Tereza Porybná took over as director of the Czech Centre in London earlier this month. Her professional and academic experience have been quite varied – for many years she worked on humanitarian and development projects in Ethiopia, ran the biggest documentary film festival in the Czech Republic and had completed a doctorate in visual anthropology, receiving a Fulbright grant to do research in the United States.
Tereza brings a fresh approach and some new ideas to London. I began by asking about her initial impressions of London and the priorities she wants to focus on first in her new post at the Czech Centre.
“London is really a very big and fast city. I thought of myself as an experienced world traveler, but the speed here is quite fast, even for me. The Czech Centre has a very good reputation among the cultural institutions here. And I am lucky to have the team that I have. There are four of us. I think our big goal for the coming year is to work on our marketing and promotion.”
“It’s not lacking in visibility at all, but I think that given the number of events that we do and the quality we offer, we could write or blog about it more. I think we have a very good and stable audience, but my colleagues and I agree that it is time to open it up a bit more to new audiences and try new means of communication. So we’ve discussed reviving our Twitter and Facebook accounts.”
Will this also include working with other cultural institutions in London?
“Absolutely. For example, we don’t have an exhibition hall, we only have two offices. So, all of our exhibits are organized in cooperation with British institutions. And we will be looking for new partners as well. Actually the program for 2013 is shaping up quite nicely with new partners that we have approached.”
Could you give us a sample of what events are coming up in the near future?
“This week the Czech Center, in cooperation with the Red Gallery in London and Tate Modern, is hosting the art group Ztohoven, who were invited by the Tate to participate in a conference on politically engaged artists. They will then screen their film ‘Občan K’ at the Red Gallery in East London.
“We are also launching our cinema tour, which should be interesting. We will be screening five Czech films in 13 cities around the UK, in cooperation with the Czech Film Center and the British organization Picturehouse cinemas. This is quite a big achievement, because in Britain foreign language films and literature are really hard to push through. There is no big market for that. So the fact that we were able to convince a chain of cinemas – a chain of multiplexes – is great. That will be starting in March and it will tour for two months.
“And we recently had a discussion with the people at the Open City Documentary Festival, and there will be a good selection of Czech documentaries presented at the festival, so we are happy about that. And we are making a lot of efforts to present contemporary Czech dance at the Edinburgh fringe in August.”
As you mentioned, you are building on a long tradition of the Czech Centres and their cultural events. When you found out that you were going to London to be the head of the centre here, was there something from the Czech Republic that you felt you could bring that was new to the Czech centre, and that could also be new to London?
“[Londoners] seem to be quite knowledgeable about everything, so it’s hard to say what could be new here. But in terms of new things for the Czech Centre – I would like to bring more controversial, educational and journalistic themes into what we do. So I have approached the well-respected journalist club Frontline, who have agreed to screen a series of documentaries from the [Czech] One World festival and hold debates about them. So that will be a new venue and a new partner for us.
“I think there is also a lot going on now on the Czech fashion scene. So, we are working on a big fashion showcase that should take place in 2014. And I’ve recently had many meetings with the British Fashion Council and the fashion scene here to see what the best ways to present this would be. And we are also planning a lot of smaller design presentations.”