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The memorial to Izabella Cywińska

In the photograph, the Council of the ICC Foundation (from left): Jacek Woźniakowski, Izabella Cywińska, Krzysztof Skubiszewski, Jacek Purchla (and Andrzej Pelczar, absent from the photograph).

Notable artist, lady of Polish theatre, and first female minister of culture and art after the abolishment of communism, who died on 23rd December 2023, was also the “mother founder” of the International Culture Centre.

- The initiative came from Izabella Cywińska, who, in the name of Tadeusz Mazowiecki's cabinet, at the meeting of the European Council's ministers of culture, which happened in April 1990, proposed the creation of the European Culture Centre in Krakow. It intended to be a competition for Germany's proposal to establish a similar center in Berlin. Polish initiative gathered wide interest. The attractiveness of this project came from the concept of a wide opening to the so-called “East of Europe” through Krakow and the curious vibe of times after the fall of the Iron Curtain. At the end of April 1990 in Palermo, minister Cywińska submitted detailed information regarding this initiative of the Polish cabinet to the conference of ministers of culture of the European Council members. – reminisces Prof. Jacek Purchla, founder and the first director of the ICC.

On 6th September 1990, minister Cywińska officially proposed to the contemporary president of Krakow, Jacek Woźniakowski, to create a new institution, saying among the others that “it will be the first facility of that kind in Poland, connected to the network of similar projects, existing in Western Europe of years. It will lift the status of Poland in the international contacts. Krakow, through its glamorous tradition and massive contribution into the modern times, seems to be the best fit for this establishment.”

Throughout the autumn, there was intense work to pinpoint the systematic formula of the institution, finally called the International Culture Centre. On 20th November 1990, at the memorable Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Paris, which ended the Cold War and started a new European order, Prime Minister Mazowiecki, in his speech, mentioned: “We would love to see a fruitful cultural cooperation in this new Europe. The operation of the International Culture Centre should help with this. We plan to establish such a Centre in Krakow.”

However, six days later, as a result of the lost presidential elections, the Prime Minister resigned, along with his cabinet. In this situation, the priority was to quickly institutionalise the ICC. The crucial step was appointment of the International Culture Centre Foundation on 8th December by five founders: Jacek Woźniakowski (president of Krakow), Andrzej Pelczar (the Jagiellonian University rector), Krzysztof Skubiszewski (minister of foreign affairs), Izabella Cywińska (minister of culture and art), and Jacek Purchla (vice-president of Krakow and future director of the ICC).

The formation of the Foundation preceded the creation of the Centre itself, and it helped to organise the European Month of Culture 18 months later, which made Krakow the first city of post-communist Europe in the network of the European Cities of Culture.

- Granting the positive decision for Krakow in Brussels in December 1990 was a joint success, surmounting my fruitful cooperation with Izabella Cywińska as the minister of culture – adds Prof. Purchla – Izabella was trying to help us to the end of her term. Saying goodbye at the palace on Krakowskie Przedmieście, she handed me the following letter: “I humbly ask Mister President, until the formal creation of the International Culture Centre in Krakow, to oversee pertinent organisational actions and to allocate the country's budget to the Centre.” It was not the last will. It was a commitment that I felt obligated to execute.

The official inauguration of the ICC activity was on 29th May 1991 in Wawel Castle, on the second day of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was held in Krakow in May and June. The International Culture Centre was born in the peculiar mood of breakthrough in Poland and Europe. At the same time, it is a permanent testimony of one of the significant roles of Izabella Cywińska – the creator of cultural changes in Poland, which bear fruits to this day.



On the photo, the Foundation Council of the ICC (from left): Jacek Woźniakowski, Izabella Cywińska, Krzysztof Skubiszewski, Jacek Purchla (and not in the picture, Andrzej Pelczar). Photo Andrzej Janikowski/ICC

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