Cankarjev dom (CD) in Ljubljana is the country’s largest cultural and congress centre, and one of the largest in the Balkan and SEE region. It provides around 36,000 square metres of space, and holds over 1,200 events annually. CD opened in 1980 and was the last part of the Revolution Square (Trg revolucije) complex to be completed. Like the rest of the complex, it was designed by renowned Slovenian architect Edvard Ravnikar, who had been a student of Jože Plečnik and, briefly, Le Corbusier in the late 1930s.
In common with most state-funded national cultural centres elsewhere in the world, CD provides a space for almost all major art forms, with a particular emphasis on music and the performing arts. It is also Slovenia’s premier conference and convention centre.
The proposal for a national cultural centre was first put forward in 1975 when preparations were being made to mark the centenary of the birth of writer Ivan Cankar (1876–1918), after whom it would be named. Despite considerable bureaucratic and financial obstacles, ground was broken on the project in January 1978, on a site that had formerly been owned by the Ursuline Monastery in Ljubljana and nationalised in 1960. In his design, which was nevertheless striking, Ravnikar was keen to avoid overwhelming the proportions of the rest of the square. This led to a sizeable portion of the auditoriums being placed underground.
CD’s first events were held in the spring of 1980 (in Linhart Hall), although it was not until 1982 that the site became fully operational. The famous monument to Cankar by sculptor Slavko Tihec, which stands adjacent to one of the main entrances, was unveiled in 1982.
Over the years, CD has established itself as a major tour stop for world-class ensemble and individual performers in almost all branches of music and the performing arts, with younger experimental artists also gaining an ever-stronger foothold. It has also become a prolific organiser or host, alone and in collaboration, of a wide variety of festivals; these include the Ljubljana International Film Festival (LIFFe), Ljubljana Documentary Film Festival, Ljubljana Jazz Festival, Bi Flamenko International Flamenco Festival, the Biennial of Slovene Book Illustration and the Slovenian Book Fair.
Organisation and funding
CD is constituted as a public institute (javni zavod) providing a public service in the area of arts and culture; as such, its main programme is funded by the state via the Ministry of Culture, as well as, at various times, by the Creative Europe – MEDIA programme, foreign embassies based in Ljubljana, the French Institute in Slovenia and the Goethe-Institut Ljubljana, among others.
The centre is also free to pursue market-funded activities in the form of fairs, conferences, conventions and certain international projects, as long as they accord with its general policies, and to raise funds through ticket sales, merchandise, donations and sponsorship. In 2018 these non-budget funds accounted for just under 47% of total income.
CD is led by a director-general, of which there have been only three since 1980: Miran Kert (1980–1982), Mitja Rotovnik (1982–2014) and Uršula Cetinski (2014–). Programming takes place across six departments, each with its own director: classical music, opera and ballet (Ingrid Gortan), theatre and contemporary dance (Andrej Jaklič), jazz and world music (Bogdan Benigar), exhibitions (Nina Pirnat-Spahić), film (Simon Popek) and cultural education/humanities (Barbara Rogelj). The director-general is supported in their work by the institute’s council (svet zavoda) and by a council of experts (strokovni svet) responsible for ensuring that CD operates in accordance with all the relevant legislation.
CD’s Music Programme spans a wide variety of genres and styles, with a particular emphasis on classical music, jazz, roots and folk music music. It has been the main organiser of Ljubljana Jazz Festival since 1982 (although the festival’s roots go back much further, to 1960), and stages several medium- and large-scale opera or ballet co-productions every year. A range of season tickets are available for various strands of CD’s music programme (orchestral and symphonic, chamber music, contemporary classical, roots and folk music, and so on).
CD also stages several major performances a year by popular local and regional artists (Vlado Kreslin, Magnifico, Janez Bončina, Rade Šerbedžija and the like) on a lease basis, i.e. they are not produced by CD itself, and provides venues for the annual Druga Godba international music festival, which takes place in late May.
Theatre and dance
An extensive Theatre and Dance Programme is another major feature of CD operations, with a particular focus on new works in theatre, physical theatre, contemporary dance and contemporary ballet, particularly by international companies and artists.
With Ljubljana well-served elsewhere by arthouse and world cinema, the Film Programme is free to specialise in festival-based offerings, which are mostly staged in Linhart Hall and the smaller Kosovel Hall. It organises and co-hosts Ljubljana International Film Festival (LIFFe) and Ljubljana Documentary Film Festival (in November and March, respectively) and, since 2007, has co-hosted the Mountain Film Festival, which takes place in February. CD is also one of the main distributors of art film production throughout Slovenia, a member of the Europa Cinemas network and a founder member of the Slovenian Art Cinema Association.
Major exhibitions are held in the Cankarjev dom Gallery – highlights in recent years include exhibitions on Ancient Greek science and technology, cult scientist Nikola Tesla and Slovenian writer-traveller Alma Karlin, and exhibitions of photography by Robert Kapa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The gallery also hosts the Biennial of Slovene Book Illustration.
The Small Gallery has a long tradition of staging photography exhibitions. Exhibition space is also available in the Europlakat Gallery, which is located in the First Foyer, one of the centre’s main trade fair and reception areas.
The Slovenian Book Fair, which takes place in November, is one of the most important dates in the centre’s calendar. CD also co-produces and co-hosts the Stories Today storytelling festival and the Fabula world literature festival. CD began a new series/festival of talks in 2020, Slovenia 2050, which explores the future of the country with the help of scientists, social scientists and artists.
The late 2010s also saw three major festivals devoted to literary figures, all of them exploring the life and work of the chosen writer through theatre performances, exhibitions, lectures and talks: Shakespeare (2016), Tolstoy (2017) and Ivan Cankar (2018/19, to mark the centenary of the writer’s death).
The Lili Novy Glass Hall, formerly the Lili Novy Club, holds smaller-scale talks, readings and book launches. It is named after one of Slovenia’s most distinguished 20th century poets, and was renovated in 2019.
While single tickets are almost always available for performances of music, ballet, opera and dance, CD has for many years operated a system of subscription series (abonmaji), which enables audiences to pay up front and secure their seats for a particular strand of programming across a single season. For music, these are the Gold series (generally for larger-scale orchestral and symphonic performances); the Silver series (for chamber work and soloists); the Blue and Orange series (for Slovene Philharmonic Orchestra concerts, replaced by the NOW, PC and SMS series from the 2020/21 season); and the Kromatika series (for RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra concerts). There are two season tickets available for lovers of contemporary music: the self-explanatory Music of the World series, and the Tuesday Clubbing series, which mainly presents jazz, rock and various flavours of roots music at the CD Club.
The Magnificent 7 series, introduced for the 2015/16 season, caters specifically to opera, ballet and theatre, and there are series for younger audiences as well: My First Subscription (ages 5–10), Ivan (11–15) and Cankar (15 and up). The children’s series run across programmes, incorporating music, theatre, ballet and storytelling.
Cankarjev dom has two main visual arts and exhibition spaces: Cankarjev dom Gallery (364m²) and the Small Gallery (303m²). Exhibition space is also available in the Europlakat Gallery, situated in the First Foyer (1,576m²).
Gallus Hall (Gallusova dvorana): size 2,000m², capacity 1,545 (large multi-purpose theatre, symphonic and chamber music, opera and ballet, drama, dance, jazz, entertainment, recitals, multimedia events, conventions)
Linhart Hall (Linhartova dvorana): 880m², 562 (small multipurpose theatre, dance, film, entertainment, multimedia events, poetry readings, conventions, lectures)
Štih Hall (Štihova dvorana): 323m², 253 (theatre-in-the-round, concerts, theatre, literary events, congress events)
Kosovel Hall (Kosovelova dvorana): 273m², 170 (studio theatre, experimental theatre, film, video, congress events)
Duša Počkaj Hall (Dvorana Duše Počkajeve): 116m², 72 (black box theatre, experimental theatre, dance, congress events)
CD Club (Klub Cankarjeva doma): 472m², 270 (club room with stage, bar facilities and panoramic terrace, music, congress events, receptions, business lunches)
Other venues and facilities
Grand Reception Hall (Velika sprejemna dvorana): 1,306m² (exhibitions, music, exhibitions receptions)
First Foyer (Prvo preddverje): 1,576m² (CD logistical hub, exhibitions, trade fairs, receptions)
Second Foyer (Drugo preddverje): 1,351m² (adaptable configuration, exhibitions, receptions, corporate hospitality)
Lili Novy Glass Hall (Steklena dvorana Lili Novy): 90m² (talks, lectures, readings, corporate hospitality, press conferences)
E and M conference rooms (Konferenčne dvorane E in M): 10 rooms, 60m²–280m²