FRINGE Warszawa: A Response to Precarity

Author: Josh Plough


Amidst Poland's cultural landscape dominated by conservative agendas for a long time, the term "independent" takes on nuanced meanings, reflecting a struggle for survival rather than a mere status. Organisations like Fundacja Ziemniaki i navigate bureaucratic hurdles while FRINGE Warszawa emerges as a collective response, showcasing alternative voices outside institutional norms. Across borders, initiatives like the Ukrainian Translocal Art Cooperative and discussions with organisations like 127 garage highlight the importance of solidarity and exchange in nurturing vibrant cultural ecosystems beyond political constraints.



Pozycje wyjściowe (Starting positions) exhibtion by Piotr Kopik at Pracownia Wschodnia in the framework of FRINGE 2023 – © Paulina Mirowska


Independent. That’s a tricky one. According to the Reset! network it’s “organisations that are not 100% financed by public subsidies nor 100% financed by private corporations.” In Poland, right now, that’s not so hard to achieve. The past eight years have been under the grimy, greasy, grubby thumb of the bitter right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS). Since they came to power in 2015, their cultural policy has been one of hostile intolerance with funding for anything progressive cut, and instead, millions of zloty poured into projects that served their conservative agenda: more catechism, less queerism.


The need for alternative terminology

On top of this, there is little to no understating of philanthropy for cultural work. So independent spaces are “independent” because of the context, not despite it. We also need to acknowledge the informal nature of the term independent. Usually, there are no formal or financial structures underpinning these organisations, making it almost impossible to access funding at a local, national, or EU level. So, what’s “vibrant”, “critical,” and “progressive” is underscored by the spectre of burnout. A ghoul forever stalking the indie scene–and cultural scene at large–as workers pick up the slack of faltering or captured institutions.

In 2021, I founded Fundacja Ziemniaki i, a Warsaw-based cultural not-for-profit focused on supporting artists and designers through mentorships, exhibitions, publications, residencies, etc. Unlike other initiatives, I made the decision to immediately register as a foundation, which three years later has only really started to make sense. The intervening years have been marred by bureaucracy, accountants, lawyers, and paperwork that get in the way of programming. On paper, Ziemniaki i is independent, but in reality it is far from it. That’s why we need to come up with new terminology to accurately describe the situation. There is too much romanticism and obfuscation surrounding the term independent: What about co-dependent?


Strange Garden group show curated by Wojciech Gilewicz at Inne Towarzystwo in the framework of FRINGE 2023 – © Adam Gut


The necessity for alliances: FRINGE

While many of the “co-dependent” spaces in Poland are neither 100% financed by private or public subsidies, they also don’t even have the chance to have their work 10% funded–it should be noted that some of the major cities in Poland do have healthy cultural funding structures, but alternative spaces are often overlooked or ineligible. A response to this precarious situation was to come together and collectively showcase the work that’s being done outside of the institutions and private galleries.

In this regard, in 2022, a group of nine independent/off-/project/pop-up spaces and exhibition spaces[1] joined forces to create FRINGE Warszawa; a three-day event running parallel to Warsaw Gallery Weekend. In light of the context described, there was a general need to band together and advocate for the work done–many artists have their first exhibitions at places like the ones mentioned and they also provide a space for experimentation and failure.

The first iteration of FRINGE was a success in terms of reaching new audiences and firmly planting the off-space flag on the map of Warsaw. Carrying on into 2023, FRINGE grew from nine to twenty-two participants[2]. With growth came the opportunity to redefine what an entity like FRINGE could offer to the independent scene:

“What started last year [2022] as a super quick effort to gather together to promote and support the independent scene in Warsaw has now transformed into a pretty full-on organism. A lot more energy has gone into opening this up and to keeping it flexible, and we continue to learn so much as the process evolves. As such, we have established some basic principles for how we consider FRINGE:

  • FRINGE is proof that the art scene in Warsaw is diverse; that it includes undisputed artists, curators, projects, places, events, communities, ideas, and initiatives (even if only temporarily), and that it is not subject to one narrow definition–it is fluid, bottom-up, alive, grassroots.


  • FRINGE largely represents the non-commercial scene in the city, and is an opportunity to make visible works/projects/initiatives of all positions: from emerging to established, from the periphery to the centre.


  • FRINGE is accessible, and is intended to grow and expand organically. It is not a closed circle. Anything, anyone can be FRINGE.”

Now in its third year, FRINGE is at a new stage since we applied for funding to cover 100% of the costs of this year’s event–hopefully this won’t affect our independent status. The application was submitted to the Ministry of Culture, since the government changed, in the hope that they understand the vital work done during the eight years of PiS to keep the Polish cultural scene relevant. We’re still waiting with fingers crossed and thumbs held.[3]


Köroẅǫḑ group show by Ziemniaki i, curated by Agnieszka Cieszanowska, in the framework of FRINGE 2023 – © Antoni Mantorski



Within and across borders: solidarity and exchange

While this article has so far been focused on Warsaw, the indie scene is in no way limited to the capital. Scratch the surface of any major city in Poland, and you’ll find people and places bubbling outside of the traditional bastions of culture. There is no shortage of initiatives, energy, or will here. The country is fermenting away nicely. With the right support and advocacy, the off-spaces and artist-run initiates could flourish and become spaces that nurture the people running them as much as those they support and the audiences that visit. To achieve this, we need more local, national and transitional solidarity and networks of exchange. As well as a more flexible understanding of cultural production in the corridors of power.

On a final note, in February 2024 and in the context of The Ukrainian Translocal Art Cooperative, The Warsaw Culture Observatory (WOK) organised a discussion with Katie Zazenski from STROBOSKOP (Warsaw) and Nastia Khlestova and Anton Tkachenko from 127 garage (Kharkiv). The subject of the discussion was 127 garage’s Weaving project that “connects organisations placed next to the [Ukrainian] frontline, so they cannot work in their towns due to the war, with organisations that continue to operate in their locations… The main goal is to provide [self-organised] organisations that are based closer to the front line and cannot continue their work in full because of the war a platform in more safe regions, as well as a chance to introduce themselves, integrate into the local environment and continue to work.”

The evening was a chance for FRINGE and Weaving to connect: two initiatives with similar ambitions but in radically different contexts. More of such events that connect, share, and advocate can only help the community. The ever-present subject of funding reared its head during the discussion and prompted the obligatory nervous, worried laughs and grimaces. While money doesn’t solve everything, it can help concentrate efforts.

To sum it all up, everything is already there and waiting.


[1] STROBOSKOP, Fundacja Ziemniaki i, o/b/c/y artist run space, marszałkowska |18, Inne Towarzystwo, pop-up Koszykowa 35, Curie City / Warsaw Bauhaus, Przyszła Niedoszła and Lele Art Space.

[2] Kreski i kropki, STROBOSKOP, Vanish Gallery, Ziemniaki i, Przyszła Niedoszła, Inne Towarzystwo, marszałkowska | 18, Lila Hart | art showroom, Warsaw Bauhaus / Curie City,  Lescer, JIL,  SAUNA, Galeria Promocyjna (STROBOSKOP and Superbien Berlin), Konrad Maciejewicz, Sebastian72, Radio Uziemienie, Girls and Queers to the Front, Pracownia Wschodnia, Solatorium, Spółdzielnia Takładnie, Nerdka, Turnus na Wolskiej.

[3] We got the funding! We found out just before the article was published.


About the author:

Josh Plough is an educator and researcher who focuses on the sordid world of design and its position in the webs of folklore, identity, politics, and futures. He received his MA in Design Curating and Writing from the Design Academy Eindhoven and cut his teeth at the independent publishers and exhibition space Onomatopee Projects, where he worked for three years as an editor and city curator. Currently based in Warsaw, he established the cultural foundation and library Ziemniaki i, which researches the social relevance of myth and folk practices by placing them in the context of populist politics, belief, and digital technologies. Josh was the recipient of the 2022 Fondazione Fitzcarraldo scholarship in Cultural Policies at Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana and a contributing writer to publications including DAMN Magazine, Current Obsession, Revista-ARTA, Dialog, FORMY, CritiCALL! and The Future of.