11 Feb ‘The former Guardian building is absolutely fitting for a House of Literature’

Written by Arvo M. Hirvonen Published in Interviews Read 3244 times

Myanmar’s literary scene poised to open new chapter

Hedda Foundation director Jørgen Lorentzen. Photo: provided
Hedda Foundation director Jørgen Lorentzen. Photo: provided

The Oslo-based Hedda Foundation has unveiled plans to support the establishment of a House of Literature in downtown Yangon in collaboration with literary and writers groups. The first House of Literature opened in Germany in 1986 and similar organisations have since been established in 11 countries. Hedda Foundation director Jørgen Lorentzen discussed the organisation’s mission and its interest in cultivating the literary arts in an interview with Mizzima Weekly’s Arvo M. Hirvonen.

Why is the Hedda foundation engaging with Myanmar?

The purpose of Hedda Foundation is to foster human rights, equality, democracy and development through artistic projects and programs. The term “artistic projects” is to be understood in a broad sense, includes all art forms. By initiating and supporting exceptional art and art projects internationally, the foundation wishes to foster democratic processes in relation to art projects and society at large.

What is a House of Literature?

The purpose of the House of Literature is to communicate and promote interest in literature and reading, as well as freedom of speech issues. The objective is also to serve as a meeting place for all those interested in books and literature. The House of Literature is furthermore an important arena for public meetings and seminars organised by a range of different organisations and institutions, discussing a broad variety of topics. An important part of a House of Literature is also to open the doors for children and youth to be introduced to the literary word of both fiction and non-fiction books.

How will the Hedda foundation be involved in the House of Literature?

We have been asked by writers in Myanmar to help out in trying to establish a House of Literature, since we have long time experience in literary and cultural matters. We will take part in the initiating phase and then slowly withdraw to leave the administration of the house to Myanmar. of course an important part is securing finances for the rehabilitation of the house, and that will be our main job in the process.

How much is the project costing and what is the source of the funding?

Funding in this preparatory phase is coming from the Swedish Postcode Lottery. They are very supportive of cultural activities, and reallty want to contribute to development of the art scene in Myanmar, where so many things are lacking. The costs of the rehabilitation of the house we do not yet know.

Who are you working with on this project?

First and foremost we will work with the different writers’ organisations in Myanmar, and the government, especially the Minister of Information. Then we will also work with all other good forces that can help making this important contribution to Myanmar civil society come true.

Where will the House of Literature be and when will it open?

We have a very fruitful and positive dialogue with the Minister of Information, U Ye Htut, to turn the former Guardian [newspaper] building on Merchant Road into the House of Literature. The building is perfect for such a use, with a good location, a lot of space and not too difficult to convert into a well-functioning House of Literature. It belongs to the Ministry today and with its history it is absolutely fitting for a House of Literature. Right now it is hard to set a date for when we will open the doors, but we will do anything to speed up the process.

This Article first appeared in the February 5, 2015 edition of Mizzima Weekly.

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