The building in Upper Machkhaani is no exception. It still hosts the library, art and music classes, meetings of the village council, and, following a 2015 fire which destroyed the local school, pupils and teachers. But it is in desperate need of repair.
“Look at those cracks and the rain stains on the ceiling,” points out Natroshvili, who is an employee of the local council. “The grand hall could collapse. We can’t use it anymore and, yet, nobody can help. We calculated that we’d need about 48,000 laris ($18,000) just to repair the roof.”
The local music ensemble Gantiadi (“Dawn” in Georgian) regularly performs there and Natroshvili maintains there is so much more that the building could offer to the community of 1,200 families in the village, and beyond, if properly repaired.
The Houses of Culture deeply marked daily life in rural areas and were instrumental for the country’s centralized ideology.
“The Houses of Culture mostly hosted amateur groups in the regions, but in some cases we also see professional ensembles or companies of actors,” explains Bela Tsipuria, a lecturer of comparative literatureat Ilia State University in Tbilisi. “During the USSR, these institutions were subordinated to the republic’s Ministry of Culture or some local authorities, local collective farming or creative unions. But all of them served the propaganda of central Soviet ideology.”
As the centralized cultural system ceased to exist, the houses of culture ceased serving their propagandistic and leisure purposes. The economic crisis and the socio-political unrest that spread in Georgia in the 1990s meant that the houses of culture fell into oblivion.
As people migrated in search of work, villages gradually emptied and in rural and mountainous areas many of those buildings were looted. The exact number of cultural houses in Georgia remains unknown; some are run by the Ministry of Culture, others by local municipalities. The legal status of still others is unclear.
Yet while many fell into disrepair, others managed to reinvent themselves.