In 2016, Opera Circus will have been active in some form or another for 25 years. We will find a way to celebrate this as part of TCFT at the University of Bournemouth this summer, from 1 – 14th August. Billy Alwen, from Cirque Bijou, will lead the facilitation and help to create an explosive final performance for all involved which will include the local communities in Dorset.
Opera Circus has had many ups and a few downs, but the company, and charity, is finding an interesting and rich path in building its work with our youth led activities as well as exploring emerging young international artists through Naciketa’s journey. We are invested in simplifying our processes, keeping our administration lean and efficient and reflecting back to the organisation the aims of truth, freedom and equality that the youth led work radiates. We are also interested in learning how digital technologies can advance our network and support the building of our global community as well as our virtual office.
What has emerged through the work this year is the immense capacity of young people to empathise with others, their interest in creating a global community, their curiosity in other cultures and in 99% of the cases, their understanding and tolerance of difference, be it gender, race or ability. I have been moved and amazed by their generosity, courage and hope for what is a difficult and unsafe future. They are impressive and an example to us all.
This leads me to the Four Towns Youth Initiative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, now called Network Domino. Ljubisa Surlan, a young man from Srebrenica, decided last year that some of the young people from his town had been lucky in having so much international attention as a result of the Bosnian war. He said that as a result of the significance of this town there had been many trips, activities, peace programmes and cultural opportunities, whereas other young people in other towns had had nothing. He wanted to share the skills that he and others from his town had learnt. So 3 towns were chosen, we ended up with 4 in total, to take part in a 10 day long programme of work led by young people with a small number of artist/facilitators to support them.
Visigrad, Tuzla, Jelah and Srebrenica took part with over 40 young people participating from other towns, and audiences for their final performances of over 500. Jelah welcomed all to their Rastok Fest music festival which was reciprocated in Srebrenica with the Silvertown Shine Music Festival.
This led to a second period of work in Visegrad in late October and early November, to provide support for the young people of this town in their bid to be recognised by their institutions, to start their own NGO, which they have begun, and to provide a continuous programme of activities for children and young people. The OSCE in Foca helped to provide a presentation platform with the local institutions and has offered to help develop relationships with the local Municipality.
We travelled from Visigrad to Sarajevo to attend meetings and for some of the young people to participate in the European Parliamentary Delegation on BiH and a working lunch with leading NGO’s and MEP’s. Julie Ward MEP was significant in helping to organise this.
We also visited OKVIR, an organisation supporting the LGBT community through Forum Theatre and therapy, and Mozaik who are offering support, training and opportunities for fund raising. The OSCE in Foca and Srebrenica are involving the young teams in workshop opportunities and looking for ways to support their step by step development as local youth leaders.
We were also pleased that Mrs Rebekah Wigemark, the wife of the new European Ambassador to BiH, came to Visegrad for the day to take part in activities and listen to the stories of the young people. We were also joined by Will Richard, Head of Office of the OSCE in Srebrenica who is being particularly supportive. We would specially like to thank Andy McGuffie and Maja Stojanovic, from the European Commission, who worked tirelessly to source some vital funding from the EC to help cover our basic costs. Without them this small, but important, linking project would not have happened.
In all cases the young people are intent on ensuring that they extend their safe cultural spaces to other young people of all religions and ethnicities including minorities and those of all genders.
I would like to congratulate them on their courage and commitment.
The numbers of participants and partners is increasing in TCFT and we need to explore with support and advice as to how we can manage ourselves in the future; is there an existing model we can follow or do we need to invent something new? Deloitte’s have taken us on this year as one of their charities to support with consultation and advice and hopefully they can help us with this. We also need to look at our capacity, very stretched, and develop a virtual production office to share information quickly and efficiently.
We, meaning everyone we work with in TCFT, and not just I, were honoured this year to be nominated by Clare Moody, MEP and awarded the European Citizen’s Prize 2015. This was for our work in Europe in upholding the values of the European Union and working together to fight against prejudice, racism and develop inclusion and equality in everything we do. I was unable to attend the presentation in Brussels and Nemanja Zekic and Milena Nikolic, both friends and colleagues from Srebrenica, accepted the Prize on our behalf. They did a wonderful job. Thank you both.
We were also amazed to have our very own MEP, Julie Ward, in Srebrenica during the TCFT project in August. Julie, as an MEP, has responsibility for Culture and Arts and Bosnia and Herzegovina, so we were very lucky to have her with us and to lead discussions on Youth Activism and the EU. In addition we were very pleased that the Head of Mission and Ambassador to the OSCE in BiH, Jonathan Moore, came and discussed youth issues with three youth leaders and the British Ambassador, Edward Ferguson, came and spent a day with us.
A few people were critical of the way we invite diplomats and European leaders to come and spend time with us, but they have an important role to play. It is hardly ever about funding but about advocacy and ensuring we have a voice at any table that is discussing the work we and others do in using culture and the arts as a very powerful tool to develop a peaceful and an economically and socially vibrant society. It also provides time for young people to have a voice with those who often decide how they can live their lives…it is vital that youth activism is encouraged.
In Italy in 2017 we plan to have a 3 day Policy Makers seminar in which the most important learning from TCFT can be delivered by young people to those that make policy across wider Europe. Those who work in isolated bureaucracies need to know how life is lived by most of us and what needs to be addressed and changed. It is also a way forward for Europe to have much more involvement of young people. They are going to be our leaders in the future. Too many white, old, rigid, be-suited men run Europe and this needs to change. It is not representative of who we are.
There will be an update shortly on the TCFT web site. Meantime we fund raise, meet, research and plan.
There will be separate update about the new chamber opera we have commissioned from Nigel Osborne, composer, and Ariel Dorfman, writer, Naciketa.