Accelerator Today Podcast wrap-up: Andrei Breahnă, project manager, and Ana-Ilinca Macri, cultural mediator, draw conclusions from the Accelerator. Mentoring and Production for Emerging Artists programme.

October 27, 2023

Listen to this episode here.


Ana-Ilinca Macri: Welcome back to the Accelerator Today Podcast, where, over the past two years, we’ve had various guests on air, form emerging artists, curators, people passionate about art, business people even, with whom we’ve tackled many layeres of contemporary art. Through the podcast, we aimed to start an open dialogue about contemporary art. Now we’re reversing roles again, and the guest of this podcast is Andrei Breahnă, manager of the Accelerator project. Together we’ll take a look at the Accelerator’s journey and draw conclusions, looking ahead to the next steps in the work of Asociația Culturală Eastwards Prospectus. Welcome, Andrei! We meet now at the end of the Accelerator programme and please share three thoughts – on the spot –  about the programme now at the end.

Andrei Breahnă: It is certainly the most ambitious project we have done so far, the first large-scale project. We didn’t know what we were getting into, because it was a very big effort, first of all from an organisational point of view and it helped us a lot to professionalise as an organisation. The main benefit for us, for the association, was that we had the opportunity to create a stable team for two years, a team that continues for the next projects. And we learned what it means to have more people in the team, to be able to handle more resources, to generate new ideas, new projects. It’s a project that has given me a lot of satisfaction because it’s related to the DNA of the association. Since 2015, since we opened the association, we have been involved in everything that deals with education, more on the cultural mediation side. This project was the result of a need we noticed in the gallery’s activity, namely this gap between local artists and international artists, and we felt we have to contribute to the professionalization of artists in Romania.

This was the main reason why we took were the 1st in the funding application process, because, in a genuine way, the project responds to a very real and urgent need. I think that if the need is addressed systematically, and we are already doing this to some extent, through the few projects we are working on now, it will generate effects in the perhaps even short term, if not certainly in the medium and long term, through the emergence of new organizations, a much clearer vision of the value of artists’ work, a much better and perhaps relaxed mediation of cultural projects and so on.


Ana-Ilinca Macri: I suggest we look at the impact of the programme, looking at each stage. At the beginning we had the mentoring, then the group exhibition and the public art stage. How do you think the whole project created impact?

Andrei Breahnă: The project was, at the same time, an experiment in terms of impact, because these pillars were somehow both separate and an expression of continuity between activities. Mentoring was a very big opportunity to go to Iceland, to bring in international mentors and I think this made us credible. The exhibition was the more classic part of the activity, because we have been doing exhibitions for almost 10 years. I think the aspects of mediation and developing new audiences were very present. I think it was really challenging for all members of the team to support such a high number of events, both from the perspective of bringing visitors to these events and from the perspective of cultural mediation, where I can say that what you have done a good job in terms of impact and visibility.

And I would like to note here something I was very proud of, namely the artist talk and screening with Ragnar Kjartansson, which was for me, including on an emotional level, a turning point, because I was very close to the place where I started my work as a semi-gallery owner in a furniture showroom on French Street, also in the Old Town, just a few hundred meters from ARCUB. And I would never have imagined that, within 10 years, I would have a guest like Ragnar Kjartansson. So perhaps, if you do things in a certain professional way, if you are transparent, if you operate within a professional ethical framework, you can generate such events. And as unlikely as it seemed at the beginning of our adventure, it is now a reality.


Ana-Ilinca Macri: I listened to the previous podcast with Marius and you were talking about ecosystems. I would like to ask you about the actors of the contemporary art ecosystem, how did the artists receive the Accelerator and how did the public receive the Accelerator program?

Andrei Breahnă: We had a huge number of applications, over 60 applications for these 10 places. This was a first milestone that we passed and the selection process was very interesting because we had international mentors, we had a representative of i8 gallery, Thorlakur Einarsson, we had the representative of Icelandic Art Center, which runs the image of Icelandic culture internationally, a very small country, but which has an absolutely excellent image internationally. It was very interesting because the selection process involved people from a totally different cultural space, and despite that we had common areas, so somehow the quality of the artistic research was easy to detect, despite the diversity of each jury member’s background.

I think this was also seen in terms of impact on the public, because the quality of the exhibition, the quality of the related events had a cumulative effect. And here again you can see the advantage of a two-year project – the fact that we are interacting with several thousands of people, both offline and online. I should also mention that we focused very much on the guided tours within the exhibition where we proactively brought in communities of people both from related fields, through our workshops, and communities somewhat external to contemporary art, who directly engaged with a new generation of artists. All of these things have created a whole ecosystem around the project that has been seen in the results we see now.


Ana-Ilinca Macri: How did the collaboration with the Icelandic partners go and what did you learn, what did you take away from this collaboration?

Andrei Breahnă: The relationship with the i8 gallery went very well. We didn’t start this collaboration by chance. We had an artist at the gallery with whom we collaborate, Ignacio Uriarte, who is also represented by this gallery. I would like to insist on the fact that this partnership with a large gallery, i8 Gallery, which represents artists like Ragnar Kjartansson, Olafur Eliasson and many other artists – Karin Sander of a very high international level – has been a very important anchor in the project. We had a series of extremely useful and transparent meetings in Iceland, where they gave us a lot of information about how the gallery works, how the relationship with the artists works. They were extremely generous, including with the artists in the project, and here I refer to Thorlakur, who came to Romania twice during the project and who was also a mentor. I really think this was one of the keys to the success of the project. The reality is that in the contemporary art system there is a hierarchy of galleries, of institutions and the fact that we, as a small association in Romania, were able to access, in inverted commas, a major cultural player, was absolutely decisive for us.


Ana-Ilinca Macri: Since we are now doing this objective analysis, I would like to ask you if during the course of the Accelerator’s development there were any new, surprise elements that you didn’t think of when you wrote the application and if there could have been anything improved from the original concept?

Andrei Breahnă: I think structurally there were surprises and that was the difficulty of writing a project two to three years in advance and implementing it after such a long time. I would say that this was the main challenge – the fact that, including at the budgetary level, the law does not allow updating some things and, unfortunately, we went through a hyper-inflationary context in which, for example, in Romania, the average salary increased by +20% and this, unfortunately, was not reflected in our budget and I think it limited a lot of the actions we could do.

Despite this time lag between writing and implementing the project, there were no major surprises. I mean, I think the main challenge was more the last stage, art in the public space, which was very much about externalities – about approvals, about interacting with institutions that we didn’t have control over or direct contact with. Often, we in the art field, or maybe even in the cultural field in general, tend to ignore the management component and how important it is that it is professionalised and an integral part of the artistic research process. And I think this leads a lot of people into an impossibility to implement projects. This was the main activity that somehow got out of hand. But in the end the results are there. Of course we took this leap into the unknown.

For me it was a “learning curve”, because it still seems to me that the dimension of art in public space is the one that has the most potential, but that also has much more complex activation mechanisms and that really requires adequate funding. It’s probably not enough to be just part of a project, perhaps independent projects should be developed in this area, even partnerships should be developed with municipalities or institutions that are interested in developing such projects for those cities, possibly involving communities. One cannot dissociate a work of art in a public space from the space or the community that inhabits that space. So somehow we still have to answer these questions.

On the other hand, the artworks that we have implemented in the project have been a very good exercise, no doubt. From this point of view, we did achieve our objectives, which were to actually produce works and to face the public directly in several cities.


Ana-Ilinca Macri: Please tell me a few things about the Accelerator project team, we had Gia and Ruxandra at the microphone. And I’d like you to tell me how you connected this project team?

Andrei Breahnă: Andrei Breahnă: Without a consistent team and without perseverance, I don’t think such a project can succeed. The team is extensive, I must say, and goes beyond, let’s say, the administrative limits of the project. First of all, I would like to mention Ioana Chira in this project, which actually started from the discussions I had with her during the pandemic on the phone at home. She challenged me on the structures of the project. Ioana is actually the one who really created this project. And through these conversations, we managed to make the project a reality. Beyond that, the Accelerator was based on a backbone of the gallery, the gallery team. It started from this need to respond, through a project to the development of the art scene and the art market. I think we have to be very brave in our field and think a little bit beyond our limits and our comfort zone.

And it would be great if we could think interdisciplinary. We see a lot in other countries, we have seen in Iceland a much more relaxed approach, even in the context that they have a very strong conceptual art school, there are many artists who have come from America, from other areas and even settled there, artists like Dieter Roth, who have also lived there for decades. They have kept this flexibility and this relaxation and, at the same, time developed a very strong institutional infrastructure. I think that here, going back to the team, it is to the credit of the team, the management team’s Ioana’s, Tevz’s, as he has contributed from the very beginning with a very important input in the project, and in the second part of the project Gia’s, of course, of everyone who was involved.


Ana-Ilinca Macri: I have two more questions: first I would like to ask you how you found the contemporary art landscape this year. It seems more dynamic than in previous years – if we look at the relationship with audiences, with the public. How did you see this?

Andrei Breahnă: For us, maybe we’ve been in a bit of a bubble, it is a year of change, a very intense year. I think that, in general, the Romanian art scene has developed a lot, “developed” is a rather relative term, because the question of sustainability and continuity is also part of the equation. After almost 10 years of working in this field, of course you see a lot of things that come and go and relate more to opportunism than to a constructive approach. In the area of art galleries, we have quite a number of galleries, if you look around us, in other countries that have ongoing activity. Perhaps we lack an institutional infrastructure, the presence of more museums that have a proper structure, including funding for ambitious projects.

I would not like to place this topic in an extremely optimistic framework, but neither in a pessimistic framework, but I would like to insist on the fact that sustainability and continuity are important, beyond the opening of new spaces, because spaces are always opening up, but they should not just open up and remain so at a certain level, but develop.


Ana-Ilinca Macri: And one last question. We already implementing two other Accelerator projects. You talked to Gia about this. I would like to ask you what are the plans for Asociația Culturală Eastwards Prospectus and for Gaep Gallery? What are you preparing for next year?

Andrei Breahnă: A substantiated advantage of Accelerator project and I even had a revelation during the implementation of the project is the matter of scalability. The projects that are generally implemented in Romania through AFCN type funding, by their nature, have a beginning and an end and are not necessarily scalable. I use this business term, which is important. Scalability is also a question of sustainability, because when you have to recreate something from scratch every year, yes, it can be difficult to maintain the same level of quality. The big advantage of this project is that, precisely because it started from a very concrete need, we saw that it is scalable. It is scalable first of all because it can be extended to several cities and that is what we are doing with both Brasov and Câmpulung. It is scalable because it can go in many directions and we hope to be able to create, for example, an Accelerator specialized on art in public space, maybe on digital art. The project can be derived across many branches of art. Even contemporary art, although it is a niche, it operates under several sub-niches and artists tend to be more specialist rather than generalist given the nature of their practices.

I would like to say one more thing – in Accelerator project Brasov we had 88 applications for 10 places, so we had more applications for the same number of places compared to the big Accelerator, while we did not have such an aggressive communication strategy because we did not have the adapted budgets as in the big Accelerator. And yet we had more applications. This is another immediate advantage, which in my opinion stems from the continuity of this project and the fact that it has been gaining visibility. Beyond these two projects that will run until about the middle of next year, the association will continue the partnership with the gallery, with the artists of the gallery. We have another project in the pipeline now, which I don’t want to talk about because it’s quite early. I will tell about it at the launch, because it will take us to a new stage. It is a project that is also in an area where we want to take art out of a context, let’s say purely cultural, and take it to new audiences.


Ana-Ilinca Macri: We look forward to hearing about the project you are preparing. Thank you very much, Andrei! Thank you, dear listeners! Accelerator Today podcast doesn’t end with this episode and the Accelerator project. Mentorship and Production for Emerging Artists. It will continue and is indeed a vibrant part of the work of Asociația Culturală Eastwards Prospectus and Gaep Gallery.