The Adventures of Linhart the Elephant:
“It´s easier to teach an elephant to fly than to run a foundation in this country”
The birth of the Foundation and its name dates back to the time of a project involving the revitalization of a manor park in the Prague suburb of Dolní Počernice, between 1987 and 1989. Architect Jan Mayer then got together for work on the task a team of young artists (Ivan Exner, Stefan Milkov, Zdeněk Lhotský, Fáňa Svoboda, František Skála, Laco Garaj and others). At one point, however, he realized that once the artists had been paid for their work, not a penny from the original budget would be left for the architects – so he just stood up and happily announced: “To put it simply, we happen to be a foundation of sorts which is here to support young artists.” A voice from the artists´ team replied with all modesty, “It´s easier to teach an elephant to fly than to run a foundation in this country.” It was then that Linhart the Elephant was adopted as the group´s logo, and became the collective name for the whole team. The foundation was officially set up, with the mission of encouraging co-operation between architects, set designers and artists. Before long the scope of its operations spread out beyond the initial framework, to embrace various forms of support for cultural and social activity at large.
The Foundation started to get involved in a wide range of activities aimed at charting the Czech cultural scene, not just in the field of the visual arts but also in those of music, theatre and other forms and genres. On August 21, 1990 the Linhart Foundation became one of the first institutions of its kind in this country in the post-communist era to be officially registered under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture.
Still in 1990 the Linhart Foundation joined the campaign launched under the motto Alternative – Action, promoting the opening of alternative culture clubs. This was a time when underground bands and alternative artists were busy trying to obtain space for their pursuits. In Prague this movement, which entailed talks with the local government (one of them counting with the presence of the then President, Václav Havel), sparked off a fortnight-long string of music gigs. Finally the Mayor of Prague, Jaroslav Kořán, made the artists an offer of several venues (the future R.C. Bunkr, Rock Café, ROXY, and a few others). The Linhart Foundation saw to the refurbishment of a subterranean space under what had remained of the former Stalin Monument (demolitioned in the 1960s), and staged there
what was the first and probably largest-scale European undertaking of its kind (with a gallery and a theatre stage open to independent and avant-garde culture), conceived as an international melting pot of alternative arts. Participating in the festival, which was named Totalitarian Zone, were around 200 artists from 17 countries. In its two weeks it attracted a crowd of 30,000. The Stalin Monument site also served as the home for the first post-communist independent radio station, Radio Stalin (today´s Radio 1), which took care of the festival´s continuous interaction with the public. Its first live broadcast happened to be a speech by President Havel, and cost the station a five-digit fine (in then Czechoslovak crowns), as it predated by more than a few months the official opening of airwaves for independent radio operations.
The long dilapidated interiors of Roxy Cinema underwent a stage-by-stage process of reconstruction, simultaneously with endeavours devoted to the conceiving of an adequate programme for the future club. The reconstruction work went on as the venue began to live its own bustling communal life, with festival and happening events gradually making place for a regular day-to-day roster of programmes giving rise to what was to become the ROXY Experimental Space. This period saw the place´s first house party featuring a Belgian DJ, illuminated by a single strobe, and the staging of an exhibition of an international collection of posters dealing with the subject of AIDS, coupled with an evening show entitled Visual AIDS. The venue also hosted the first gig after the downfall of communism of the legendary band The Plastic People of the Universe. In 1995 the Linhart Foundation came up with a stable programme concept for ROXY Experimental Space, setting a pattern with specific days of the week reserved for different genres: Tuesdays for film, Wednesdays for drama, Thursdays for musical gigs, and dancing for Fridays and Saturdays. ROXY has since won three CDMA awards as the Czech Republic´s best club. In 1996 the Foundation acquired a new space, in Školská Street, Prague, and initiated a process of building adaptations and drawing up a programme concept, which was topped off in 1999 by the inauguration of Školská Communication Space.