Friday, 4 December 2020

Kampus Hybernská: A budding cultural arts center in the heart of Prague

By Ileana Lobkowicz | Prague Daily Monitor |
27 July 2020

Prague’s hidden archways and passages often lead to unexpected destinations. The unassuming facade of Kampus Hybernská, a joint venture of Charles University’s Faculty of Arts and Prague City Hall, is no exception.

Stepping into its spacious courtyard, one can feel the campus’ artistic ethos immediately: painted murals, hanging string lights, and a towering art installation made entirely of plastic bottles. What is today a university community for art, learning, and creativity was — for over a decade — an abandoned and unused space. It’s rebirth came in 2017, when the Faculty of Arts (founded in 1348 as one of the university’s original four faculties) hosted a “Diversity Week” event on the site, which included a series of lectures, concerts, debates, and exhibitions. Its success served as the genesis of its initiative: to offer a meeting place for students and the public that combines education with culture.

“We started to realize the city has about 100,000 university students, yet there is no sign of this being a university town,” says Jan Bičovský, Vice Dean of Student Relations and co-founder of Hybernská. “There was little transfer between universities and the city, so we wanted to connect the two.”

Thus, the project fulfilled the merging needs of both the university and the city: creating a cultural arts center and finding a productive use for a dilapidated space.

Ruth Peterová, Coordinator of Student Activities, describes the campus as “a place for students who want to do or show something, but don’t have a space for it.”

The campus is made up of seven multi-functional buildings which cater to a variety of cultural interests and event-hosting options. Its art gallery spaces are used for rotating exhibitions, part of which includes the Jan Čejka Gallery started and overseen by a former student. Movie and theater enthusiasts can enjoy film screenings or participate in live performances, both indoors and outdoors. The musically inclined can create and practice in the recording studio. These are just a few of the many ways students are given an opportunity to leverage their skill sets and passions through experiential learning.

At Hybernská, nothing seems to go to waste. “Circular workshops” promote a zero-waste initiative to teach people how to repair or recreate things that would have otherwise been thrown away. Just next door, the Library of Things offers a number of items from which the general public can borrow rather than buy, be it a hammer or a book.

The central meeting point of the campus is undoubtedly Kavárna Hlína, a student-run café that started with a simple coffee machine and is now churning out flat whites. They are also famous for their homemade ice-cream. The café is outfitted with an eclectic mix of second-hand mismatched furniture, exposed bookshelves, and terracotta pots filled with plants — a comfortable and practical setting for the young at heart.

The cultural offerings of the campus seem infinite. If there is something that doesn't already exist, a student will likely create it.

“The active involvement of students is essential,” says Daniel Soukup, Vice Dean for Admissions and External Affairs. “Hybernská’s mission is about community building — a place for engagement rather than passive consumption.”

The campus also provides a home for student organizations and clubs to meet. Many of these associations are addressing important social and environmental issues that have a profound impact on society.

Hybernská is more than just a haven for artistic expression and innovation. It’s cultivating something deeper and more enduring by redefining the role and vision of universities.

“As teachers and administrators, we are not above students,” says Soukup. “We want to cooperate. It’s the embodiment of what a university should be.”

This partnership between students and faculty is not only breaking down the hierarchies within traditional educational systems, but also increasing its potential to expand its public outreach.

“I don't want this to be a type of one token,” says Bičovský. “I want this to be a prototype. There should be multiple institutions of this kind in Prague alone.”

Last year, Hybernská hosted some 250 student events, from lectures and literature readings to concerts and exhibitions. Almost all events and programming are open to the public for free.

This cultural hub continues to build a bridge between universities and the city of Prague, connecting people from all walks of life. Bičovský remains passionate about his vision to create a model for other educational institutions.

“This should be a place where people go to get inspired, where they go to find like-minded people and projects, where they want to discover something unexpected.”