Open Society Foundations Announce New Funding for Arts and Culture in Hungary Amid Growing Government Restrictions
BERLIN—The Open Society Foundations are providing a €1.1 million grant to support independent arts and culture in Hungary, amid growing concerns over the influence of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party in arts funding decisions.
The funding will be administered by Summa Artium, a Budapest-based organization set up in 2003 to develop private and business funding for Hungarian arts programming.
Summa Artium announced earlier this year that it was establishing a private fund dedicated to supporting artistic and cultural projects that cannot expect to benefit from public funding under the prevailing political situation in Hungary. The Open Society Foundations are contributing to this initiative with the hope that Hungarian entrepreneurs and other private donors follow their example.
The Open Society Foundations will have no representation in the independent fund, and will not have a say in the decisions about what gets funded.
Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations, said: “Hungary’s government is a generous funder of the arts. Unfortunately, its support comes with political strings attached. We are proud to contribute to funding for supporting independent artists—those who help show us the world through the eyes of others, and expect to be surprised, delighted, and challenged by the possibilities they show us.”
When Open Society’s founder and chairman George Soros had the idea of establishing his first foundation in Budapest in 1984, he sought to fund independent artists unrestricted by political influence as a way of expanding cultural horizons.
In the early years of working in Hungary, Soros funded theatre groups, music clubs, museums, libraries, book publishing, and research, amongst other projects focused on cultural heritage and intellectual life. In 1985, he established the Fine Arts Documentation Center in Budapest to promote artistic efforts and exchanges—a model that was expanded across the former Communist states with the creation of Soros Centers for Contemporary Arts in 18 countries.
Open Society grants also backed the restoration of valuable books and manuscripts, ensuring the return of the famous Sárospatak Library—seized by the Soviet Army in 1945—from Russia to Hungary.
The Foundations supported efforts to preserve the cultural heritage of Hungarian minorities living outside of Hungary, such as the Last Hour folk music collection, which includes thousands of hours of recordings by Hungarian folk musicians.
Likewise, cultural grants created after the fall of Communism led to a huge expansion of available periodicals and elevated the book publishing industry. Support for the visual arts included helping to fund the Balázs Béla Filmstudio and the Cartoon Filmstudio of Pannónia Studio in the city of Kecskemet.
The Open Society Foundations hope that this support sets an example for Hungarian society to safeguard its arts and culture from undue political influence.