After six years of painstaking restoration work, the important modernist New Synagogue (Nová Synagóga) in Žilina, Slovakia is to formally open to the public as a contemporary arts center, with a dedication event May 12 that will feature a live concert of a specially composed piece of choral music by Marek Piaček that features the names of 2,800 people who helped with the reconstruction.
As the synagogue web site puts it:
Although we did not finish all the renovations yet, it is the time now to open the door for the public, talks, meetings, artists and art. After the six years of the renovations, dust and new concrete, the space is 95% ready. Is it enough? We do not know, but we are not able to wait anymore. [….] We are starting with the singing of more than 2800 names of individual donors who supported the renovations.
Designed by the German architect Peter Behrens and built in 1928-31, the synagogue was long used as a university lecture hall and a cinema and stood empty for years. It was returned to the ownership of the Jewish community, which rented it for a symbolic fee to the Truc Sphérique civic association, which has headed the conversion. (JHE has been following this project and posted several updates about the work and innovative funding campaigns.) The tiny Žilina Jewish community uses another synagogue in the town, the pre-war orthodox synagogue.
During the renovation process, original copies of Behrens’s project for the building, thought to be definitively lost, were discovered in the archives of the Olomouc Museum of Art in the Czech Republic.
The renovation has been supported by a more than €500,000 allocation from the EEA Grants program as well as grants and donations from the Slovak Culture Ministry, the Union of Jewish Communities, foundations and individuals.
The project web site provides photo-documentation of the restoration as well as historic information about the synagogue — the opening event will also include an exhibition of photographs.
The project of restoration of the New Synagogue and its revitalization for Kunsthalle is implemented by the NGO Truc sphérique (cultural center Stanica Žilina-Záriečie) in cooperation with the generous owner of the monument – Jewish Community in Žilina. In early 2011, we learned that they are looking for a new tenant of the empty synagogue. After understanding the importance of the building’s protection from possible commercial use, we submitted our project to renovate the site for cultural purposes. We have gained confidence in this utopian plan backed by a 30-year contract with a token rent. We started the first studies and in 2012 the first restoration work. Since then we are doing what we can to meet demands, which puts the building itself and we feel that we are (together with all of you) part of one of the greatest adventures of our generation.
Our intention is not only restored Behrens’ landmark, but also new life in it. The aim is to create an exhibition space for contemporary art and other cultural activities with international dimension. Institution with quality curatorial programs and a clear profile that will combine the production of exhibitions and intellectual discourse with other local community activities. Therefore, it was and it is important to pre-open the synagogue regularly during reconstruction works and to test the future activities.