What is OFF?

An international contemporary art event, OFF-Biennale Budapest is the largest civil, independent arts initiative in Hungary. Organized on a grassroots basis, OFF-Biennale is based on self-organization and a voluntary collaboration of artists, groups of artists, curators, gallerists, and collectors, among others.

OFF supports the work of Hungarian artists and brings the international art scene closer to the Hungarian public; it produces new artworks, exhibitions, publications, events, and education programs. Settling in private apartments, vacant shop premises, industrial buildings, alternative theaters, and public places, it invites the public to explore the city. It does not apply for Hungarian state funding, and stays away from state-run art institutions. It strives to take an active part in the social discourse on public issues and to enhance the culture of democracy by the means of art.

According to OFF-Biennale, art is a laboratory for social change; it is bewildering, putting the familiar into new perspective, interrupting the routines of thought and action. As such, it contributes to new thoughts and ideas, to the dismantling of prejudice, to the discovery of individual and common opportunities previously unnoticed. Thus, the role independent contemporary art plays in a democratic society is essential.


We launched this project in 2014 to help reestablishing the foundations of an independent Hungarian art scene. To create a common platform for them, we invited the partakers of the scene to realize a biennale on a grassroots and collaborative basis, without any support from the Hungarian government, outside official state arts institutions. During its five weeks in spring 2015, the first edition of OFF-Biennale Budapest hosted nearly 200 programs, featuring more than 350 artists from 22 countries in more than 100 venues (the majority in Budapest, and a lesser number in cities outside the capital and abroad). Our programs attracted 35.000 visitors.

The first edition of OFF-Biennale drew momentum from the joint struggle for the sustainability of a critical-minded and independent art and thinking, in a social environment that witnessed increasingly antidemocratic, segregationist, and xenophobic tendencies. As a next step, we must move forward and prove art’s competence, audacity, and commitment in social issues. With this aim in view, we have decided to give this year’s biennale a thematic frame that allows us to address crucial and intriguing issues having their bearing on both the present and the future, as well as to discover the liberating power of art, as we occupy the city in a variety of ways.

Thematic Focus

Gaudiopolis 2017 – The City of Joy

Gaudiopolis (1945–1950) was the name of a Children’s Republic founded in the aftermath of World War II in Budapest by Lutheran pastor Gábor Sztehlo. His orphanage provided shelter and home for hundreds of children regardless of their religion, social background, or nationality, who lost their parents to the war. Children dwellers of the “City of Joy” formed their own government, elected their representatives, and adopted laws that applied to everybody (including teachers). This community set out to learn democracy anew and, eliminating all social barriers in the spirit of Christ’s gospel, to educate children to become “independent, self-conscious, practically trained, and theoretically qualified citizens striving for better self-understanding and self-criticism.” Gaudiopolis achieved a certain level of self-sustainability through the residents’ common work. Although it did receive some funds from the state, it functioned independently until its 1950 nationalization. The story of the Children’s Republic was immortalized in the film Somewhere in Europe (1948, dir. Géza Radványi), in which many of the children of the community also took part as actors.


The story of Gaudiopolis is relevant even today. This mini-republic of trust, generosity, responsibility, and care serves as inspiration to both the projects and the working method of OFF-Biennale. Even though war tragedies today reach Europe primarily through the masses of refugees or media reports, our micro- and macroenvironment are infused with social and political crisis once again; that of liberal democracy, which is also manifest on the level of education. Thus, we must reassess the implications of personal commitment, education, community development, and the sustainability of democracy, as well as rethink, in this context, the potential role of children, playfulness, joy—and art.

The creativity and the freedom of thought embedded in art inspire to find new ways. As Gaudiopolis before, OFF-Biennale itself and the projects introduced here, too, carry out “laboratory” experiments of change, by creating situations that may become social models. Be it street theater, a punk band, a dinner between enemies, or living memorials, what the artists create explores the possibilities of the future. Forms of living together that establish a society comprising common trust, generosity, taking responsibility and care.

Who is OFF for?

OFF is to demonstrate that contemporary art is sensitive, insightful, rich in critical voices; an exciting field worthy of attention, which can contribute to finding relevant answers to topical questions concerning us all. Therefore, OFF targets all open and conscious consumers of culture. Also, OFF’s educational programs aims to bring the processes and trends of contemporary culture closer to those who, until now, have followed this field only from a distance.

Why is OFF off?

“OFF” stands for similar values and qualities as in the case of Off-Broadway: “OFF” diverts from the mainstream, from solidified routines, and ventures to find its own path, establishing its own form of operation. It finds its own people, resources, and locations. Although smaller, more spontaneous, and with a tighter budget, it makes no compromises in quality, and is less constrained by unchallengeable protocols.

“Instead of fast-changing prepositions—‘post,’ ‘anti,’ ‘neo,’ ‘trans,’ and ‘sub’—that suggest an implacable movement forward, against and beyond, and try desperately to be ‘in,’ I propose to go ‘off’: ‘Off’ as in ‘off quilter,’ ‘off Broadway,’ ‘off the path,’ or ‘way off,’ ‘off-brand,’ ‘off the wall,’ and occasionally, ‘off-color,’” wrote Svetlana Boym, whose Off-Modern theory served as inspiration for naming the project.

Organisation data

Name of the organisation
OFF-Biennale Association
Bercsényi utca 15. II.12/b., 1111 Budapest, Hungary
EU Tax no
Registration number
Date of Establishment
Statistic code
Kereskedelmi és Hitelbank Zrt
Bank account no.
IBAN code
HU38 1040 0872 5052 6789 8777 1004
Swift kód
Legal Representative, Chair
Hajnalka Somogyi

The Team

Leader of OFF-Biennale
Hajnalka Somogyi
Nikolett Erőss, Lívia Páldi (2016), Róna Kopeczky, Hajnalka Somogyi, Eszter Szakács, Borbála Szalai, Katalin Székely
Nóra Böhler
PR and Communication
Gabriella Rothman
Gergely Nagy
Zoltán Dragon
Financing and Administration
András Bognár


Kulturstiftung des Bundes — The German Federal Cultural Foundation
Erste Stiftung
Goethe Institut, Budapest
Horváth Art Foundation, Budapest
Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Warsaw
French Institute, Budapest