BEFORE THE STUDIO HOUSE – 1785 TO 2004
The first building to be erected on the ground on which the PROGR stands today stems from the 1780s. It first served as a granary to the city hospital, and then was used as a barracks between 1789 and 1881. At times it stood entirely vacant.
Upon the nomination of Bern to the Swiss capital in 1848 and its connection to the railway system, the industrializing city experienced a stark population growth, in conjunction with which the demand for educational infrastructure rose. Thus, in 1881, the verdict was passed to demolish the granary.
The ground on Waisenhausplatz 30 was to accommodate a new building: the municipal gymnasium and a primary school for boys and girls. The competition was won by the project “Einfach” by the architect Koch-Abegg and executed by Eugen Stettler, who was neither a prize winner nor author of a commended project. The new building was inaugurated in 1885.
In 1926 the gymnasium was moved to a newer building in the Kirchenfeld area in Bern, leaving the primary school and the pre-gymnasium (the so-called Progymnasium, or Proger) in the building. From 1965 unused rooms were given over to the school of commerce (high school of economics), the vocational high school, the professional-industrial vocational school and the vocational school for administration.
TEMPORARY USE - 2004 TO 2007
In the summer of 2004 it became clear that the schools would leave the building of the former Progymnasium. Moreover, in 2006 the Proger was to be renovated and turned into the new quarters of the contemporary art department of the Kunstmuseum Bern. Intrinsically the question arose: why not use the building for cultural purposes in the ensuing two-year gap? And why not create a site for the production of the very same art that was in the long run to be accommodated in the contemporary art museum? The idea of “the PROGR” was born. Christoph Reichenau, cultural secretary of the city of Bern, had the goal to improve the circumstances of art production in Bern, strengthen the mediation of art in the capital as well as to increase networking amongst the Bernese cultural community. The task of the temporary use of the building was thus assigned to and by the city of Bern itself. There were no external claims.
An “invigorating flurry” (Christoph Reichenau) ensued. The concept was developed, a management team assigned, rooms appointed, studios announced to let and renting contracts formulated. By the end of August 2004 all studios were rented, and by October the first artists moved in. Hundred days after the closure of the schoolhouse Proger, the building once more came to new life. The artists shaped and reshaped the spaces, establishing their own environment. Together, they completely occupied the building. Soon the bust of creativity, quality, competence and fantasy that had at once accumulated inside the walls became evident.
In November 2004 it was announced that due to financial reasons the project of the contemporary art department was to be annulled. This meant that the temporary use of the building was to be redefined and a long term solution found. In order to win some time, the city of Bern extended the temporary use phase until the end of July 2009.
No one could have imagined in the beginning of the temporary phase that the interim period under the direction of Beate Engel, Katrien Reist and Eva Winkler (Culture Department of the City of Bern), with its combination of studio spaces, institutions and a wide-ranging event program would evolve into a paradigmatic case of successful cultural support. The PROGR was a constantly evolving construction site, but one of sheer conviviality. Everything evolved around art; its creation, its exhibition, the circumstances related to its production and support; the Café-Bar Turnhalle turned into a meeting point for culture devotees as well as for the less art-interested public.
A pleasant atmosphere prevailed, connecting the art world with the everyday. The PROGR turned into a paradigm for all those who worked, lived, exchanged ideas or realized projects within its walls. It never posed concurrence to other cultural institutions such as the Kunsthalle or the Kunstmuseum. Within the PROGR, there existed a strong collaboration between the artists and the institutions of the house. Experimental and interdisciplinary projects were encouraged and presented. The entire building, from the basement (music rooms) to the attic (performances) was staged. – To the PROGR webpage, temporary use
2007 TO 2009
About in midyear 2007, the city of Bern launched an architectural-investment competition in order to define the function of the PROGR building once the temporary phase would expire. More than just dreams and visions were required of whoever wanted to participate. Concepts needed to include an intelligent use of the building as well as high financial revenues in order to finance the necessary sanitation of the sandstone façade. In spring 2008, the jury chose the “Doppelpunkt” project of the Zürich investor Allreal AG, which intended to realize a health center the PROGR area.
Since the sale price of the property was by far not so massive as originally supposed, a group of artists (Peter Aerschmann, Matthias Kuhn, Adriana Stadler, Andrea Leila Kühni, Marc Stucki, Sophie Schmidt and Rodja Galli) launched the initiative “Pro PROGR”. The group presented the city council with a design for an own project, consisting of the overtaking of the property to the same financial conditions as those proposed to the Allreal AG. The city council decided to give the artists time until the end of 2008 to concretize their purchase offer. 12 million Swiss francs had to be raised to cover the renovation and maintenance of the building as well as the running of the studio house. In the course of barely three months, the required financing was secured.
The fate of the building on Waisenhausplatz 30 was to be decided by vote through the Bernese electors. Short before the Sunday of the vote, a poignant artists’ campaign took place. On 17th May 2009, 66% of the votes confirmed the will to continue the PROGR project and to extend what was conceived as a temporary solution to a permanent function as a cultural center. – To the webpage «Pro PROGR»
The PROGR Remains – 1th AUGUST 2009 TO 31th JULY 2039
A week after the successful campaign the PROGR foundation was established. On 1st August 2009 it received the planning and building rights of the property for a period of thirty years. The main goal of the foundation is to supply artists with studio spaces in an inspiring environment and to an accessible price.
After a transitory period of six months, on 1st January 2010, the PROGR foundation was definitely set in charge of the operational direction of the property. In the course of the first year, many a new face, new structures and new organizations appeared and took part in the creative process. The extraordinary achievement of the five years of temporary use of the PROGR, namely the coexistence of artists in over eighty studios, door by door with cultural institutions and event managers, as well as the openness to the public was to be adopted and developed further under the new direction. As before, the available facilities should serve as venues for events, maintaining the link the public.