Cultural Echoes: Bringing life back to deserted places

Cultural Echoes: Bringing life back to deserted places


Text by: Sanja Janevska


Category: volunteering


When talking about ambitious ideas whose aim is to solve a problem in the community, we can reflect on the work of Cultural Echoes, which is an international, non-governmental and independent organization based in Skopje, Macedonia. Its members have backgrounds that range from architecture to computer science and several of the arts and their mission is to promote urban and environmental responsibility. One of their goals is the rediscovery of abandoned buildings mapping them as 'abandoned opportunities' and finding ways to save them from being destroyed by those who are interested in the land parcels. The organization envisions these buildings restored and serving the public's need for cultural activities, continued education and recreation.
"Cultural and educational centers are missing in Macedonia. In Macedonia we do not have such centers where there will be a learning environment, a platform where young people will be stimulated to realize their ideas, where they will get informed about future steps they could make in their lives and their career, where they can hear about a new occupation that they could do in the future for a certain amount of time for example", explains Martin Anastasovski during his speech at a conference in Skopje. He adds: "I think that the youth here does not get the proper stimulus for learning and growth, and that is an institutional problem. I tried to find some cultural centers in our country - I searched (on Google) Youth center Skopje, Youth Center Ohrid for example, Student center Skopje and there weren't any results. Actually, there is something but that isn't what we need".
Unlike the situation in North Macedonia there are youth centers in many nearby countries such as Serbia, Slovenia etc. The question that arises is why we do not have something like that here? "Why we do not fight for such a thing?", fearfully asked Martin during one of his public presentations. He explained that the country itself - the institutions, the ministries and all of those people who make decisions that affect us are quite slow and are not helping or contributing towards solving the problem by restoring some of the abandoned buildings in Skopje.
Cultural Echoes as an organization are targeting a problem that concerns everyone and requires involvement from all concerned parties. To address this problem, they have created a database of abandoned places in Skopje and in few other towns. They have mapped out around 16 places so far. During the process of rediscovery and mapping they concluded that they must continue their work. The mapping was just the first step in the whole process. "Cultural Echoes is some kind of a catalyst that wants to connect the people who are directly and indirectly concerned about these places, but we also want to connect the country and the institutions which must according to all rules, become engaged in this problem. Why did this problem occur? The problem occurred because nobody is taking the responsibility for the places that have been left in this condition", passionately explains Simona Dimkovska, also from Cultural Echoes in one of her public speeches.
Since they found out that the number of objects on the map is quite big, they went to some of the faculties in Skopje, particularly the Faculty of Architecture, where they found out that a lot of the subjects the students get to work on are exactly the deserted objects that they have mapped out. In fact, there were five or six master's thesis written on each of these places and what to do with them - but they never got to see the light of the day - the citizens do not have the possibility to see that the students are working on ideas for revitalization and conservation of these type of objects. There is a lack of influence, strategy to solve this problem which persists for 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years, concludes the team of Cultural Echoes.
Recently, Cultural Echoes organized an event where they invited volunteers and residents from the local community who are concerned about one such abandoned object nearby. The event had a panel discussion and some people asked questions and made comments that they care and would like to see the problem solved and the former cultural center restored - however, no one could make any promises that this is going to happen.
However, they weren't discouraged and they continue their work - they are contacting the local government and arranging meetings where they ask for their support since they cannot do it alone. They are calling out to the relevant institutions and to the people regarding these abandoned objects, which Cultural Echoes have named "abandoned opportunities", meaning the unfulfilled opportunities that these objects are offering, but people don't care for or have forgotten about. Furthermore, they are saying that Macedonia has a great cultural and industrial heritage of which as much as 50% of the industrial capacities in Macedonia have remained abandoned, that is, the buildings and facilities serve no purpose now and we need to put them to better use.
"All the things that we are missing - cultural centers, hospitals, music studios, art studios - we the youth are complaining that we do not have a space to express ourselves, we can have that space if we solve this problem and if we focus on the objects and places that are in the state of decay but have cultural identity and we revitalize them", Simona concludes.
If you'd like to support this organization and find out more about their cause you can do so by going to their website or you can find them on Facebook.