Old School Ilica

Old School Ilica is a collaborative, local craft production initiative, realized to recover the disappearing traditional crafts and local economies in its immediate environment by establishing an educational co-creation model based on knowledge and skills exchange. Participants are invited to learn-and-contribute in workshops while cocreating with local craftsmen using solely local services and their production lines. By active participation, local residents or local designers become nanotourists in their own street or city, creating in novel products, services and local economy while transforming the Ilica street identity. 

Old School Ilica is initiated by a group of designers, members of an artistic organization Oaza, themselves residents of Ilica site. Old School Ilica was formulated as a reaction to their immediate environment and current disappearing cultural identity of the longest street in Zagreb. Many old craftsmen workshops and store have been suppressed under the influence of global market, whereas other spaces are left empty because they have unclear ownership relations. Project consists of several phases. Research phase includes mapping of remaining craft and production workshops and stores, conducting talks and interviewing of the future school protagonists willing to share their professional experiences and knowledge to unveil the potentials of the site. This phase results in an online Registry of Knowledge Holders, which captures and profiles detailed description of their qualifications, set of skills and types of represented products. On the basis of this registry a collaborative educational program Old School Ilica is derived, in the form of a series of interactive workshops for interested public with the assistance of designers. The role of this sitespecific educational model is to promote specific knowledge and skills of the Illica Street craftsmen, in order to provoke stagnant city decisions with a bottom up approach to reviving city sites. In the third phase, material and immaterial results of the project will be collected and exposed under Made in Ilica headline. Longterm objective is establishing a brand and a fully functional local business model that promotes local values, knowledge and resources of the street residents. This model of nanotorism as education and co-creation could be developed in other city quarters in Croatia or abroad, consequently restoring and repositioning fragments of neighbourhoods identities.

– a knowledge and skills exchange platform in Ilica 50–150, Zagreb aims to recover the disappearing traditional crafts and local economy

Oaza: You work in one of the oldest shops in Ilica. Can you tell us its story in short?
Damir Marković: Yes, my grandfather opened it in 1919, my father followed him and I am the third generation, having taken over in 2000. Almost 100 years in the same location, no changing of the address. I am both the owner and employee here, I am everything.

O: Did you try to buy the space from the state?
DM: We would like to and have been trying for generations but to them it is a golden goose and they refuse to sell it. We could have bought it five times over in what we have payed in rent.

O: How did you learn your trade, what is your official vocation?
DM: I got my glazier and framer's qualifications in a trade school but I learned the most as my father's apprentice.

O: What does your product range include and where do you get your materials?
DM: Mirrors, frames… We do cutting by hand, gold plating, silver plating. The profiles arrive from Italy and Spain already machined and the mirrors come from Germany and Poland. Actually, everything is done by hand: measuring, cutting, binding, painting…

O: Who are your clients? Who requests your services the most?
DM: People mostly ask for framing – from small things that cost a few kunas to making big mirrors. There is always some percentage of people that have money and can afford it. It is a luxury after all – you do not have to have a painting or a mirror if you cannot make ends meet. The biggest problem for the crafts today is the disappearance of the middle class. That automatically shuts down our production.

O: What are the differences in production today as opposed to before?
DM: Once my grandfather and father made mirrors themselves using chemical processes (with silver nitrates). Today technology has advanced. It is no longer affordable to do it that way, the quality is better, you can get a higher quality mirror by using thinner glass.
My grandfather worked with crystal a lot. It was imported from the Czech Republic, he would do engravings, cut crystal chandeliers, etc. We only started framing after the Second World War.
China and cheap mass production have squeezed out handicraft today. The product is visually similar, not of the same quality, but is much more affordable to people. A chandelier used to take months to make but a craftsman cannot compete with a machine today.

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