“I am a humanist”, he often spoke of himself. What counted was the world – implementation of pioneering projects, but above all, people. Great international undertakings which he initiated were as important to him as family life and friends. They gave meaning to his actions, they made his life full, worth every moment. No things were impossible to think or do for him. He valued the courage to have a vision and the consistency in realising the seemingly impossible, or sometimes even insane. He set no limits for himself and he valued those who take risks to create new qualities.
Organic work, entrepreneurial spirit and vision – this was his strategy, irrelevant whether it was about entering new markets, establishing companies or charity work. He supported projects which were built to last, which were to enrich, to bring in a higher, lasting quality to the place they were created, to change the landscape, the society, which grew out of dreams of a better world. Malta, in his opinion was one such project. He saw its potential right at the very beginning, and supported its first, experimental edition. He often jokingly said that he could have been the director of an opera. But in a way he was – creating the most important play of all – his own intensive life. He did not leave the stage for one moment.
Although he was successful in many fields, culture was closest to him. He understood and personally valued various fields of art. Without unnecessary publicity he supported H. Wieniawski Musical Society with a multiyear contract which gave it the feeling of stability, because he knew that the competition created by the group managed by Andrzej Wituski makes Poznań famous around the world. He knew that young people need support at the beginning of their path. So, he funded scholarships for the most gifted students of his Alma Mater –– Adam Mickiewicz Uniwersity. He believed that the young generation, already raised in a free Poland has potential to make this country a good place to live and thrive. He tirelessly supported operas in Poznań and Warsaw – both with his own resources, as well as by encouraging private firms to engage in strategic sponsorship. This was the case with TR Warszawa, where he made the signing of a contract between the theatre and Warta happen, although experimental theatre was not a genre of art closest to his heart.
However, his most extraordinary gesture, which will not only give Jan Kulczyk pride of place in the history of museology, but first and foremost, in the history of Polish-Jewish relations, was in 2012 when he supported the construction of the POLIN museum with the sum of PLN20 mln. No one in Poland has ever devoted such a substantial sum for cultural causes. Without his very generous contribution, the exhibition at the museum would probably look completely different, and it wouldn’t be one of the most frequently visited locations in Warsaw, awarded with European Museum of the Year Award 2016. Jan Kulczyk’s gesture – both unprecedented and completely selfless – was not connected with his personal engagement in the creation of this institution or his family history, which he might have wished to commemorate. It was a case of philanthropy in extenso. Real support, which contributes to a better future – based on dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding.
Jan Kulczyk believed in Malta from the very beginning, and he donated a considerable sum for its first edition. Back then, in 1991, at a time when capitalism was merely hatching, everyone focused on adjusting to a new system, supporting art with private resources was something unheard of. Jan Kulczyk did not treat art pragmatically, as a decorative image-building addition; neither was it a field of investment for him (hard to imagine theatre, the most expensive of arts to be treated as such). He supported Malta to the very end – not only as one of its Founders (together with Grażyna Kulczyk), but also as its friend, vitally interested in its story, a citizen of Poznan, a spectator. He took part in events of subsequent editions. He was especially fond of concerts: Buena Vista Social Club or the “Koyaanisqatsi”, “Powaqqatsi”, “Naqoyqatsi” trilogy performed by Philip Glass Ensamble, which was played on the roof of Stary Browar. He knew how to celebrate art, togetherness, to enjoy what artists can give us.
Jan Kulczyk thought about the world and its future, he wanted to have an active part of it. When he left Poland in 2005, he came back after two years and organised a private meeting for a small number of his oldest Poznań friends. When everyone arrived at the designated location, it turned out that Jan Kulczyk was not alone. He was accompanied by Al Gore, the former vice president of the United States and Noble Peace Prize winner. Jan Kulczyk invited him to Poznan to talk about the climate summit, which was to take place a year later. In this private, but also quite global situation (which was his favourite combination) he said to Gore: “I would like you to meet my friends”. He introduced every one of us, giving everybody an opportunity to tell what they do and how they contribute to the culture of the city and the region. He had a unique gift of bringing people from various orders and places together. His charisma, intelligence and awareness of what was happening in the world allowed him never to give up diplomacy when doing business, he remembered about higher goals, which can be only reached through the cooperation of politicians with the private sector. He used to say that money is just means – to act, to change the world, realise visions. Necessary means, but not a value in itself. He believed that we don’t only live for ourselves.
Jan, the world without you is not the same. I’m sure you would have a lot to say about that.
Director of Malta Festival Poznań