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VAHA: Building Common Ground for
Spaces of Public Discussion and Dialogue
VAHA (meaning “oasis” in Turkish) is a two-year programme made with and for the empowered voices of independent arts and culture spaces, advocating for public discussion and dialogue in cities across Turkey, Europe, and their neighbouring countries. Bringing together the diversity of hybrid spaces and contextual responses to the crises of democracy the regions are currently facing, VAHA explores the power of learning from local practices to develop tailor-made support for platforms of free expression and cultural programming.

Exchange on alternative approaches and transformative economies, as well as international solidarity and outreach are at the core of VAHA’s activities. With this approach, VAHA hopes to provide a framework that allows local venues to form a socially prominent ecosystem of interconnected oases, growing as fertile landscapes for open dialogue.

Creative players in and around the spaces above-mentioned are invited to join the process to gain insights into systemic practices and connect their endeavours, helping them thrive in greater resilience.

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At a time when uncertainty and censorship have come to characterise the political environment of our contemporary societies, a growing number of arts and culture actors are struggling to preserve spaces for democracy and informed communities on questions of social importance in Turkey, Europe, and their neighbouring countries.

Public access to independent cultural programming is, in the meantime, made possible by the players standing outside the mainstream. Yet, their unconventional position makes them vulnerable to a higher degree of instability since few opportunities are available to support their emerging actions. Many risks, such as shrinking funding, institutional control on public programming, and intellectual oppression, are narrowing the spatial standards for thinking, production, and outreach.

Thanks to their resilient character and energy, however, these actors are producing new community formats to voice the narratives of the oppressed, the forgotten, the marginalised, and the censored. Libraries, cafés, social venues, and cultural houses are becoming so-called hybrid spaces, offering alternative settings where the right to free thinking and free speech can be exercised.

VAHA explores these practices to drive the energetic flow of hubs and strategic alliances supporting freedom of expression. It sets the exploration of micro-resistances in a wider political context in order to foster a collective understanding of ways to regain spaces for open public debate in critically challenged societies and countries.


VAHA will connect and enable up to 50 independent arts and culture spaces and organisations for public programming to shape 16 local hubs interconnected within an international solidarity network. Each hub partnership convenes up to three existing spaces, established in one of the selected cities across Turkey (Ankara, Diyarbakır, Eskişehir, İstanbul, Antalya, Mersin), or set in another area of Europe and its neighbouring countries.

Eight selected hubs from Turkey and eight hubs from other countries will first get the opportunity to develop pilot actions within their own environments and will be invited to follow the activity flow in Phase 1 (pictured below).

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In the second phase, participants will be invited to scale up their work into a larger ecosystem of independent places for free discussion and open dialogue through an open structure of international collaboration. In this phase, a series of activities will support the scaling process (pictured below).

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For this aim, VAHA offers to each local hub constellation:

  • A pilot activation funding of 5,000 EUR to experiment with new formats of collaboration.
  • Methods and tools to map local ecosystem resources and plan perspectives of sustainability.
  • Learning & mobility grants of 1,000 EUR to foster knowledge and practice exchange among participants.
  • Regional/international collaboration grants varying between 5,000 to 25,000 EUR to scale-up pilot actions within more large-scale geography through collaborations with other hubs.
  • Peer mentoring to support the development of local hubs along the project lifetime.


Representatives of spaces and organisations that offer public cultural programming, which are based in one of the Council of Europe member states, Belarus, and Middle East & North Africa (MENA) countries were invited to form local hubs and apply together.

Ideally, three applicants representing three organisations form a local hub. The partners in each local hub can be composed of different types of spaces and organisations, with at least one of them holding a physical space for public events.

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All partners and funders behind this programme are long-standing players of empowering civil society and enhancing open debate and cultural dialogue in Turkey. The core consortium of the program has approached civil society development particularly through arts and culture but also addressing contemporary challenges in Turkey and its neighbouring regions. The broad spectrum of experience tackling larger public and social issues has substantially informed the formation of this new programme.

The Tandem Turkey programme, which lasted from 2011 to 2019, is one of the long-term collaborations of VAHA partners. Around 150 participants representing cultural and civil society organisations from Turkey, Europe, and the neighbouring region participated in the programme, which supported a total of 65 collaborations. Following in the footsteps of Tandem Turkey’s nearly decade-long legacy, we continued our collaboration to develop a new programme targeting active cultural spaces that promote public discussion and dialogue in Turkey, Europe and in the wider region. We visited several cities across Turkey and met with recently emerged initiatives in the winter of 2019, and then involved them in co-designing the programme through a meeting in March 2020. We are pleased to introduce you the resulting VAHA programme, and thank everyone involved in the making of it.

VAHA is an initiative of Anadolu Kültür and MitOst e.V., funded by Stiftung Mercator and the European Cultural Foundation. VAHA partner consortium is in a collaboration with the iac Berlin to implement a series of ‘thematic workshops and network meetings’. We thank the Chrest Foundation for its support of travel related expenses.