Civic activists promoting educational and cultural expression in frontline Mariupol


Kyiv, October 21, 2015. The IZOLYATSIA Foundation is implementing a series of creative initiatives in Mariupol. “Key words are ‘changes’ and ‘transformations,’ this is what we are striving for,” noted Anna Medvedeva, Communications Director at IZOLYATSIA Foundation at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. The main instrument to implement these changes, she said, is contemporary culture, creative industries and educational programs. The foundation is also conscious of the local context and history.

Before the conflict in eastern Ukraine started the foundation used to work in Donetsk. After militants of the so-called “DPR” seized the premises of the foundation, activists moved their office to Kyiv but continue their activities in the ATO zone in Ukraine-controlled areas.

Starting from summer 2015 IZOLYATSIA has been implementing the “Zmina” project in Mariupol – a series of educational and cultural projects. One of them is the Architecture Ukraine residency. “It is quite a wide context as architecture is not only what is being planned in the city, not only about urban planning, but it is also about interaction, transformation and history – everything that surrounds us,” noted Anna Medvedeva. “The program’s main aim was the search for identity of the industrialized city of the XXI century,” said Rick Rowbotham, curator of Architecture Ukraine residency programs via Skype. He noted that activists were choosing among several places and in the end decided that it is going to be Mariupol. “Mariupol is located almost on the frontline. It has a kind of the identity crisis as well as several other interesting sociological factors,” the curator noted. “We wanted to demonstrate our vision of architecture as a holistic approach to modern processes of transformation.”

Medvedeva said that Ukrainian and international researchers from various sectors including anthropology, urban planning and sociology were invited to take part in the project based on open competition. Experts collected a lot of information about the city that served as a basis for the projects that they created as part of the AU Pop-Up Exhibition curated by Krists Ernstsons and Rick Rowbotham – longtime partners of the IZOLYATSIA foundation. “The exhibition is in an intermediary stage and is a series of documentary-style installations, videos and photographs – visualization of everything that is possible to be done in Mariupol,” noted Medvedeva adding that the exhibition will be open in Mariupol until November 13. Over the next year residents will continue working on their projects with their curators and are to present a more mature project. According to Rowbotham, project participants also plan to publish a book where all these ideas will be presented as well as present one or two of them in Mariupol. The exhibition “Power of the Urban Vision” also took place in the framework of Architecture Ukraine, demonstrating architects’ vision of city development over the past 100 years. According to Medvedeva both utopic and quite real ideas are there.

Another IZOLYATSIA project is being held in the framework of the international initiative “Letters to the mayor”, which is being implemented in 25 countries. “Within the project architects, designers, and residents are encouraged to send a letter to the Mariupol mayor. In such a way we want to establish a platform that will help the authorities hear the opinion of experts and of civil society,” explained Medvedeva. Moreover, she said, Mariupol’s participation in the initiative will help to put the city into Ukrainian and international context and voiced hope that other cities of Ukraine can also join. “We believe that we are living in a globalized era when it’s not possible to stay closed and compete. We need to become partners, as together we can achieve more,” emphasized Anastasia Ponomaryova, architect and co-founder of the “Urban Curators” NGO. She noted that in times when resources are limited it is important to prioritize, so she took into account this factor when writing her letter to the mayor. “The experience of other cities in other countries that succeeded to transform over a short period of time into comfortable places to live shows that such transformations are possible if made based on the interests of the majority of people. They include, first of all, accessible and developed public transportation and a large number of places that are within the public space.” The exhibition where all the proposals to the Mariupol mayor will be presented will open on October 23. All exhibitions by the IZOLYATSIA Foundation will be open for visitors until November 13.