Closed factories, empty warehouses, darkened cinemas, abandoned buildings
owned by local communities, even military barracks are some of the hundreds of
deserted buildings peppered across Serbia that have stood for decades as empty
Most formerly housed state-owned companies that went bankrupt in the 1990s
and 2000s, after the fall of communism, wars and the various transition
In Belgrade alone, there are about 150 such buildings. Some are starting to
open their doors to young artists and political activists, who see the
opportunity to express themselves and use the space for a different
Tamara Jovanovic is an author with the research project, Empty Spaces of
Serbia. “One of the starting points of the study was the lack of space for the
operation of artistic and scientific institutions, groups and individuals active
in these areas, which could be solved just by filling the empty space,” she
“However, there must be an interest and desire to exploit the potential of
Belgrade. This includes better co-operation of all parties, the existence of
cultural policies and strategies, and more initiative of artists and more
accountable authorities,” Jovanovic said.
The research showed that the most common empty spaces are military barracks
and cinemas. One such space is InexFilm, a failed film production company from
Belgrade. One year ago, the group Civic Initiatives decided to convert the
1500-square-meter building into a cultural centre.
“We sent an official request to all municipalities in Serbia to give us the
list of abandoned places and information about their condition,” said Dobrica
Veselinović of Civic Initiative. “The biggest problem is that most of the
municipalities in Serbia do not know what all they have. Because of the
complicated property rights, it is difficult to get information about what
belongs to whom.”
The owner of the building, InexFilm, lets the group use the structure
because the company does not have any plans for it. So far, they have organised
several photo exhibitions, film screenings and concerts. They are planning to
plant a small garden as well.
Another empty giant has been a centre for Belgrade artists for the last ten
years is BIGZ, the Belgrade publishing and graphic institute. Built in 1936, it
was considered one of the most important examples of modern Yugoslavian
architecture. The company started to decline in the 1990s, and over the time,
was transformed into a "concrete jungle" full of empty offices.
The printing company, the main owner of the building (approximately 20,000
square meters), began to lease space for economic reasons, mostly to artists who
have turned the former offices into studios and nightclubs. Today, some of the
biggest names in Serbian music have their studios there, as well, as demo bands,
painters, sculptors, architects and actors.
One of the tenants in BIGZ is Cirkusfera, an organisation for the
development of a contemporary circus, animation art, as well as contemporary and
street theatre. “We like being in BIGZ, since it helps us interact with other
artists and exchange ideas,” said Cirkusfera’s Uros Kuridza.
Cirkusfera’s first neighbour is the music studio "Dragon's Nest". The
studio regularly hosts alternative bands from Serbia and the world.
As one walks through the graffiti painted corridors, the music is
everywhere: from hip hop, to hard rock and reggae. The band VHS is one of dozens
that practice in BIGZ. Every day is like a concert in BIGZ, band members
A few kilometres away, in downtown Belgrade, there is a Cultural Centre
Grad (KC “City”). Its decrepit facade and old walls are a reminder of the past.
Built in 1884 as a warehouse, today it is a venue for fashion shows, art
exhibitions and musical performances.
In almost all the former Yugoslav republics there are similar projects that
turn old and empty buildings into cultural hubs. In Zagreb, places like Clubture
Network, the Pogon Centre for Independent Culture and Youth, and the Community
Centre Kino Mosor were unused communist buildings revitalised by those in the
“The benefit of using these spaces by artists is more than obvious: young,
creative people need a place to express themselves,” said Milos Bakalovic, one
of the musicians working in BIGZ. “Before, authorities used to refuse our
requests to use these buildings. I am glad to see that things are changing