Rijeka: The Promise of a City

A large group of children stand side by side in bright costumes in a semi-circle around a factory, paint peeling and light filtering through old glass panes.

Preuzmimo Benčić, Althea Thauberger, 2014. Photo by Milica Czerny Urban.

Promise can be found nestled in the crook of rock where the Istrian Peninsula meets the Dalmatian coast. This is Rijeka, a city with a rich cultural history,  and one that is also aware of a new rhythm emerging from the possibilities of transition. Today, Rijeka, along with the rest of Croatia and the Balkan region, faces complex challenges in maintaining its strengths and forging a new identity for itself.

In 2010, Musagetes, a Canadian foundation, convened the Rijeka Café, a conversation and exploration of the city involving local and international artists, cultural thinkers, policy-makers, and practitioners. We asked: What potential does art offer small transitioning cities  imagining new futures? Since the 2010 Café, Musagetes, along with many organizations and individuals, has been working with international and local artists to undertake projects in Rijeka that explore this. Laetitia Sonami (Oakland, USA), Matthew Mazzotta (Boston, USA), DodoLab (Hamilton, Canada), Althea Thauberger (Vancouver, Canada), and Nadija Mustapić and Toni Meštrović (Rijeka, Croatia) have all worked within significant spaces in the city: the water break pier, the city hall, the Benčić complex, and the train station to name a few. Their artistic projects explore the political, spatial, and social dynamics of Rijeka, asking questions about renewal, labour, play, adaptation, and the changing identities of the city and its people.

After four years of co-creating artistic programming in the community, we are coming together again from April 25-26 to reflect on what we have learned and to imagine new possibilities for Rijeka’s future. For this reconvening we pose new questions: How do individuals in Rijeka find meaning in art? How are people affected by art—by encountering, participating, and co-creating it? How do architectural experiments and art in public spaces strengthen the promise of a city? What futures do Rijekans imagine for themselves and for the city? Through formal and informal discussion, a film screening, a walking tour, and group readings, we will explore the various ways that art and architecture can transform a city. Over the course of the gathering, we hope to hear from you about the importance of the arts in your life. We invite all Rijekans to join us on April 26 to contribute their observations and ideas, and to continue the dialogue about how the arts can be more central and meaningful in peoples’ lives, in our communities, and in our society.

Friday, April 25


Screening of Preuzmimo Benčić, a film by Althea Thauberger (at Art Cinema KINO)

Preceded by Q&A with cast


Post-film Reception and Launch of Benčić Youth Council (location to be announced)


Saturday, April 26


Walking the City: Open Invitation

We invite you to convene on the pier in front of the Ferry Terminal at 10:00 AM to spend the morning walking through the city and pausing occasionally for public readings on the theme of “The City.” Everybody is invited to bring a text of their own, excerpts from a book, essay, song, or poem—anything that they wish to share that resonates with the theme of “The City.” Your shared offering can be about Rijeka or another specific city, or it can be about cities generally.


Lunch and Book Launch

The book features students’ architectural propositions for Rijeka’s pier, river, and delta area, as well as documentation of artistic projects by Matthew Mazzotta and Laetitia Sonami. (Lunch will be offered.)


Community Dialogue on the Importance of Art (location?)

We welcome you to join us for an afternoon of conversations about the important roles that the arts play in our lives, individually and collectively. We will explore the following questions:

  • How do individuals in Rijeka find meaning in art? How are artistic experiences significant for people—by encountering art, participating in art, and co-creating art? Is art central and meaningful in peoples’ lives in Rijeka?
  • What futures do you imagine as possibilities for your community and for the city?