UFA/Centra Foundation was founded in autumn 2007 and from the beginning was planned as an open space for all excluded minorities and independent projects.
We decided to start it because we felt that women’s rights were violated in Poland in many spheres: breaches of reproductive rights, domestic violence, job market discrimination, unequal treatment at school and university, social exclusion of older women and economic inequalities are all serious problems. Feminist institutions needed strengthening and women needed a place where they could learn about their rights, acquire useful skills and communicate with each other.
Our second reason was risk of exclusion, experienced by lesbians, bisexuals, queers, transsexual and transgender people (non-heteronormative people in general). They often found, that there is not enough space for their needs, initiatives, voice. There was also issues of economic exclusion and ageism. What is more many groups that were committed to social change failed to avoid various kinds of discrimination themselves. Specifically, the culture of anti-hierarchical activism and consensual decision making was very young in Poland. We believed that many progressive groups could act together with amazing effects if only they had a chance to meet and communicate. Differences of age, class, sexual orientation or just coming from different environments prevented them from collaboration and from discussing matters that concern them all. Progressive movements were not consolidated, and many groups didn’t have a place to meet at all.
Our mission was to create space and possibilities to realize our main goals:
1. Feminism: we want to create a space where girls and women (also elderly women) can meet and find help, inspiration, and empowerment. We seek to rebuild relations between women of different age. We want to encourage women’s activism, art and skill sharing in a courageous, political way.
2. Queer: UFA is a place that belongs to non-heteronormative people – lesbians, bisexuals, queers, transsexual and transgender people (and any other identification). UFA supports queer art, academic writing, political activism and any other activity that questions binary oppositions of sex, gender, sexual orientation and preference.
3. Anti-hierachical activism: we believe methods are equally important as means. That is why we employ a way of activism that enables us to avoid hierarchy (as much as t is possible). We want to support other groups that act that way, and foster the debate on anti-hierarchical ideas. We favor consensual decision-making, collective activity, discussion instead of voting. We believe that in order to change the world, we need to change the rules of the system – hence we try to act within rules of a new system we envision. We disapprove of all kinds of hierarchy and discrimination – want to create an environment where no-one feels unwanted because of their age or class or any other reason.
4. Integration of environments: UFA is a place where people from various environments can meet. This creates new possibilities of collaboration, new ideas, and an environment where everyone can learn how not to discriminate. UFA hosts debates on important issues, which gives the movement a chance to reflect on the direction it is going.
We try to reach our aims by:
1. Organizing programs that realize the mission of UFA Collective:
– workshops, courses, festivals, skill-sharing
– concerts, music events, performative arts, exhibitions
– meetings, debates, conferences, lectures
and going to other groups’ events etc to learn, network, give workshops, take part in debates.
2. Building a lasting output of our activism and a material base for its functioning now and in the future:
a) A place with infrastructure (library of books, zines, films and music, a bicycle workshop, a women friendly computer room with free internet connection etc)
b) Academic, organizational, artistic resources (published research results, feminist/queer magazine, www website and archive etc)
3. Creating cultural centre that supports independent individuals, groups and projects that advance our ideals by providing them with space for events and regular meetings, knowledge and a friendly environment and material help.
4. Creating a space for communication and dialogue between various groups, enabling collaboration between environments by hosting debates, adjusting the place for elderly and kids, engaging women form the neighborhood, offering free events and maintaining low prices (in cases when fees are charged to reimburse event’s costs).
In 4 years Fundacja Centra/UFA has organized and co-organized ca. 200 cultural and social events and hosted tens of initiatives; these included festivals (first Polish Pussy Days, first independent cultural festival POMADA, Antifascist Days etc.), exhibitions and workshops. These events were held in UFA as well as in public space.
UFA has run 8 major projects focused on women and LBTQ issues and social inclusion, financed by Polish municipal and regional administration, Dutch Embassy, Ford Foundation and Polish-American Freedom Foundation.
UFA is an important integration and cultural centre for many groups (e.g. we hosted 5 theatre groups; UFA was a meeting place for Warsaw Food Cooperative etc.). We also run a project for elderly woman discovering private history of their district, bike fixing workshops for girls and many other initiatives. Our experience show that queer can be a social practice, based on anti-hierarchic actions against exclusion and pro diversity. UFA tries to create open space for creativity and we are always excited to see how it will work with different groups and ideas, what kind of hybrid will it be each time.
Key alliances and partners
Cultural and academic institutions: Bildwechsel Warszawa, Hamburg and Glasgow; Women’s Agreement for 8 March; The Association of the Creative Initiatives “ę”; Inter-Alia queer magazine; Opera Buffa – a theatre run by people who suffer from schizophrenia, Barbie Girls – first Polish lesbian sketch show, INDEX 73
Women issues: Feminoteka – a feminist website and bookstore, MaMa Foundation, Same O Sobie Pro Choice Association, Girls Way Association, Ponton – young sexual educators;
LGBTQ rights: Lambda Warszawa Association, Lesbian Coalition (LBT), Homiki.pl (Open Forum Association), Abiekt Publishing, http://www.kobiety-kobietom.com – lesbian feminist web portal, Trans-Fuzja Foundation
Anarcho-queer-feminist initiatives: A-Fe Warsaw anarchofeminist group, Love Without Borders Cracow queer anarchist group, Elba, Syrena and Przychodnia Squats and other Polish squatting initiatives, organizers of independent and queer events in Poland (Lesbijki, Geje i Przyjaciele festival – Wroclaw, Queerfest – Torun), Anarchipelag collective
Others: antifascist, ecology, animal rights, human rights activists groups from Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine (www.genderlviv.u-f-a.pl), Jewish and Muslim Communities in Warsaw, Amnesty International
UFA is a partner organization of Space/ID Bologna.