PANDA e. V. has been a non-profit association for over ten years in the small courtyard of the Kulturbrauerei – a central location for Berlin culture. Founded in 2000 as a Russian chamber theatre, the PANDA developed into an interdisciplinary art and culture platform with exhibitions, readings, concerts, political discussions, movie-nights and performances.
But PANDA also focuses on current political and social issues – in particular those in the former Soviet Union, such as the situation around the LGBT and gay scene in Russia, the Crimean annexation, the war in Ukraine, and so on. Meanwhile, PANDA has become not only the most important destination for cultural creators in the Russian-speaking community, but also a fixture of alternative art in Berlin.
Despite the great popularity amongst its audience, the PANDA was about to be wound up in summer 2018, as long-standing private sponsorship ended – for family reasons – and without it, it was not possible to cover the costs in the long term. Nevertheless, the team decided not to give up and, for the time being, to work without pay and without external help or staff. The PANDA was given a new lease on life using its own resources; a new concept was developed and we celebrated the reopening in autumn 2018. Today, PANDA is probably the only non-commercial institution in the Kulturbrauerei that does not receive state funding and exists only through the voluntary efforts of the PANDA team. With four to six events per week, this is a remarkable achievement.
Concept and visions
From workshops to exhibitions, talks by artists, theatre performances, avant-garde experiments, up-to-date global beats, futuristic performances, gay and LGBT projects, and social activism, we have a diverse program providing a constant flow of new ideas from various cultural and social circles.
Our concept and visions for the future are based on three pillars:
- PANDA as a place in Berlin, where alternative art can continuously evolve with freedom to experiment but without economic constraints.
- Cultural and political education and exchange
- Networking in the Berlin neighbourhood
Already today, PANDA Theatre e.V. reaches thousands of followers both live and on social networks. Since 2015 over 500 events have taken place at PANDA, each attracting an audience of around 50 but sometimes up to 200 (seating capacity: around 70 with additionally 120 standing places).
- To be open for each other, to promote integration & reintegration
Experimental art and the (not only Russian) diaspora form, as an essentially Berlin phenomenon, a new symbiosis on the PANDA stage.
The special nature of the PANDA e.V. lies in its proximity to the public. PANDA and its team are an integral part of the neighbourhood culture. We are a grassroots organization that sees itself as a driving force and source of inspiration for its international audience.
In contrast to the major venues, the atmosphere in this intimate, alternative place (and few places of this kind have survived in central Berlin) offers an opportunity for people to meet on an equal footing, to get inspiration through experimental music and art, fundamentally questioning current stereotypes.
As a platform between cultures, PANDA puts migrants in touch with German social discourse – and vice-versa. Georgian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Serbian, Italian, Arabic, Jewish and Turkish art also find their home here.
PANDA is the only place in Berlin that offers a forum for cultural exchange and cooperation amongst the democratically thinking emigrants from former Soviet Union. We focus here on cultivating free thinking and culture. We see ourselves as an interface between cultures promoting integration the Russian-speaking diaspora into the German cultural scene, into German society and politics and furthering democratic understanding, environmental, gender-political, independent consciousness. And this has been going on in the PANDA for years.
- Open borders for the arts
The distance between art and the public is more and more a thing of the past. The genre boundaries disappear gradually, syncretism and immersion are now a matter of course – the audience becomes part of the action.
Being open also means having the courage to experiment. As an interdisciplinary and open-format cultural platform, whose special feature is expressed in its proximity to the audience, the PANDA attaches great importance to integrative and innovative formats of art. We regularly organise immersive projects which are always greeted with enthusiastic reactions. To be open also means having courage to experiment and to pursue artistic enlightenment.
- A space open for small projects
Alternative art threatened with extinction in Berlin in recent years has found a safe haven in the PANDA. “Species protection” is thus supported in the middle of Prenzlauer Berg – despite rising costs and commercially oriented neighbours. For many Berlin artists, the small stage is a perfect way to try out their new programmes. We give the audience the chance to discover the unknown and to participate in cultural life at an affordable price.
- An open stage for the politically persecuted
For artists who do not always have the chance to reach their audience in their home countries, the PANDA’s doors are always open. Among the attractions in 2018 was a journalistic-visual debut from Saint Petersburg. “The Female Face of Protest” by Julia Shalgalieva telling about women fighting the corrupt political system in Russia, a gay, hip-hop performance from St. Petersburg, a festival of Belarusian dissident artists, and many more. In autumn 2018 the music festival “PANDAwomen” was featured with 8 women’s bands from Eastern Europe and Berlin – supported by “MusicBoard” Berlin. We celebrated Berlin’s new bank holiday on March 8th this year not only as Women’s Day, but with Quarteera e.V., which is fighting for the rights of the LGBT and gay scene in Russia.
English text editor: Alastair Kitson