An anecdote about the beginnings

It was the mid-seventies and renowned Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache was about to conduct the Slovenian Philharmonic orchestra. He raised his arms, and then lowered them. Then he did it again. After the first time, he even turned towards the audience with an annoyed look on his face. Unfortunately, it was to no avail: the chairs in the hall were old and vigorously creaked with each of the spectators’ movements. Finally, the audience somewhat calmed down and the concert began. In those days, the Slovenian Philharmonic always held two concerts at the same time: the first one on the stage and the second one being the creaking of the wooden chairs, since it was impossible to sit motionless throughout an entire performance.

The next day, Dragiša Ognjanovic and Marjan Gabrijelcic held a luncheon in honour of the conductor, to which I was invited. When Celibidache was told that I represented the cultural politics of Ljubljana, he attacked me so ferociously that I still remember that meeting till this very day. We should be ashamed, he pointed out, that we have such a small and badly maintained hall with creaking chairs! He couldn’t understand, he added, how the cultural politics in Ljubljana could be so disdainful towards music. He described Slovenia as provincial and assured me that we wouldn’t live to see him or his orchestra again.

Certain events make you think: they can burden or mark a person for his/her whole life. That meeting with the famous conductor was one such event. Even though I slinked away from that lunch as a dejected puppy, his words provoked me to such a degree that I became much more active in, critical of and even intolerant towards the conditions that were at that time determining the Ljubljana cultural community and the Cultural Council of the SZDL (Socialist Alliance of the Working People).

Mitja Rotovnik

Mitja Rotovnik, from the uvodnik (editorial) 20 x 365, Spominski zbornik Cankarjevega doma ob 20-letnici, Ljubljana, 13 May 2000

A short chronology

The building of Cankarjev dom was undoubtedly the biggest cultural investment of the last century:

  • as late as April 1977, the pit in the middle of the enclosed construction site, which had not seen any change in over ten years, still wasn’t showing any signs of materializing the dream of a cultural centre;
  • on 11 May 1977, an initiatory committee was formed and the IZITR began to prepare plans, under the leadership of Professor Edo Ravnikar; archaeologists moved to the construction site; potential founders started having discussions about money and financing;
  • in summer 1977, a social agreement on construction and financing was prepared and the operative panel met every Monday at 18:00 in the Ljubljanska banka building;
  • in autumn, the main works were allocated amongst investors and the arduous struggle of raising funds began; the programme and other committees of the operative panel were already working at full blast;
  • a social agreement on the construction and financing of the Ivan Cankar Cultural Institution was signed on 15 January 1978, despite a prohibition on investment in social activities which had arrived from Belgrade. Engines finally started roaring on the construction site on 26 January 1978; the republic and the city ardently searched for construction funds;
  • in the spring of 1980, the first cultural and congress events were held in Linhart hall. Previously, the Kulturni dom Ivan Cankar working organisation was established; Miran Kert was its first Director General, Marjan Javornik the first Programme Director, and Igor Lampret his deputy. Despite major disagreements, Božena Zakrajšek brought over the majority of the then congress team from Kompas Magistrat. The institution also employed Sašo Kranjc and Jana Kramberger. The former became the Technical Department Director and the latter the Corporate Services Director in 1982 – both have successfully performed their functions till this day;
  • by September 1982, when Mitja Rotovnik became Director General, all of the four central halls had been completed (except for the stage of the largest one, Gallus Hall, which had to wait two more years before staging its first event). For this reason, in 1982 the concert of the Slovenian Philharmonic was performed in front of the iron curtain, other art and cultural events were also held on three makeshift stages in front of the iron curtain until 1984.

In the middle of the seventies a bright and courageous idea was born: the dream of a modern centre which would offer audiences a considerably improved experience of top quality cultural events, larger conventions, scientific meetings, educational activities, commercial presentations and social gatherings, whilst at the same time providing creators and organisers with a more modern base for the development and execution of their activities. The idea came to life and prospered... Investment in the construction of Cankarjev dom, with its constant multi-faceted creative activities, surpassed even the most optimistic expectations and forecasts. The pleasant environment and the Centre’s technologically outstanding equipment made it the central meeting point and scene of various cultural and artistic creators as well as scientific, political and economic services. 

The creators and constructors of Cankarjev dom looked at similar institutions abroad in their search to the answer of how many years it would take for visitors and organisers to accept and get to know all the dimensions of Cankarjev dom. But the wider the Centre’s doors opened during the construction period, the more they were surprised by the response of people, who had been sorely lacking such a centre for so many years. One of the reasons for Cankarjev dom’s popularity was undoubtedly the unique and unusual structure of its programme, architecture, function and administration.

The genesis of Cankarjev dom first appeared in an idea that was proposed on 14 November 1975, during a sitting of a committee for the celebration of Ivan Cankar’s centenary, led by Mitja Ribicic. From that time on the Socialist union, cultural communities, the Municipality of Ljubljana, as well as other municipalities, republic bodies, businesses, administrative offices and the media hosted lengthy discussions about the idea, programme and financial opportunities of such a cultural centre. Public opinion was firmly in favour of construction.

On such a basis, between 14 April and 19 May 1977, the competent republic, municipal and city organs and companies confirmed an agreement on the construction, the programme, the project plan and the working bodies for the realisation of the project.

Besides the Republic of Slovenia and the City Municipality of Ljubljana, the participation of Radio-Television Ljubljana, Ljubljanska banka, Iskra, Emona Ljubljana and PTT Ljubljana was extremely important. An Investment Fund established for the construction of Revolution Square (Trg revolucije) also complemented the programme and the planned opportunities of the centre.

In 1977, about 300 of the most distinguished cultural, technical and other experts cooperated in the participants’ committee on the arrangement of Cankarjev dom construction and financing, committees and other bodies for the construction of the centre. New, similarly excellent workers joined them in the project later on. It is especially worth mentioning that the entire team of working bodies worked without payment, even in the most sensitive and intensive periods of construction. In the first 18 months, construction management employed only three staff.

Five versions of the programme scheme were prepared. Nine locations for the centre were proposed in various parts of Ljubljana. The most important suggestions were published for discussion, some even in 50 000 to 70 000 copies. During the construction, 35 of the most important Slovenian and foreign companies prepared suggestions for individual technical solutions. All the works and equipment orders were submitted as invitations to tenders, or with calls for works

At the beginning of construction, the Cankarjev dom working organisation was established, and over all of its 20 years it has performed priceless work by preparing programmes, training personnel and managing the centre. In 1982, Mitja Rotovnik, who had been the head of the programme committee for construction, became the Director General of Cankarjev dom.

Several hundred workers, technicians, engineers, and over two hundred companies who took part in project, construction, installation and craft works, constructed the centre in three years.

A few basic facts

Head architect of the project: prof. Edo Ravnikar 
Managers of investment: the committee of participants in the social arrangement on construction and financing of the Ivan Cankar Cultural Centre (president Mitja Ribicic); Operative panel for construction (presidents: Janez Zemljaric,1977–81; Borut Miklavcic, 1981–85).
Contractors: SCT, Gradis, IMP, Iskra, Slovenijales, Ljubljana public enterprises for distribution of electric energy and public utility companies, Institute for Research of Material and Construction as well as Investment Fund for the Construction of the Revolution Square – more than 200 companies altogether. 
Investment cost: EUR 53.5 million 
Surface area: 36 000 sq. m
Construction of the Gallus Hall organ: Karl Schuke, Berlin, Germany
Creator of the Ivan Cankar monument: sculptor Slavko Tihec (monument unveiled on 10 May 1982)

Under the stage lights

The basic programme directives, which were conceived between 1978 and 1980, have remained unchanged until the present day – their relevance can principally be ascribed to the enthusiastic unifying role of Cankarjev dom, its cosmopolitan orientation and the core programme activities, which consist of cultural, artistic and congress events in all possible production and performance forms.

The cultural - artistic programme of Cankarjev dom still promotes modern, fresh, imaginative and innovative approaches to culture, which naturally strive for high-quality performances of events. We are especially dedicated to promoting new Slovenian creativity and talent.

At home and abroad Cankarjev dom is well-known as a major presenter and promoter of Slovene as well as foreign cultural and artistic exchanges, and as a strong creative force it also stimulates and unites artistic and cultural events in the city. Although without its own resident artistic ensemble, Cankarjev dom prides itself on excellent collaboration with the National Opera and Ballet House and with the Slovenian Philharmonic society that gives over fifty symphonic concerts annually in Gallus Hall.

As the largest and most well-known congress centre in Slovenia, Cankarjev dom offers and develops the services of top-quality congress management. With an expert team of professional congress organisers it implements ideas from all over the country and the world, and attracts the attention of organisers and participants in international congresses, symposia and seminars.
By 2000 Cankarjev dom hosted 17,380 cultural, artistic, congress, fair and social events and welcomed over 6,700.000 visitors. With the exception of the initial period when not all of the halls had been completed, over 400,000 people visit the centre annually in some 1000 cultural and artistic performances and 200 congress events.


MUSIC

Musical events, with an extensive array of various musical art forms, play the most prominent role in the Culture and the Arts Programme of Cankarjev dom. The trends of contemporary music endeavours and interpretations is most comprehensively conveyed by all styles of classical music ranging from symphonic to chamber, staged musical projects, jazz, ethno and contemporary music concerts, characterised by the highest quality, freshness and being in sync with international currents. Opera is featured in Cankarjev dom’s programme in an annual grand opera or ballet co-production, organised in cooperation with Slovenian opera houses and foreign musical and theatrical establishments. 
The high technical standards of the Gallus Hall stage allow grand-scale productions and it regularly hosts operatic and ballet performances from current international and Slovenian companies. Many unforgettable operas have been staged in the Gallus Hall: Turandot, Faust, Boris Godunov, Aida (to name just a few), along with numerous ballet performances such as Swan Lake and The Taming of the Shrew. 
Cankarjev dom can also boast a number of great soloists who have graced its stages: Luciano Pavarotti, Carlos Kleiber, Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Sir Neville Marriner, Claudio Abado, Ivo Pogorelich, Misha Maiski, Albert Brendel, Marjana Lipovšek, Irena Grafenauer, Vladimir Askenazi, Lorin Maazel, Mariss Jansons, Sir Simon Rattle and Nikolaus Harnoncour. Several famous orchestras can be added to this list: the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Israel Symphonic Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Washington Philharmonic, the Academy of St. Martin in The Fields and Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden. With regard to famous musicians, Cankarjev dom has hosted: Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Al Di Meolla, Tito Puente, McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, John Zorn, Naked City, Maria Joao 2, Misia, Esma Redjepova, Habib Koite in David Bamada, Steve Martland Band, Dave Douglas, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Les Negresses Vertes, Diamanda Galas, Tambours de Brazza Balanescu Quartet and Muzsikas.


THEATRE AND DANCE

The THEATRE AND DANCE DEPARTMENT of Cankarjev dom features performances by Slovenian artists, staged in co-production with Cankarjev dom. The events staged in the Duša Pockaj Hall are especially diverse and lively – it is reserved exclusively for new works, from dance to physical performances and puppet theatre for adults, multimedia performance events and performances that focus on exploring the relationship between new technologies and theatre. Our stages host compelling theatre and dance performers from all over the world, with cult-status figures like Robert Wilson, Romeo Castellucci, DV8, Merce Cuningham, Josef Nadj, La La Human Steps (Eduardo Lock), Jan Fabre, Angelin Preljocaj, Wim Vandekeybus, Gulbenkian balet and The Bejing Opera etc. to budding artists who are slowly gaining reputation. Matjaž Faric and Iztok Kovac with the EnKnap Group, two Slovenian choreographers who have gained a worldwide reputation, cooperate regularly with Cankarjev dom. One of Cankarjev dom most memorable events is undoubtedly the magnificent performance Macbeth which was created in co-operation with the Slovene National Theatre SNG Drama Ljubljana.


FILM

The FILM PROGRAMME of Cankarjev dom presents the latest achievements in Slovenian and foreign filmmaking and is also involved in distribution. It presents Slovenia with the biggest names in contemporary filmmaking. The programme primarily showcases European directors, but also others who have endeared us with their creativity and originality: Emir Kusturica, Dušan Makavejev, Peter Greenway, Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodovar, Lars Von Trier, Michael Haneke, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Eric Rohmer, Eric Zonca, Cai Ming liang, Wong Kar-vai, Chen Kaige, Takeshi Kitano, Abbas Kiarostami, Jim Jarmusch and others. The programme is comprised of different thematic programmes, international festivals and special screenings – appealing to both the connoisseur as well as the occasional cinema-goer.


EXHIBITIONS

The Cankarjev dom Gallery presents prominent personalities in the field of FINE ARTS and organises educational and thematic exhibitions. The small gallery displays contemporary photography of great expressive power and technical diversity. Other multi-purpose premises of Cankarjev dom occasionally house exhibitions of architecture and design, archaeology and cultural history.
Some of the great names who have appeared in Cankarjev dom so far include: Picasso, Rembrandt, Egon Schiele, Georgio de Chirico, Hundertwasser, Chagall, Spazzapan, Morandi and Hodler. The Nude in Slovenia I–III, a comprehensive exhibition of painting, sculpture and photography, was also extremely well received.
Some of the on-running projects encompassed in the CD’s exhibition programme are the International Graphic Art Biennial (in collaboration with MGLC), the Slovenian Biennial of Illustration (in collaboration with ZDSLU) and the Photograph of the Year Competition (in collaboration with the Emzin magazine).


HUMANISM

By raising an extensive spectrum of philosophical, anthropological, ethnological, linguistic and other issues, the HUMANISTIC PROGRAMME greatly complements the Culture and the Arts Programme of Cankarjev dom. The programme features numerous round table polemical discussions and public forums that evoke a lot of response. Addressing various humanistic sciences, they are organised in cooperation with governmental as well as non-governmental organisations and the University. The Humanistic Programme has hosted numerous world famous names such as Richard Flanangan, David Brooks PhD, Boris Groys, Amelia Jones, Juliette Mitchel and Noëlle Chatelet.

CULTURAL EDUCATION

Cankarjev dom is also involved in the CULTURAL EDUCATION of various age groups – from nursery school level up to university level. With a carefully selected programme of arts events that focus on music, theatre, dance, film, visual arts, literature, education and entertainment Cankarjev dom strives to sharpen their aesthetic sense and broaden their horizons. At Christmas time, it traditionally organises fairy-tale days for little-ones.


FESTIVALS

FESTIVALS, by now an important part of the Cankarjev dom programme, have gained an excellent reputation throughout Slovenia as well as abroad. This is especially true of the Ljubljana Jazz festival, which is one of the events with the longest tradition in Europe. Slightly younger, yet just as celebrated are these other events – the International film festival 'Liffe', the Documentary Film Festival, Druga godba, City of Women, the Exodos Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, the 'Gibanica – Moving Cake' Festival of Slovenian Dance and the Transgenerations festival. Of the events with long tradition, a highlight is the Slovenian Book Fair – an opportunity for publishing houses to display and promote their latest books as well as various events for book lovers.


CD CONGRESS AGENCY

The CD Congress Agency organises congresses and other events. For over 20 years, numerous scientific and professional associations, companies, various governmental and non-governmental organisations, societies, fair organisers and diverse exhibitors have entrusted us with the organisation of scientific and specialized congresses, symposia and seminars, economic-entrepreneurial events, educational fairs and a myriad of social events, including celebrations, banquets, balls, and receptions.
The CD Congress Agency provides an appropriate venue for the top-quality organization of every event. Cankarjev dom can provide its own premises, which include some of the best halls in Slovenia, or rented facilities at other locations, as well as integral services in renowned events centres throughout Slovenia, ie in Bled, Portorož or Maribor. 
Over three thousand events realised over the last two decades stand as indisputable proof of the CD Congress Agency's rich experience. Particularly worth mentioning among these numerous events, realised with the help of our experts, are:

18th IUFRO World Congress
18th FEBS Meeting (Federation of European Biochemical Societies)
11th International Congress on Thrombosis
17th World Design Congress – ICSID
14th International Congress of Biometeorology
14th World Congress of IPMA (International Project Management Association)
14th International Congress of Aesthetics
8th International Child Neurology Congress - ICNA
50th General Assembly of the CEA - Congress of European Agriculture
16th International Congress for Medical Informatics - MIE '99
6th Congress of the European Society of Contraception
54th Annual Assembly of the International Institute of Welding
13th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm
17th World Conference of Family Doctors – WONCE Europe
1st Congress of European Microbiologists – FEMS 2003
38th World Congress of Beekeepers – APIMONDIA 2003
19th European Congress of Pathology

Important arts events:

  • World Puppet Festival – UNIMA 92
  • European Symposium on Choir Music
  • European Biennial of Contemporary Arts - Manifesta 3
  • World Music Days

Sources:
20 x 365, Spominski zbornik Cankarjevega doma ob 20-letnici, Ljubljana, 13. maja 2000
Cankarjev dom, predstavitvena zgibanka, Ljubljana, julij 2003