Democratizing the "house of culture" concept and model

The International Council for Cultural Centers (I3C) is the global network of national networks/associations of community cultural centers (3c-s), currently connecting more than 50 countries on 6 continents. I3C grew as a vision out of the academic research of Dr. Nadezhda Savova-Grigorova (PhD  in Cultural Anthropology, Princeton University, USA), I3C's founder and current president. Since 2002 until present, beginning with her undergraduate degrees in International Relations and Spanish Literature, Nadezhda has researched or worked with networks of community cultural centers in various countries: all over Latin America, exploring and often consulting the developments of networks of previously disconnected centers, such as: casas de la cultura (houses of culture) in Argentina, Brazil (also called pontos de cultura), Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru; maisons de la culture (houses of culture) in France and Morocco; community arts centers in South Africa; UNESCO-coordinated community learning centers (CLCs) in Thailand and Vietnam; kala kendra (art centers) in Rajasthan, India; centro civico in Spain and centro sociale in Italy; local arts councils in the United States (New York, Philadelphia, Princeton, and Washington DC); and various networks in Europe, most of them united in the European Network of Cultural Centers, ENCC.

The passionate search for community cultural centers and how they are similar and different around the world was inspired by the Bulgarian chitalishte community cultural centers network, which dates back to 1856 and is most likely the oldest national network of cultural centers (with a uniform title and structure) and among the largest (with 3500 houses) in the world and surely in Europe. This is crucial to know, since the subsequent izba-chitalnya (reading rooms) and dom kulturyi (house of culture) in the Soviet Union during Communism did further develop the model and exported it world-wide, especially in Latin America, but the Bulgarian chitalishte pre-dates the Soviet structures with more than half a century and show how the prototype of the "house of culture" model of such networks was a democratically organized civil society initiative. Therefore, the model should not be confused and stigmatized as a socialist invention, and I3C’s mission is to help connect these isolated networks and empower them to revive their founding principles and achieve their full potential as engines for creative social transformations.

The foundational principles of the chitalishte are called the 3 “C” in Bulgarian, or the 3 “S” in English, which fed into I3C’s name:

1. Самостоятелност (Self-sufficiency)
2. Самоуправление (Self-governance)
3. Самодейност (Self-motivation, or personal/non-remunerated reason to participate in the arts).

I3C aims to nurture and further develop these operational principles and good practices among chitalishte and other non-governmental organizations and public institutions such as museums, libraries, schools, universities, churches, etc, both in Bulgaria and abroad. We hope that self-sufficiency, self-governance, and self-motivation will both strengthen centers' internal capacity for independence and local outreach, and at the same time enlarge their external vision and outreach to connect with other such networks abroad to learn and improve.

I3C has so far executed various consultancy projects on the development and improvement in operations of the networks of community cultural centers, including places as diverse geographically and culturally as Azerbaijan, Brazil, South Korea, and Tunisia. 

Dr. Savova-Grigorova is ongoingly accompanying through critical analysis formulated in academic publications the processes of the weaving of the global network.