- POSK temporarily closed
Review by Richard Williams
London Jazz News preview
"strongly performed Polish opera"
as part of the Insiders /Outsiders festival
Opera Now magazine, May issue
Review in Opera Now magazine
Proposed new constitution for POSK
Dominic Williams for London Jazz News
Over the last few weeks, work has been taking place on the new Conrad Room which will be followed by the move of some of the documents and books to the reading room. POSK's management is also hoping for an imminent move to its new premises of the Jozef Pilsudski Institute.
Despite the autonomy of the Polish Library – superbly managed by its current director, Dr Dobrosława Platt – it is an organisation that is owned by POSK. The same cannot be said for the Institute.
Although the Institute contributed a significant amount to the construction of the world's largest Polish social centre for Poles abroad, and therefore enjoys deserved and significant privileges when it comes to financial cooperation with POSK, it is a stand-alone entity - and how it manages and operates depends entirely on itself.
The tender process to choose the company that will rebuild the east wing of the building – where the Conrad Society once was and where the Jozef Pilsudski Institute (IJP) still is - has not yet taken place.
“At the moment we have four applications from firms interested in carrying out the redevelopment project. We don't know yet when the work will begin, but it will definitely be in the first quarter of this year,” said POSK chair Joanna Młudzińska.
The new Conrad Room will have air conditioning providing the space with the correct temperature and humidity, something that was lacking in the old room. This is a decisive step forward. Transferring some of the library collections to the reading room has also pleased the Joseph Conrad Society.
“When we discussed the project with them during our first meeting, they were very keen on giving Conrad's work a higher profile - that's why placing them “in plain view” in the general reading room was very much to their liking,” said Młudzińska
In fact, the move will probably be right on target, despite turbulent discussions last year triggered by the concerns of older émigrés. All that was known about the current Conrad Room was that it existed – and that's all. It seemed to be an inaccesible and mysterious place, to which visits were considered inappropriate. Conrad, finally, will be closer to us.
The IJP, on the other hand, will be a little further, but it's difficult to conclude whether its current easy availability has influenced the popularity of the archive and rememberance of the great patron. Researchers interested in the Marshall's history will no doubt find it, as will Polish Saturday school students.
The new Conrad Room will be smaller, but more modern. The same applies to the new home of the IJP, except that the space will be larger. Making the space more modern, as suggested by POSK, raised concerns among the members of IJP's management - including fears that the unique character and atmosphere of its current home could be lost if it needs to be re-built somewhere else.
“We started to negotiate the move with the IJP's board last July. If the IJP's council was not informed of any concerns and the details discussed until December, I think we can assume there was insufficient communication between the board and the council,” said POSK secretary, Andrzej Zakrzewski.
“Everything that was agreed over the previous month's discussions, in our opinion, was officially confirmed on 12 December. We did not consider that IJP's council knew nothing about our agreement. When institutions enter a dialogue with each other at an executive level, then we assume that everything, even if verbally agreed, is binding for both parties,” he explains.
The IJP still has concerns about the future shape of the property and the contract, which it is concluding with POSK. Yet, Młudzińska believes that the negotiations are reaching their conclusion.
“We are now waiting for an official letter from the IJP's board telling us whether it accepts the proposals and giving the date of the move. The laminate, which we would like to lay on the floor of the IJP's new property, is used by POSK in many areas – it is proven and solid. If they would prefer a parquet, I don't see any problem. We're prepared to pay £5000 [towards the new flooring]. That's not nothing.
“If necessary, this can still be discussed and we are open to suggestions. The issue of the moving shelves, as used by the IJP, has been long discussed by both our institutions. We agreed to pay for their transfer [to the new room] in the exact form in which they appear now. The cost of this move will be £3500. In short, the IJP does not have to pay another £7500 (that is how much they cost to buy) for the installation of new shelving, because we will cover the cost of the transfer and their operation and functioning will be guaranteed by us.
“There is no question of “cutting” the shelves, but rather dismantling and re-configuring them so as to fit into the room. There will be modern LED lights and the ceiling will be restored, but will remain in its current form as the other solution is very costly, which we cannot afford. The fact is that some of the cabinets that are in the current IJP premises will not fit, because we cannot raise the ceiling,” Mludzinska says in response to some of the issues that continue to worry the IJP's board.
Zakrzewski adds: “We understand the need for additional investment, but in our opinion, the IJP has [the finances] needed to achieve them as they receive legacies.”
The concerns about relocating the IJP are not only about the shape of its new quarters, but also about the contractual agreement which will either be entered into or extended, based on the status quo prevailing between the two institutions since the IJP began activities in the centre.
“Included in the original contract was that the IJP pay a very low rent, because it donated a considerable sum for the constructon POSK. However, there was never a suggestion that the IJP would not pay its share towards the cost of maintaining the building. Up until now it has been this way: they have not covered their share of the service charges, as opposed to all of the other organisations that are based here.
“We want to ensure that this situation changes. We would like to sign a new contract that includes this additional element. And as to the amount of rent, we haven't agreed yet how it will eventually increase. But ultimately, it is a matter of further negotiations with the IJP, which are continuing. And similar to the situation with the discussions of the move: only when they are completed will we send an official letter and sign a new lease agreement. I emphasize that the negotiations regarding the lease are ongoing,” - explains Zakrzewski.
The year that was
In June 2012, POSK accepted three new people onto its council. ”Robert Szmigielski has completely taken over work on the image of the centre. He is responsible for the website, Twitter and Facebook. The website finally has a full, English version. For me, Robert is doing a great job. But what's really remarkable is the fact that he volunteered to work on the image of POSK and suggested necessary improvements based on his professional knowledge and skills.
“Our second councilor, Marcin Kaczmarski, is together with his father, Piotr, working on the Jazz Cafe – and his expertise is as a technician. Anna Kalinowska wanted to be a member of the cultural committee, where she is now contributing her time. She is also activiely spreading word of the Jazz Cafe outside the Polish community. I've also noted progress in the involvement of other members of our Council. There are those seem to have entered into the spirit and actively get involved in work for POSK, “ says Młudzińska.
“Not every councilor must necessarily demonstrate the implementation of specific projects or ideas; their opinions, which are the result of experience, training, or work in other community organisations, are just as important. They can simply advise us well, which translates into their contribution to the operation and the development of the association,” Zakrzewski adds.
When summing up the last year, in first place, aside from the approval by members during June's AGM for the redevelopment of POSK, comes the co-operation with the Polish Olympic Committee [during the London 2012 Olympic Games].
“Well, the Committee could have organised its Olympic Centre in a London hotel or conference centre and paid high rental fees. However, their money was spent in a Polish institution which has resulted in a better quality of our rooms to rent. The improvements that were funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the Polish Olympic Committee paid for room rentals), mean that we can organize and hold big events. We now have pull-down projector screens and large TVs. It was a very good example of co-operation and Olgierd Lalko's contribution deserves great recognition. We've also set up a meeting with a specialist in conference and other hire, so we will be wiser [in event or conference management].”
This is confirmed by the centre manager, Bartek Nowak - particularly how this year new clients will be taking advantage of the theatre, including English schools and Polish businesses. Thanks to the hospitality offered to the Polish Olympic Committee, there was much activity in POSK, and the centre profited by an enhanced image.
“One thing that worried us was a comment in one of the emigre Polish newspapers that said the Polish Olympic Committee was showing us how to attract people to the centre. That's easier said than done - the concerts, film screenings and meetings [during the Olympics] were free, and to be able to host them, the Committee had a big budget – something that POSK does not have,” said Mludzinska.
The fact is that in POSK meetings are held for which the organisers do not charge admission, but rather encourage donations. But their themes – for example, historical and/or sociological - are aimed at a more demanding visitor.
“The Polish Olympic Committee wouldn't find that amount of heart and hard work – as put in by our employees – anywhere for that kind of money. I was keen that we show our best side. So it was mututally beneficial,” said Młudzińska.
A social tribute
POSK has finally implemented a more restrictive policy on the cost of hire of rooms for "community workers" and is encouraging more community events on its premises. It entered the new year with an increase in these prices and a strong and transparent approach to distinguish between the concepts of "social" and "commercial" activity. 2013 is sometimes referred to as the "year of change". Whatever this means for humanity, in POSK it has already started.
The “social” rental rate will become a privilege – not dependent on whether what is shown on stage in POSK's theatre is Polish culture. Because, for example, well-known national cabarets have little in common with culture. And with higher aims, such as those of a social nature, they have absolutely nothing in common. Instead, "social activities" will apply to the work of charities, and all activities related to the promotion of historical anniversaries or Polish national holidays.
“Our policy is simple: we have certain obligations to society, and therefore, we cannot allow anyone to profit from activity in POSK except on the basis of clearly defined commercial principles. If someone here wants to make money, that's fine, but POSK must also benefit,” said Andrzej Zakrzewski.
“Ultimately, we want to pursue our own broader and richer cultural activities. Talks with the Scena Poetycka for closer co-operation are ongoing, as is support for two new groups founded in London by young Poles: Polish Artist in London and Radadash.”
Elżbieta Sobolewska, Dziennik Polski
Photo: POSK (Robert Szmigielski); Ania Rusowicz (Bartek Nowak)