Interview with Katya Taylor

Art curator and the founder of Port of Culture, a civil society organization that promotes Ukrainian cultural initiatives among domestic and international audiences.

@kataylormade | Port of Culture website | @port_agency


Katya, tell us how the Port Agency project started and what functions it currently performs? Can we say that the main goal now is the formation of identity?

The main goal of the Port or the Ukrainian nation?))
Port started in 2015, when we opened a hub, but then the idea grew beyond the location and I created an agency that can realize projects not in one place, but anywhere. we in the team call it a cultural development agency. That is, this is its main goal – the development of culture.

We work both as an agency and as a public organization, depending on tasks and goals. The agency is a commercial company that, before the war, mainly worked with Ukrainian businesses to cover their corporate and social activities. And that was almost 70% of our work. And the NGO was engaged in non-commercial projects. Now everything has changed and it is the public organization that has become our main engine. We also create cultural projects: exhibitions, conferences, public art, but outside of Ukraine and not with commercial clients, but at the request of international organizations or thanks to grants.

The support of like-minded people helps to move mountains, in your case it is the work and support of a powerful team! Do you divide the areas of work within the Port Agency or is it always a team working on a joint project?

It’s teamwork and we share 🙂 Each person is an expert in some area – design, communications, management. That is, everyone fulfills their role. But at the same time as the project is being prepared and many unexpected tasks arise along the way, the team solves them in a consolidated manner.

Here it is necessary to understand that a cultural project is a unique story every time, from which it is impossible to extract and apply linear experience. No two projects are the same. And it’s also not a festival where every year, at least within the framework of the structure, you do the same thing.

Therefore, let’s say that a cultural project is a formula with many unknowns. Because today is an exhibition, tomorrow are murals, the day after tomorrow is a conference, and then the creation of awards for some important competition. Therefore, you can calculate the base rate, but every time we end up on a deserted island.

2022 was a busy year for your agency. The projects include Train to Victory, The Captured House and The Wall/Murals Across Europe and Africa. Looking back, which project was the most influential and important for the Port Agency and for Ukrainians? Did each project fulfill its own role?

The project I am working on now is always important. This is the only way to dedicate yourself to what you are doing, immerse yourself, explore the topic deeply, fall in love with this project like never before. All these projects are important for the Port and, I hope, for the country. We work abroad all year round.

Liverpool, from which we just returned, was the eighth city where we were lucky enough to work this year and last year. In each of them, we left a mention of Ukraine.

It is difficult to say what is more or less important, because you never know how the project will behave in the long run, what or whom it will affect, what it will encourage the viewer to do. The Wall project in this sense will have an impact after its completion, because the murals will remain in most cities for a long time, perhaps for decades. That is, we cannot even imagine its influence not only on Ukraine, but actually, for example, on Berlin, Brussels or Nairobi, where these murals currently live their lives.

If we talk about the people of Urkain, then, of course, Train to Victory appeared on time, which became hope and inspiration for the people who saw it. It was created to remember the heroism of people throughout the country, and not to remember the occupied territories. He acquired a special meaning when he first came to Kherson after de-occupation. It should also be noted that it was the train to victory that suffered during the last shelling of Kherson.

Projects taking place in Ukraine and abroad are also important. I don’t think it’s worth rating what is more or less important here. Each of them does their job.

The creation of the “Grains of Culture” mural was quite extensive. As part of the work, you conducted a master class and painted city buses. How much time was invested in the work on the project?

In general, it takes about 4 months from the idea to go to Nairobi to the day of the presentation. But in fact, the process began to move in early February, and already at the end of the month, we were in Kenya. The project was larger than in European cities because it was in Africa. Little is known about Ukraine and the war there. People are not very interested in politics, and what they know about Ukraine is not always to our advantage. Plus, there is strong Russian propaganda in Africa.

Ukraine lags behind in terms of African diplomatic presence. Therefore, creating a cultural project in Africa and in Europe are completely different things. Understanding that simply painting a mural will not be enough, we developed a series of events and media events that drew attention to the Ukrainian issue through culture. This is how the master class for artists, the painting of city transport, the performance of TVORCHI and the presentation of the project for a local establishment appeared. That is, the whole month we did various events that attracted the attention of to Ukraine to different audiences. And the final event was the opening of the mural. This raised many important questions. In a certain sense, we brought the Ukrainian agenda into the Kenyan media space.

Continuing the theme of murals. Please tell us about the organization of work on the “Sound of Freedom” mural. Was it your own initiative or was the project offered to you in preparation for Eurovision?

We worked on The Wall project together with the Ukrainian Institute for almost a year, and they recommended us to Culture Liverpool, which is actually the municipality responsible for culture in the city. As part of Eurovision, Liverpool developed the cultural program Eurofest, the task of which was to show Ukrainian-British projects created in collaboration. The point is that Liverpool won the Eurovision Song Contest by no accident. Another 20 cities applied for this competition.

But only Liverpool offered to add a cultural program developed together with Ukrainians to the standard Eurovision program. Because in fact, they have the opportunity to host Eurovision only because Ukraine does not have this opportunity due to the war. And they, together with the Ukrainian Institute, developed and implemented this program. Thus, in Liverpool, 24 collaborative projects are taking place in the city at the same time, and all Eurovision guests can get acquainted with modern Ukrainian culture.

What goals do you, as a curator and organizer of the Port Agency, set for yourself now?

Return to sustainable processes. We’ve done a lot, but it’s really hard to be on the road all the time. Not understanding in which country I woke up and what I owe to whom. I want to mainly work in Ukraine and bring at least a little bit of stability and normality into this chaos that is happening around me – to live in my own home, go to work. Communicate with the team, not just set tasks and check them. To be a part of important processes and changes taking place in the country.
But, of course, there are also professional plans, and I hope we will be able to build a space for the development of the cultural industry in Kyiv. I can talk about it later.

What advice would you give to artists and art projects working to promote Ukrainian art in the world? Maybe there are some difficulties that Ukrainian artists are currently facing, because the world is “tired” of the war?

To learn languages, to remember that there is fierce competition in the world and we should participate as equals, not because we have a discounted ticket because of the war. Do deep research and generally study deeply about the topic you are dealing with. To understand that everything was created for us and it is very difficult to surprise someone with something, especially in the field of visual art. Lean on your identity, but don’t use it as your only trump card. Study your general history, culture and art.

Be ready for thousands of “No”. And have the drive to continue despite everything.

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