Capital Bucureşti
Time Zone EEST (GMT+2)
Country Code 40
Mobile Codes 71,72,73,74,75,76,77,78
ccTLD .ro
Currency Leu nou (1EUR = 4.1 RON)
Land Area 238,391 sq km
Population 22 million
Language Romanian
Major Religion Orthodox Christianity

Boosting Contemporary Art in Romania: Interview with Mihai Suta and Dan Vuletici Editor’s Note: in this extraordinary new interview, Director Chris Deliso documents the experience and ideas of two visionary young Romanians working hard to develop and promote contemporary art in their country. Chris spoke recently with the pair, Mihai Suta and Dan Vuletici at the arty Scârţ loc lejer bar in their city of Timisoara to learn more about their project for proliferating contemporary art more widely. The project, taking place in one of Romania’s traditional cultural capitals, is meant to help the artists. Yet it also seeks to challenge the accepted understanding of art in Romania, the perception of its audience make-up, and the power structures that control its distribution and exhibition- all with a little help from the social Web and a spirit of volunteerism.

Mihai Suta studied economics and political science at Timisoara University. He then worked for several years as a business developer for private investors in Romania, Hungary and Austria, and did the same for several multinationals in the last two years- while also devoting plenty of time in 2012 to the new art project.

Dan Vuletici finished high school and university of fine arts, worked at various local agencies as a web/print designer then moved to London to build social websites for major corporations such as BBC Channel 4, Sony, Orange and more. Between these jobs, he also developed his painting skills, which he has turned into a profession as an artist.


Origins of the Project

Chris Deliso: So, let’s start with some background- tell me about your project. How did you decide to start it?

Mihai Suta: We didn’t start it, actually- at first, we were just meeting for coffee. But then, as we developed it, over the past year my free time has become increasingly focused on the project’s strategy, design and concept.

Dan Vuletici: Over these coffees, I would tell Mihai about my problem as an artist- you know, having a lot of works I had created, but not enough spaces where I could exhibit them.

MS: I had already been wanting to get involved in art somehow-

CD: Why did you want to get involved with art?

MS: I am originally from Satu Mare, in Satu Mare county in the north of Romania, but I studied economic and political science here in Timisoara. However, on a personal level I was already connected to the arts. I used to be a singer and I played the gorduna, which is like something between a cello and contrabass, a very unique instrument from Northern Romania. And then one day, much later, I came across my own instrument- in the Brussels Museum of Instruments.

CD: What! How on earth did that happen?

MS: After I ended my playing days, my teacher didn’t have enough money and sold it. I recognized my instrument, there are only a few in the country like it. It took a bit of time to explain to the people in the museum. But I knew the scratches, where I had dropped it on the train once. It was a very strong experience, and it reminded me of the arts.

CD: That’s amazing. It must have been a big surprise.

The Timisoara project is “based on a new idea in Europe, about social entrepreneurship based on the actual market situation,” attests Mihai Suta. “As a society, we need to become more humane in our approach to the economy.”

MS: Yes, it was. And then this planning happened over time, and lots of conversations with Dan. We were going to the same coffeehouses, and we talked about it for a long time until it developed-

DV: There was a general feeling, among other artists too, that somebody had to do something about the situation of not having enough exhibition space in Timisoara. And I wanted personally to exhibit more of my art.

CD: So this is where you started to see an opportunity?

MS: Yes, that’s right. As an economist, this is how I approach things- okay, we have a problem, so let’s find how to solve it, to see how something can be done.

CD: So in this particular case, what was the actual problem with the exhibition space? Are there not enough art galleries in Timisoara? Or do they only display limited works?

DV: Well, there’s always a lot of mumbo-jumbo dealing with galleries in this region. And they take 40 percent or even more of artists’ profits-

CD: Wow! I don’t know anything about this area, but that seems like a lot.

DV: Then you have to answer to the curator- he has to like your work, which is ridiculous, because they’re usually not artists themselves.

MS: So it creates a problem that shouldn’t be there. This problem led to our basic concept- you don’t need anything for a gallery exhibition space, except a wall.

The Situation for Artists in Timisoara

CD: Interesting… a very simple concept.

MS: That is how we ended up with the idea. I started by looking at it from the business perspective, researching the art market in Romania, the situation with the galleries in the country, and I asked what we would need. In the end, I tried to strip it down to the essence. I only saw the walls. This is what we need.

CD: So you envisioned a particular idea for a type of exhibition space that would work?

DV: Exactly, a place with a little peace and quiet to enjoy looking at art. Obviously you can’t hold it in a kebab shop. That’s the thing. Artists here in Timisoara, and in Romania in general are very annoyed with how galleries operate.

CD: Tell me, does Timisoara have a large artistic community?

DV: There are so many artists in this town. They are more than it might appear, because of the lack of exhibition space. I would say that 90 percent of the artists in this town do not exhibit here.

CD: Really! It sounds difficult. But do you mean that they don’t exhibit their works at all, or they just go somewhere else?

DV: Yes, most of them don’t exhibit- or they get stuck looking for some other places.

MS: We have discovered this, since we started exhibiting with ten or so artists… and the others have heard about our exhibitions, and more keep coming, asking if they can join and exhibit through us too.

Art Buyers in Romania

CD: So tell me then, with this big supply of artists, and some amount of interest, what is the typical profile of the art buyers here? And how many are there, anyway?

MS: In general, the art buyers in Romania are those persons who have the money and interest in buying works of art. There are about 30 of them in Timisoara, another 30 in Cluj-Napoca, and 200 or so in Bucharest. You can’t call it a market- this is a niche.

DV:  And the galleries flood them with paintings, and their own projects. This is why they only exhibit the most known artists.

CD: You mean, the Romanian artists who happen to be most famous in the country?

Addressing the challenges facing Romanian artists today, Dan Vuletici affirms that “we want our project to come to be seen by new artists as something that gives them hope.”

MS: Yes, they’re the ones who they’re sure about- that is, the gallery owners are sure they can sell their works, to the very small percentage of people in Romania who actually buy art. But in doing so, they are making a normal business, which is something we don’t want to do.

FA91A2: The Project without a Name

CD: What is it you want to do, then?

MS:  The project has two sides. From the economic point of view, we would of course like to create a market for artists, so that they can make a living doing their work. And through the artists, we would also have another opportunity to promote local culture.

From the second point of view, the social idea, this is to exhibit art to those who don’t usually go to galleries and see art. Ninety percent of these people here are living in those old communist apartment blocs and work in factories.

DV: The ridiculous thing is that every family in town has at least one painting, or a photo, something artistic, on their walls. They could have an original artwork for the same price!

MS: And those items are usually not art, just copies of art.

CD: So you would like to introduce art to those people who are not used to looking for it, but who might like it if they knew about it. Is that correct? It seems like a very unusual and interesting way of going about it.

MS: Yes. We identified this as a chance to build a market in a very unconventional way. This can be explained by the logo which Dan designed based on the idea- a pink dot, made with a single stroke of a brush.

CD: Why pink?

MS: Because it is a combination of two colors- orange and violet. Orange stands for creativity and artists, and violet for community. These two colors, when put together, bring out this shade of pink. The brush movement that is a circle represents what we are doing in the project- we are moving art from one place to another, making a circle, a circuit.

CD: Interesting! But what is this project called?

MS: Our idea doesn’t have a name. We have a blog that has the color code in hexadecimal coding.

CD: What? Come on!

DV: No, really, the project doesn’t have a name. If it did, it would stand out in front of the art.

CD: But surely you have some identification for it, otherwise…

MS: Of course- we use the code FA91A2, that is the exact pink colour code we created. We used it since we needed to register the blog. So this is how you call it, just our blog address, FA91A2. And, we will open a similar website, we are still working on it so it is not available, but it will be after December 15 or so, at

CD: This is certainly unusual!

DV:  Yes, unusual, but not completely without precedent, in some ways. I was working as a social web designer when I lived in London, and I learned a lot from the experience of other companies and what they did. Take Apple- they changed their original marketing from the company name to the logo, a shape, which is now what everyone recognizes and associates with the company and its products. We didn’t start with a name- we skipped that stage. The logo explains the project.

What is also present in not having a name, is the idea that what a painting represents to you is always subjective, so you see the painting uniquely from everyone else and they from you. It continues the idea that we don’t have a narrow point of view in talking about or defining art.

CD: I see. So we have this almost ‘anonymous’ approach, and a hesitance to defining art. How does this fit in with or help to achieve your goal with the project?

MS: Well, we want to spread as much art as possible to as many people as possible. They will create the market, not us. And this is because artists get their input and their inspiration from the society they live in. therefore it is more appropriate that the people in a community select the art- not one curator or a few specialists. Certainly not us either.

CD: You’re an economist and you’re both obviously in touch with all of the technology and trends. I say this because from all of this it sounds like it has crowdsourcing and other applications. So how are your backgrounds and expertise being used in leading this project?

MS: Well, we find that our backgrounds have relevance in all three dimensions of the project. First it’s a social project. We take contemporary art to the people, those who usually wouldn’t access anything. On the other hand it’s also a cultural project, a structure for artists to put their work out there, and to be seen by as many people as possible.

And third, it benefits our partners, including companies. This is why we have started working with multinationals. which employ thousands of people. They have the most to gain, because we don’t charge anything for filling their corporate space with artworks. They have benefit in the sphere of corporate social responsibility and public relations-

CD: Ah yes, they’re seen as doing something cultural.

DV: Well yes, it is good for them because they get involved with an art project. But they will also have a different connection to their employees by fostering this interaction. And somehow we are connecting the artists to the wider community, and those who might appreciate their work, whether or not they would have found out about these artists some other way or not.

Funding and Cost Issues

CD: So inevitably, we get to the question of funding, as it seems like a lot of work for you to do. How do you manage to keep going and what kind of support do you get? Do you charge artists some commissions?

DV: We don’t charge artists at all- on our blog, next to the images of each artwork we have prices, if someone wants to buy that piece. But we don’t take any commission from the artists unless they want to give us something. If they want to give us a coffee, or even a handshake, we will accept!

The swirly pink dot- mysterious symbol of the FA91A2 (click to visit the project’s blog).

MS: It’s the same with our partners. They are free to help us if they want. An example is two companies in the city who are sympathetic to the project. They don’t have the capacity to exhibit our art on their space, but they do have vans. They said, ‘look, if you need to transport your art we will let you use the car.’ That’s also the crowdsourcing thing. Even volunteers. Anyone who wants to join can.

CD: I understand how that works, but still there must be some fixed costs somewhere that can’t be left to possible donation?

MS: Of course we have fixed costs, for which we are accountable. But we don’t announce these as specific costs that others need to absorb. If there is anyone with whom the project resonates, and they have something to give, that’s great. Even what you are doing for us right now- if you want to make our project publicized on your website, this is also a huge help, even if it can’t be quantified.

DV: But also, we wouldn’t want to grow faster than we can reasonably do it. We would like to get as many unconventional galleries as we can, but not to rush beyond our capacities.

First Exhibitions, Feedback and New Results

CD: So then, what news do you have about progress? How many exhibitions have you held, and where have these exhibitions taken place?

MS: We started implementing the project on 28 September [2012], at the headquarters of CEC Bank in Timisoara. This is one of the biggest and oldest banks in the country. They gave us two floors. We filled this space with 42 paintings by 10 young local artists.

CD: Why did you choose a bank to use as your gallery?

MS: Well, customer traffic in the bank is about 20,000 persons a month. This bank specifically is quite long-established, it was working as a bank in the communist era and earlier, so it is very well known and used by retired people and the old generations, which is good for us. And of course, 20,000 people a month would be very many for a ‘regular’ art gallery here!

CD: What kind of feedback did you get from this event?

DV: It was 100 percent positive. People all said it was a good idea, ‘yeah, go on with it!’ People helped us put the paintings up. Certain people in the professional art field were informed about it too, and they gave us some contacts, influential people who are very interested in art, and so we were able to send a lot of invitations out to the opening event.

MS: And that event provided a great boost too. We were mentioned in six local media outlets. This helped us, the project, the bank, and of course the artists- we can say that about 90 percent of their paintings that we put up there had not been exhibited before, so for them, this was huge.

CD: That’s a great achievement, congratulations to you and to them. But tell us, how do you decide which artists and which works? And how do you decide the value of them? I don’t know anything about art, I wouldn’t be able to judge anyway. So what are your guidelines?

DV: First of all, we try to promote young artists, from the average ages of 24 to 34. And what is most interesting, the artists evaluate their own paintings and they decide.

MS: We did get some offers from specialists- they said, ‘okay, I like your project, and I will evaluate this art and tell you my opinion of its worth.’ But we declined. We wanted to let them, the artists, to tell us the price.

DV: It also goes for names. Why should someone outside the process get to give a painting a certain name? You’re the artist, you can name it what you want- it’s your painting!

MS: Yes, in every way, we try to strip off unnecessary barriers. For our first exhibition, fortunately the showing was seen by the vice-president of the bank-

CD: of the whole bank, you mean, from Bucharest?

MS: Yes, the vice-president of the whole bank. And he was so impressed with it that he said we can have this Timisoara branch as a permanent, free gallery. The manager agreed, it will be permanent and every 30 days we will change the paintings. Since then, we have also opened a new gallery in TRW Automotives, an American company with 3000 employees. The space there is a 170 sqm cafeteria for their workers.

CD: For their workers?

MS: Well, as we said, with the social aspect of our project, these are the kind of people who don’t get to access art generally, but they are part of the community, and they should get this chance. It may open a new interest in them, it improves the working environment, and it is good for the company too of course.

CD: So how else has this early success carried over? Did the original push lead to more interest?

DV: Until now, we have gotten seven or eight companies that want to show our work. Among them was another bank, which approached us and said they would like to offer exhibition space.

MS: Also, Hostel Costel, which as you know is very popular with young international travelers in our city, is now part of this project, which makes a great way for young local artists to be seen by more international viewers, many of whom come to love the city and Romania in general. And the national theatre has agreed to host us.

CD: What do you plan for the coming period in terms of exhibitions?

MS: We have decided to focus on the three newest galleries we opened this month and another four we will open in December. In total, we want to close this year with eight galleries containing the works of around 20-22 local artists.

So since our first exhibition, we have also been contacted by another multinational, DURA Auto, and in the next month we will surely have seven galleries. Altogether these include CEC Bank, Leman Industrie, TRW Automotive, DURA Auto, Hostel Costel, and the popular alternative café and bar, Aethernative.

Finally, we have gotten approval from the biggest of all- Timisoara City Hall. They have agreed to our project and with their three floors, they have a huge space, enough to hold all 17 artists we have gotten ‘til now and all 80-plus works we exhibit now. We’re still looking for another space, since our target is eight galleries by the end of the year. The value of the paintings we have rose from around 6000 euros in the first month to almost 40000 euros in the second month!

CD: Wow, that is all really impressive.

MS: Something that is also very interesting from the social perspective, is that we will work with the county hospital.

CD: The hospital- you mean by doing this to cheer up the patients? It is a captive audience alright.

MS: Well, like any hospital in the world, of course it can be difficult for patients stuck there. But here there really was no color, nothing to look at. So, more color in the hospital was the idea. Anything that would improve conditions for the patients, and also the people who visit them, and the employees. And we had a meeting with the manager and he agreed we will choose the paintings according to the people who go there.

Economic Solutions and Web Models for the Project

CD: That sounds like a kind initiative, and you are certainly making very fast progress. But do you think this can become self-perpetuating? Are there any business or marketing models you follow to manage this, from your personal backgrounds?
MS: I will explain how I got to this point, and how the strategy was devised. As I said, I began from seeing a problem, and then thought how to solve it. I said, okay, we want to do this project, and we looked in our pockets- zero [money]. So I started researching economic approaches to zero-budget solutions regarding a need. I found some examples from India, in Gandhian economics and that way of finding solutions. I was inspired by that and by others who created something from nothing.

If we think about it from this perspective, our first gallery represented one of the biggest public surfaces in Timisoara. In the end, everything that we did to get the space, get the art, transport and install the art, cost us around 10 euros. That is the budget for an artistic gallery, whose contents are worth maybe over 10,000 euros!

CD: This is very resourceful of you!

DV: Well, we Romanians are resourceful people [laughing]. You can definitely say it is characteristic of us. As a Web guy, now I am trying to translate the recent Western European and US experience with crowdsourcing and crowdfunding platforms like Indigogo and Kickstarter. What aspects of these platforms and ideas can work in Romania? What is the best way to develop this experience? We have to address this.

MS: As I said, we do have needs, for money and so on, but it can’t always be counted as a sum, especially because we are open to unexpected opportunities. So in the case of this interview, if we would have contacted a foreign newspaper, for example, to promote us, we would have had to pay something, maybe 500 euros or more. But you are doing this interview for free, simply because you heard about our project and you liked the idea.

CD: Well, it is a good idea you have. So how do people get involved who might be interested?

MS: Anyone can help, they just need to contact us- in person, or by email []. And it doesn’t need to be help with money, of course if there is some small sum they want to offer that is great. But it is a big help if they know a space for exhibitions they can recommend, or want to suggest an artist- hey, even a nail also good for us. We can hang a painting from it!

DV: Yes. If our project is something that resonates with people, we are happy for any kind of support.

A Profit in Romanian Art? Future Goals

CD: So what do you envision for the future of this project? Suppose it really becomes a hit, and you manage to get artists out there and people want to buy their paintings. Can you see yourself making a standard commission? After all, you are talking about this first from the background of economic research, and you have spent a lot of your time on it, so I am assuming there is financial profit in it somewhere?

MS: The companies that we work with, we will eventually get to ask them for covering the operating costs at least. But not based on what we sell, but on what they are willing to give. We won’t say we need this amount- we will just say we have costs, here is a donation form.

If we start selling art, which after a certain amount of time we will, the artists will help us as it is in their own interest to create the market. Once we create a market, the opportunities are endless. But it’s a long-term project. In 10 years, people will, I hope, have gotten exposed to contemporary art through what we are starting now. If they see it once or twice every day, they will start to resonate with art. If out of 10,000 people, we reach even 100, it’s still a very good thing.

CD: That is understood, but to give me some general idea- what are the sort of prices that artists have been putting on their own work so far been?

MS: We have paintings ranging from 45 to 1000 euros. Romanians are not generally rich, but this means that a person who earns only 250 euros a month can, at least once a year buy a good piece of artwork.

DV: We want our project to come to be seen by new artists as something that gives them hope. The financing is mostly based on the concept of humanity, not corporate. The existing structure now is limiting, and doesn’t give them hope.

CD: Do you think that you can actually change the structure? I don’t know my art history, but it sort of reminds me of that alternative gallery in Paris in the 19th century where future famous painters like Manet showed their works? It was called the ‘gallery of the amateurs’ or something like that…

DV: Actually, it was called the ‘Gallery of the Rejects.’ Yes, it seems similar in some ways. Those people were trying to find a way of showing the works that the accepted Salon would not.

CD: Is there a feeling among the young artists in Timisoara today of being rejected in some way?

DV: It’s not really so much a feeling of being rejected, just not having enough opportunities to show their work. In Romania, it’s normal experience for artists to get turned down on a regular basis when asking to exhibit. Obviously a curator is going to choose someone who he knows will sell, so if it is a young artist who doesn’t have a name yet, the chances to sell the work are much lower.

But with our project it is quite simple. We have this structure and the artists can do whatever they like. If they want to be part of it, they are invited. We are not judging, we let the viewers decide what they like.

CD: Do you have any plans to widen your project to include other kinds of art, or it will remain strictly paintings?

MS: Yes, we are also thinking of expanding to photography and sculpture, but that is for the future. We didn’t focus on it yet. Sculpture is nice, but from the logistics point of view, it is quite expensive. So we decided to focus on paintings for now.

DV: This is another thing, if we get a budget, we will love to offer things like framing services.

CD: Aha- so you could capitalize on derivative businesses associated with art?

MS: Yes, and also we can rent space for art for business. We want to have a whole database of paintings so that we can, say, go to a lawyer’s office and say, ‘hey, your walls are bare,’ and show him what we can offer to sell them or rent them for a month. So that is for the future, after we have built the market.

CD: Have you gotten any outside feedback or interest from foreign artists?

DV: We were contacted by some people, yes, a Dutch sculptor for example who said he would like to lend some of his sculptures for us to exhibit. There have been others, including some Romanian artists in Vienna who said that they want to take part, but we are not capable yet financially- but we will eventually.

MS: This project will become our full-time occupation someday; we have the structure and the processes. This is what I do- logistics and operations. After I have an idea, I get to answer the ‘why’ question its very important for the motivation of the whole strategy.

CD: So what is the answer to this ‘why’ question?

MS: Well, I can tell you that ‘I need to make a profit’ is not the answer to the ‘why’ question. The answer would be that we want art to reach as many people as possible- then we can ask how. Then we can find an answer to what we need in order to get this solved. And so on. I have worked in management and strategy for festivals, for multinational corporations, and so on. As a project manager, I had to deal with the same kind of issues: handling a lot of information, and finding quick, cost-effective solutions.

This is all based on a new idea in Europe, about social entrepreneurship based on the actual market situation. As a society, we need to become more humane in our approach to the economy. I believe there will be a change in the paradigm in business in the following years. Obviously what is happening now in Europe with the economic crisis, this is not sustainable.

CD: So, you see your project as contributing to a new economic model. Does this mean that you envision people doing the same thing as you in other places?

MS: For our contribution, we are set on art. We have a project, but we do not try to make a monopoly on the idea. Of course, we can help out anyone who is interested with information and logistics and planning. The idea is simple but there is a structure. If people in other countries see a value in following our model, that is great. They just have to know what they want to do and how to implement the project where they are. And we will be glad to help them if asked. Well, you know we have an identity, the name is a little weird, but still it is more like a movement.

CD: Well, this certainly seems like an interesting project, and we wish you a lot of luck. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk today.

MS: Thank you too, we appreciate it!

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