There is one place on the map of Tricity where culture, art, and people come together. Where ideas circulate in the air and come to life. A place, where you can feel, touch, and experience. Sztuka Wyboru – the only such space in Poland – is several things at once: a café, bookstore, art gallery, design store, and enormous conference and exhibition space, all located on two floors of a beautiful historic building in Gdańsk-Wrzeszcz. In charge of everything is Magdalena Kalisz*, the co-creator of the concept, curator and cultural manager. It’s a place to be!
How did Sztuka Wyboru find its way into your life? Or was it you who found it?
It found us, actually, but we were ready for it. Four years ago I and my husband Paweł Szopowski lived in Warsaw where we worked on a series of city guides called “Ogarnij Miasto”. Together with Dorota Szopowska (Paweł’s sister), I was responsible for content, editing, and photographs of places to be found in our guides while Paweł co-ordinated publishing and distribution processes. We spent a lot of time traveling Polish cities and discovering their less taken paths. I met a lot of interesting, creative people and visited numerous inspiring places. For a moment we thought about opening a modern, alternative tourist information center in Warsaw – with delicious coffee, good book, and Polish design and art. More or less around that time we received news from people in Gdańsk who told us that the place called Garnizon Kultury would be opening in one of the central districts. We were approached by the investor who wanted to collaborate with us. Ten months later we were living in Wrzeszcz and one month after we moved Sztuka Wyboru appeared on the map of Gdańsk.
What is there about Gdańsk and Tricity that inspired you to come here?
Gdańsk has always been close to my heart. I come from the north of Poland and was raised in Elbląg, which is only 60 km from Gdańsk, but I’d never lived in Tricity. I studied and had my first jobs in Warsaw. Then I went into the world for 8 years. I traveled 5 continents and around 60 countries with a backpack. I worked primarily in the tourist industry, choosing destinations close to the sea or ocean. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know that I feel the best when I’m close to water. I love hearing seagulls scream behind the window. So I was happy about Gdańsk, with the Baltic Sea on the one hand and wonderful forests of the Tricity Landscape Park on the other – perfect for biking and walks with a dog. I’ve got used to strong winds which have a very positive influence on the atmosphere in the city and make it somewhat livelier. The air is full of the ideas of freedom, solidarity, and creativity. Gdańsk is part of a complex organism that’s composed of three independent and unique cities. I live a 15-minute drive away from Sopot and a 25-minute drive away from Gdynia. I find this closeness and diversity very attractive.
What is Sztuka Wyboru all about? What do you do?
Sztuka Wyboru takes up two floors (850 square meters) in a beautifully renovated historic building located on the former premises of Prussian barracks. The ground floor houses a spacious café with a bookstore and an art gallery, while a store with Polish design and independent fashion as well as two commodious rooms for creative undertakings are located on the first floor. We organize meetings with authors and creators, art and design exhibitions, creative workshops, thematic debates, vintage markets, graphic design and photography courses, and series of meetings called “Sztuka Podróżowania” (the art of traveling) and “Zdrowe Niedziele” (healthy Sundays). Something interesting happens almost every day. Let’s see what we have planned for this week: today we’ve hosted a floral workshop “Forest in a Jar”, tomorrow we’re having three events as part of the Open House festival: an architecture workshop; a meeting with Lilly Bernheimer, the author of “The Shaping of Us: How Everyday Spaces Structure our Lives, Behaviour, and Well-Being”; and a lecture by dr Monika Zawadzka who will be talking about Wrzeszcz. On Sunday, we have pilates and two workshops: making silage and making soy candles. On Wednesday, we’re hosting the next part of Sztuki Dźwiękowe: a meeting with Marcin Dymiter and Filip Szałasek and Petar Petkov’s concert. On Thursday, we’re having a meeting in our “Sztuka Podróżowania” series and an opening of a collective exhibition Delikatna Sprawa (A Delicate Matter) on Friday. After that we have two days to regenerate :)
You do quite a lot of thinking and organizing (with Alternative Wedding Fair and Gdańsk Book Fair being just two examples) – what’s the shared idea behing these events? Is there any guiding principle? Also, where do you find energy and motivation to do it all?
We come up with ideas together. Paweł spontaneously presents an idea, I accept it and together we do our best to bring it to life. That’s how we’ve created Ogarnij Miasto city guides and organized the wedding fair (six editions already) and the book fair (work on the second edition is in progress). That’s how we’ve come up with recurring projects on the art of travelling and photographing. We also occasionally publish books written by friends with links to Sztuka Wyboru. The shared idea: the alternative, the ability to choose, to do something from scratch, something that you like and that’s not there yet. Where does the energy come from? We like new challenges and we like our job. We work a lot, really, but I do mostly what I find interesting. I meet people who think alike and have similar world views. I act with them, we inspire each other, exchange energy. Still, I always make sure I have time to go on vacation and relax outside of Tricity. When I come back I always have a bunch of new ideas to implement.
If you were to describe Sztuka Wyboru in three words…?
Open to new projects, dynamic, surprising.
What do you see yourself doing in 5 years? Any projects or ideas you dream about?
I’ve been thinking about a small, modern, private museum in a custom-designed building. I haven’t yet decided on a theme, but I’m thinking about books and graphic design or architecture and the concept of the smart city. I would also love to organize a new fair or festival that would focus on the future of broadly-defined culture and visual arts.
Law, culture studies, and American studies graduate. She spent eight years traveling the world (5 continents and around 60 countries) and working in the tourist industry. Back in Poland for several years now, she has been the co-creator of a series of alternative and subjective city guides “Ogarnij Miasto”. Meticulously discovering Polish cities, she keeps finding, photographing, and describing. Currently, she lives in Gdańsk where she co-runs Sztuka Wyboru – a new, creative enterprise where a café meets a bookstore, an art gallery and a Polish design store. The creator of events promoting culture, art, literature, and design, Magdalena is actively hosting meetings with authors and organizing exhibitions, fairs, and workshops.
Talk: Agata Kiedrowicz
Photos: Daria Szczygieł