‘The Eastern Beat’ and Budapest’s Art Scene
Back in 1989, after communism collapsed, Budapest was a paradise for expat artists trying to survive on a shoestring. I’ve long been fascinated by those fabled times. It feels a little like I missed the best of the city when it was 1920s Paris, 1930s Berlin, and 1970s New York, fueled by pálinka and mayhem.
So, on my mooches around Budapest, I’m constantly living in the hope that I’ll one day stumble across the most perfectly wild and funky artists’ bar. I haven’t found it yet, but I have discovered “The Eastern Beat” blog and spoken to its creator, editor, and writer Anna Jopp.
Jopp established “The Eastern Beat” in 2020 to feature stories of expat artists living, working and creating in Budapest. She talks to them about their work, inspiration and plans for the future, as well as what makes the city special, how it’s different from other places, and how they pursue their careers as expat artists.
She aims to create a network of expat artists that allow and encourage connection within the local art scene by expanding the community and helping to tell their stories.
The blog is illustrated with Jopp’s own moody monochrome photos of the artists and comes across as appropriately gritty and low-key.
Currently, the featured artists are the Vietnamese Tra Nguyen, specializing in media art and design, and painter and illustrator Marcus Goldson.
Nguyen moved to Budapest in 2018 when she began a Ph.D. program in the city. She’s clear-eyed about the challenges facing Hungarian and expat artists in the city, saying, “People who create contemporary art are still struggling and often need to move away from Hungary to practice their way. I see even Hungarian artists struggle a lot to find their own place, so it’s much harder for foreigners.”
Goldson came here with his Hungarian wife, Ildikó, in 1993 and has been living in the city ever since.
“I really enjoyed living here from the beginning,” he tells Jopp. “It was something new, something exotic.”
His caricatural drawings have, to me, something of the grotesque energy of George Grosz, whose subject was Berlin life in the 1930s, but without Grosz’s satirical savagery.
Asked by Jopp what advice he’d give anyone coming to Budapest for the first time, Goldson says, “I would say walk a lot; you can discover a lot more than when taking public transportation and the real feeling of the city.” I quite agree.
Jopp, who is Polish, came to Budapest around nine years ago. Asking people if she could take their photo was a way to break the ice. She started the Eastern Beat in 2019 because she wanted to get the perspective of other expat artists, to get answers to challenges she faced, including being unable to speak Hungarian.
“I wanted to find out from other artists what brought them to Budapest and how they managed to keep doing art while living here. I particularly wanted to speak to people who are working with Hungarians and somehow are being part of the scene,” she tells me.
When it comes to meeting people, Jopp has her camera as a conversation starter. From there, she tends to find that each expat has a network and everyone in that network has their own, making it possible to meet more and more artists.
Jopp goes to events like open mic nights, where many expat musicians meet. These mainly happen in District VII. She is also active on various Facebook groups dedicated to art in Budapest. She suggests heading for Gólya, Lumen, Dürer Kert, Manyi, Bem Mozi, Lámpás, and Kisüzem.
But, as is inevitably the case with art in cities, Budapest’s creative scene constantly shifts geographically. Artists are finding space in Districts IX and X, leading to intriguing galleries, cafés, restaurants and bars opening in those areas.
As Jopp says, the best way to find out what’s going on is to walk around those districts or hop on a bicycle.
The Budapest Question
Why artists come to Budapest, when the language is so difficult, is the big question.
“Everybody says it’s the vibe of the city,” Jopp says. “It’s physically beautiful, open and easy-going because the art scene is not as big and established as it is in, say, London or Berlin. Some people say the vibe is like Berlin, maybe 15 or 20 years ago when there were so many things to discover and do, and the scene was not so full of newcomers. It’s also not as competitive as these cities.”
The infrastructure for the arts is good, especially film, and there’s plenty of the affordable space artists need, from studios for visual artists to rehearsal spaces and music studios.
Space is one thing, but what about getting connected to sources of funding?
“For visual artists who have been here for many years and made lots of connections, it’s easier to find people to buy your art and to hear about state funding. Otherwise, it’s difficult. Many of the people I talk to sell their art online and overseas,” Jopp explains.
“Having said that, there are plenty of galleries, and many of them are open to working with foreigners. There are also more events than there were when I first arrived. For example, there’s the regular Maker’s Market, Ukmukfukk Zine Festival, Art Market Budapest and the Budapest Photography Festival. You just need to keep moving and not give up.”
The Eastern Beat is at www.theeasternbeat.com. Jopp suggests you look for local visual artists Zoltán Tombor, Miklós Kiss, and Dia Zékány and expats Manuel Contreras, Christina Golovatic and Marcus Goldson. For Hungarian music, check out Gentry Sultan, Deva and NovaN and, for expats, Arif Erdem Ocak with Nasip Kismet band and Arrasta Pest.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of October 7, 2022.
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