Sisters Iveta Čermáková and Monika Cihlářová and a group of friends established a “Re-creative garden” in the courtyard of an unused factory in the town of Humpolec. From spring through autumn, they hold concerts, exhibitions and workshops and there is a sandbox for children and a snack bar for adults. The garden also has sports amenities, such as ping pong tables and a children’s climbing wall, and during our visit we even squeezed in a yoga class on the grass. As we talked with the two sisters, we were served drinks by the employees of an adjacent cafe, which is part of a co-working center that is a social enterprise employing the disabled and long-term unemployed.
Iveta, you are a native of Humpolec but you studied in and lived in Prague. Why did you return to your hometown and establish this Re-creative garden?
I still live in Prague but we spend the summers here because we have a house here, my parents are here and lots of friends, too. And because our generation has kids, we didn’t want to get together in pubs. We thought it would be super to find a place to meet outside, where we could all sit around one table, and also have a place where our kids could play and where other activities would take place, too. My sister and I had already put on cultural events in Humpolec earlier, exhibitions and concerts, so we wanted to revive this tradition of ours. Most of the performers or people who exhibit their work are our friends from when we studied in Prague and we wanted to share their work here in Humpolec, to connect the local with the outside world in some way.
How did you find the space?
This space came up naturally because it’s on our father’s company’s property. He was just moving his company to another site and he didn’t have any plans for this space for the next few years. It’s a good location in the center of town and he offered it to us so that it wouldn’t go unused.
Meaning that the space is still owned by the company and therefore you don’t have to pay rent?
Exactly. That was one of the main reasons why we went ahead with the project. We certainly didn’t come up with the project with the vision of making money. It’s great that we have a snack bar so the money we make there can be reinvested directly into further development of the garden. Last year we got a Via grant, which really helped a lot – we we able to start planting trees with that funding. The space was quite empty when we started, there wasn’t anything here. This year we got a mini-grant from Via, which we used to cover performers’ costs of renting equipment or their travel costs. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry too much about paying them fees because most of the performers we have here are our friends.
So at the beginning you got just an empty yard?
Yes, that’s right. The site was empty and abandoned. We brought in this container and connected it to power so it serves as both a bar and infrastructure for bands. We also built in this display window that is like a mini gallery. My sister, brother and I collected the furniture and equipment for the garden. My brother inherited my dad’s handyman skills so he did a lot of carpentry work here. My sister and I are interior and furniture designers so we came up with a design for the space. And it was great that our friends helped out with the building tasks from the very beginning, too.
It sounds like a community grew around the garden from the beginning. Is that right?
From the very beginning we had help from our friends and friends of our brother, who is 10 years younger than we are, which means that he brings in a different group than we do. The space is very connected to our family. Unfortunately so far only our friends know about it. Completely new people whom we don’t know occasionally come to a workshop or yoga class. But that’s also because the yoga teacher is from Humpolec and she has a community of her own, that she has brought to the space. And we think it makes sense that people from the surrounding area use the space, too. For example, it seems a shame that the towns in the region aren’t more culturally interconnected. That people here don’t know what’s going on in nearby towns like Pelhřimov or Havlíčkov Brod. But we’re seeing that so far there are even a lot of people right here in Humpolec who don’t know about our garden.
How do you get the word out about the garden?
We communicate through our Facebook page and we also, for example, put up flyers around town. The trouble is that people are still afraid to come here because we’re doing something new that they aren’t familiar with. We were very inspired by outdoor spaces like Přístav 18600 or Kasárna Karlín in Prague, places our friends like to go. But we’re finding that because our site is on a property that was private and inaccessible for a long time, people have a hard time understanding that all of a sudden there is something public going on here that they can take part in.
Apparently it will take some time before people get used to the garden. Is this the first season you’ve been open?
No, it’s our second season. Paradoxically, the coronacrisis didn’t affect us at all. On the contrary, since we operate an outdoor space, a lot of people started coming when the restrictions were loosened. It was a bit worse during the summer holidays, in July and August, but probably because people began going on vacation. For instance, we had a concert here and I had to kind of beg my friends to come so that the band wouldn’t play without an audience. With workshops it’s great that people come of their own accord – we don’t have to beg (laughter). We all gather around this table and create things together and talk.
How do you come up the program of events? How do you decide who will hold a workshop, concert or exhibition here?
We develop the program by drawing on the creative work of our friends, including both musicians and artists. That means that we develop the program by asking them when they can hold a given event and we write them when we can hold the event (laughter).
What is the range of activities take place here over the summer?
Since we have children, we’ve had the most success with putting on afternoon creative workshops. That’s the activity that we founded the garden with and that’s why it’s called Re-creative garden. The garden is intended to accommodate both recreation and creativity. We are the type of people who aren’t very good at just relaxing – we need to be doing something while we relax. So we’ve held various types of creative workshops like casting from concrete or wreathmaking, as well as a carpentry workshop where we made boxes, which Monika and I led. Our experience is that workshops work the best. Workshops attract people whom we hadn’t known before, who are drawn in by the promotion of the garden among a broader circle of people. And we’d like to see that grow in the future. But of course it’s difficult. For example, Daniela Baráčková (pointing to an exhibition in the display window) is a good artist, but she’s not mainstream at all. All of our things are quite alternative. But we don’t want to do mainstream things which draw a lot of people but which we don’t like. Sporting events also attract people. Our brother’s friends, for instance, come here to play ping pong. And then of course food is another great thing that connects people (laughter).
There’s a cafe next to the garden that operates as a social enterprise. Have you thought of connecting your activities with their work?
Yes, we have and we have connected. The cafe is a type of co-working cooperative and also a social enterprise, which employs long-term employed and disabled people. We have an agreement that they can use the garden for their customers and in return the cafe employees maintain the planting boxes, water the plants, weed and so on. That helps us a lot because since we don’t live here full-time we can’t be here everyday and take care of the garden ourselves.
And how do you manage to split your time between Prague and Humpolec?
Well we are both on maternity leave, so we’re at home with our kids. We usually spend the entire summer in Humpolec and then from September on it’s just weekends. We always put in the most energy from June through September, when we try to put together a highly concentrated program of events. Things slow down in September and the weather is less certain then too, so it’s hard to plan events since we only have this outdoor space. On the other hand, we’re lucky that there are also empty buildings on this property where carpenters used to work and we can move events to them if need be. Once our children start going to school, we’re going to have to decide where to be. Whether here or in Prague. Right now we’re free in that sense, which is super. We developed this space for ourselves, too, because we didn’t want to spend all our time with our children in our own yard.
What do you do when you’re not doing Re-creative garden things?
Monika: I worked on the metropolitan urban plan at the Institute of Planning and Development in Prague. And my sister and I developed an interior design studio called Schwestern. I studied architecture and my sister studied furniture design, so our work meets somewhere between the two. We work even though we are on maternity leave, which is actually not as it seems. You have the feeling that you lots of time but actually you don’t. I need to do something creative even when I’m on maternity leave, so I’m always thinking of new things, but implementing them is difficult. And in addition we typically need someone else’s involvement, so we have to persuade other people to help us out.
Iveta: I studied drawing at the Academy of Fine Arts and then I went on to Furniture and Interior Design at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in Prague. We are very connected with this town and community through our parents, too, mainly our dad. And we seem to have some sort of shared energy and appetite to create projects connected to this space and interactions between people in this space. So we created a place for gathering here, and the aesthetic aspects have been important to us from the very beginning. It is intended as an urban jungle, a place to take a nice break, that’s how we wanted to design it.
What do you plan on doing next with the space?
We’d like to build a climbing wall for children. We definitely want to continue to maintain the garden, where we’ve planted fruit trees. The trees provide the only shade in the garden. We’ve also been trying for a long time to get the fence finished. We want to be really open, but since there are children here really often, we need to have some sort of gate so they can’t run out into the street, we need to make it safe. On the other hand, we think it’s great that the site is open all the time. Thanks to the cafe, people come in and sit down during the day, even people who work in offices. The cafe works like a co-working center and has a conference room, where an instructor teaches children English. The class can take place inside or outside. Or sometimes mothers and children come and use the sandbox. We’re happy to see as many people as possible use the garden.
Have you had any crises during the development of the garden?
We had a crisis last year when we agreed that we’d take turns minding the snack bar. When my husband minded the bar, he was pretty lax about it and didn’t make people pay for what they’d ordered. So we lost quite a bit of money (laughter). And then during one event we had an argument with our brother, which made me angry, because we don’t usually argue like that at all. My sister and I are used to working together and we know how to respond to each other. But our brother is ten years younger than we are so we didn’t grow up together and now it’s evident that he has his own circle of people and so do we. So at least it was a chance to face up to that (laughter).
Listening to you talk, I get the feeling that things are going well and you have truly achieved what you set out to do. Have you gotten any feedback from people outside your own circle?
Our problem is that we live here beyond this fence and spend most of our time in this garden. So we only encounter people who come to the garden and we don’t know what other people think. The farthest we go is Stromovka (a summer venue for culture, editor’s note) or Figure 8 (a modern art gallery, editor’s note), that’s our basic triangle. Occasionally we hear that the people at Stromovka are disappointed when we hold events parallel to theirs. But we’re not totally flexible and we can’t adapt our program of events according to theirs. And also we think their events are more mainstream and we’re trying do more alternative things. So we think that are two venues can function side by side and complement each other.