why it is situated in Martićeva.
Mika Buljević: The opening of Booksa at this precise location is a matter of circumstance. We asked for a space by submitting a project, we knew what type of content we would provide and sent the description to the City, and based on that they granted us this space. We didn’t even know the space which is now home to Booksa existed. The space had been completely empty for three years before we moved in. Before that, there was a car parts shop here, and even before there was a Poljoopskrba store, as we were told by the neighbours. Booksa was opened in January 2004.
Although at the time there were no cultural spaces like the ones we have today in the neighbourhood, the team was great. A lot of artists, actors, university workers, etc. has always lived here. As soon as we were open, a very interesting group of people from the neighbourhood started gathering here. Our neighbourhood is posh, that is old news. There are also classical and language schools here, so we also had high school students coming from the very beginning.
However, I wouldn’t necessarily say that Booksa was a change generator in the neighbourhood. How to say, Booksa has definitely become one of the reasons to come to the neighbourhood, but the development of the neighbourhood itself occurred more or less spontaneously. People notice a space, join in, the space attracts other people… For example, Divas had been a fashion store for a long time before it turned into a café and bistro, and they have been around for years. You could say they initiated changes, as well as Miroslav Kraljević Gallery, which has been in the neighbourhood since the eighties.
Luka Ostojić: I think today people are drawn to Booksa primarily because of its quality program, at least that was my experience. I remember, when Booksa opened, I was an eager high school student, and a café where you could read books sounded like a very interesting idea. In my experience, the most visited programs in Booksa are the participative programs with continuous schedules that attract people intensively.
For example, if you are attending a writing workshop, you come to Booksa three times a week, you don’t think “I could go, but I don’t have to”, you just come and that’s it. Once somebody gets used to coming here, they start visiting other programs as well. Of course, when there is a famous guest author, there is always a bunch of people, but I think that the regular audience comes to the regular programs in which they are participating themselves.
Mika Buljević: I think the most interesting thing about this neighbourhood is that there is a touch of spontaneity, even chaos to an extent. You can never be sure what is going to happen tomorrow. Just recently an antique store was opened nearby, and it’s brilliant. It just popped up. From my user perspective, that’s great. On the other hand, the City, which assigns and converts the spaces it owns, can do a lot. A lot of good things and a lot of bad things. The City can give all the spaces to car sellers or the artists, who will be confined in a ghetto here.
When you have a flower shop, hairdresser, book club, restaurant, appliances shop, all in a row… Then we are talking about the living tissue of the city. It is inevitable to include the citizens in neighbourhood development. I would not be comfortable with Martićeva becoming something like Vienna’s Museumsquartier. This must remain a neighbourhood where people actually live.