From dreams to reality – interview with Magdalena Łyżnicka-Sanczenko, acting director of the Centre for Wood Art and Science

The idea of establishing the Xylopolis Centre for Wood Art and Science in Podlaskie was born alongside the creation of the regional exhibition for the 2020 EXPO World Exhibition in Dubai. Today we know that what was just a dream only a few years ago will now become a reality. Who came up with the idea of the Centre? Which partners have been actively involved in the project?

Łyżnicka-Sanczenko, acting
director of the Centre for
Wood Art and Science,
a new institution in Podlaskie,
talks about all this
with a hint of nostalgia.

Magdalena Łyżnicka-Sanczenko, fot. Paweł Jankowski
Magdalena Łyżnicka-Sanczenko, fot. Paweł Jankowski

Why, in your opinion, was the idea for Xylopolis born in Podlaskie?

Today I know that there is no better place in Poland for Xylopolis than our region. Although at the very beginning I did not believe that establishing such a centre as a local government institution would ever be possible…


My adventure with the idea of Xylopolis (at the time called Drewnopolis, which literally translates into Woodpolis) began in 2018. At that time, I worked in the Podlaskie Voivodship Marshal’s Office as the Director of the Department of Foreign Cooperation and Promotion, where I was entrusted, among other things, with the coordination of the region’s participation in the 2020 EXPO World Exhibition in Dubai. Together with a wonderful and experienced team (Agnieszka Kamińska and Jakub Gąsowski) we worked on the idea for a regional exhibition.

And then you were called by Wojciech Jarmolowicz, President of the UNITALENT Foundation operating within the UNIBEP S.A. Group.

Yes! Anyone who knows Wojciech knows that if he picks up an idea, he will not let go so easily! He found out from the Polish Investment and Trade Agency (PAIH) that I was in charge of the regional exhibition and presented me with all the arguments for joining forces with business and expanding our narrative about Podlaskie’s blend of nature and modernity with a perfect tale about the traditional and modern use of wood in the today’s world.


As for the idea and its potential, it did not take him long to convince me. Still, when he started to emphasise that ultimately our exhibition in Dubai could be the seed of the creation for an educational centre in our region, I felt that it was a slight exaggeration and a trip to the moon on a wooden broomstick.

It seemed unreal?

Exactly. Wojciech, however, did not give up and told a story about a similar project concerning water, Hydropolis, which he visited in Wrocław. I still hear him saying: Why not build Woodpolis in Podlaskie? With Hydropolis in Wrocław working out so well? It could be a small “Copernicus” [Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw] about wood! And so it began.

You needed more partners.

Yes. For such an ambitious initiative, we needed a solid foundation. Białystok University of Technology was the first to join our team. The then rector of this university, Prof. Lech Dzienis, was already fully convinced that an educational centre such as this one should be located on campus. We worked closely on the “Woodpolis” project, promoting the region’s potential at EXPO 2020 in Dubai. The Rector appointed a coordinator from the university, Łukasz Seweryński – a Renaissance man, I would say, but this description does not fully reflect his knowledge of modern technologies. Professor Lech Dzienis gave us space at the Technical University, where we gathered with scientists and artists, creating the first working group on the EXPO.

Magdalena Łyżnicka-Sanczenko, fot. Paweł Jankowski

Who else has joined the venture?

Our idea for the exhibition quickly gained the approval of the Polish Investment and Trade Agency, the coordinator of the Polish presence at the World Exhibition, and new partners of this initiative, in the form of the Ministry of Climate and Environment and the Institute of Environmental Protection – National Research Institute, began to appear just as quickly. New ideas were springing up. We grew in strength. Our cooperation has resulted in a joint project entitled “Presentation by the Ministry of Climate and Environment and Podlaskie Voivodship: Xylopolis – a city powered by nature, at the EXPO 2020 World Exhibition in Dubai”, which was bravely led by Agnieszka Stangreciak with her team from the Institute of Environmental Protection. Our appetites only grew. We wanted Xylopolis to make its debut in Dubai, but we also wanted the idea to develop and ultimately find its home in our region. Łukasz Seweryński got the green light from Prof. Lech Dzienis to involve students of Białystok University of Technology in the creative process over the Podlaskie exhibition.

They proved to be successful.

It was amazing. More than 70 people worked in groups of several people, giving shape to the concepts of the exhibition developed by our working group. Finally, we selected the one that told the story about the relationship between nature and humans, about new technologies in the service of nature and vision of the city of the future – Xylopolis. With each passing day we discovered how important this idea is in the modern world. Sometimes, when I think back to those moments, I am very impressed by how strongly people connected over Xylopolis, their enormous commitment, their passion, and their belief in its meaning.

This power has led to the emergence of yet another partner....

The cherry on top of our partnership was the entry of the University of Białystok with its brilliant spokesperson and coordinator, Katarzyna Dziedzik. Kasia’s perfectionism and competence, and the active participation of the University’s students in the running the Polish Pavilion in Dubai, perfectly complemented the educational space, which we promoted through the organisation of conferences, seminars, and workshops for children.

Then came the preparations for the exhibition and dreams of opening the centre.

Against the background of the preparations for the Podlaskie exhibition at EXPO 2020 in Dubai, another related idea was growing, concerning the use of the Polish Pavilion after its possible return from the Arab Emirates to Poland. Never before has a national pavilion returned to the country after an exhibition. The Polish Investment and Trade Agency asked institutions participating in the World Exhibition to submit their proposals. And we already had ours… And at this point I have to thank Wojtek Jarmolowicz for sowing the seeds of this brave idea, but not only him. From the very beginning, Artur Kosicki, Marshal of the Podlaskie Voivodship, has placed his trust in us with regard to all activities concerning Xylopolis and has supported us in the difficulties we would obviously encounter. We were able to develop this idea almost without limits. Sometimes I wonder if the Marshal did not think we were mad…

He did sign a letter of intent.

Yes. In autumn of 2019, a letter of intent was signed by the Minister of Entrepreneurship and Technology, the Marshal of the Podlaskie Voivodeship, the Vice President of the Polish Investment and Trade Agency, and the Rector of the Białystok University of Technology to reestablish the Polish Pavilion after its return from EXPO 2020 in Dubai on the campus of the Białystok University of Technology. We had made one big step.


In this great movement that brought together the local government, science, and business, we were missing single link, which is extremely important at World Exhibitions – art with a capital “A”. Art is the best carrier of any ambitious vision, and is a real crowd magnet at the EXPO. I will not reveal the details of how Leon Tarasewicz painted a picture especially for our exhibition. This is a story we will probably tell some other day, like so many others.

Magdalena Łyżnicka-Sanczenko, fot. Paweł Jankowski
Please tell us at least what the creative process of master Tarasewicz looked like.

The work of art required a large working area. That is why we should thank Jan Mikołuszko for providing the space at UNIHOUSE S.A., a factory of wooden modular houses which is part of UNIBEP S.A., so that the artist could create his largest work on canvas (46 square metres). The location was symbolic for us. It is where the concept to promote the region through a narrative about nature and technology, about wood as the raw material of the future was created. Leon’s stay at the factory and his vibrant conversations about life during cigar breaks will remain forever in the memory of UNIHOUSE crews. It was artist-worker metaphysics.


I’m under the impression that Xylopolis has affected many people from the very beginning. It transformed us in some way, opening us up to new experiences. The last of the artistic challenges at EXPO 2020 was born in the mind of Łukasz Seweryński. One day he came and said that Xylopolis should have its song and that it would be an excellent promotion not only of the exhibition and the idea, but also of the region. That could not be denied.

And so Karolina Cicha and Sw@da come into all this.

We had already worked before with Karolina Cicha, an exceptional artist from our region, a multi-instrumentalist who uniquely expresses the spirit of Podlaskie’s multiculturalism. Łukasz proposed a collaboration between Karolina, a leading folk artist, and Sw@da, a vibrant music producer in a metaphysical, alternative, and electronic piece for Xylopolis.

The XYLOPOLIS exhibition at EXPO 2020 in Dubai was overflowing with Podlaskie.

Yes. It was comprehensive. It told the story of a region where modern technologies create a symbiotic ecosystem with primordial nature. Xylopolis was a comprehensive presentation of Podlaskie’s unique natural assets, its cultural melting pot and modern industry, which, through science, draws responsibly from nature.


I can’t tell you everything that happened before the opening of the exhibition in Dubai in a single sitting. Suffice it to say that the motto of our XYLO-team was: “Living on the edge, all the time.” Thanks to the invaluable commitment of all partners, but also to a confluence of peculiar circumstances, Xylopolis opened its regional exhibition space in the Polish Pavilion at EXPO 2020 in Dubai.


That was the beginning, and here comes the continuation…

Today we already know that the Xylopolis Centre for Wood Art and Science will be built on the premises of the Podlaskie Museum of Folk Culture. The story of what will be happening there is a topic for another conversation.

Certainly! The idea sown a few years ago has sprouted and continues to grow. The Board of the Podlaskie Voivodeship decided to establish the Centre and approved the location recommendation. At the moment we are an institution in the making with a lot of work to do, and even more coming in the future. We believe that Xylopolis is a dream that will turn into reality.

Thank you for the interview.

The questions were asked by

Joanna Buharewicz


Paweł Jankowski

Top photo: Piotr Babulewicz