Two or three years ago, I began to hear about some of the participatory arts projects happening in Portugal and Spain. These are not countries I know well, though I was aware of the upheaval they have experienced in the aftermath of the 2008 crash and the troubles of the Eurozone. What limited government funds there had been for this work seemed to be drying up and yet I was hearing about exciting, ambitious projects like Migranland, a production co-created by 14 migrants and the theatre director Àlex Rigola. At a conference in Seville, I met less celebrated artists who were doing equally imaginative work in often difficult conditions.
Two things seemed specially interesting in this work. First, its relationship with government was independent, even sometimes challenging. Secondly, its roots and ideas were not those I was familiar with from a British context, where decades of participatory art practice shapes so many assumptions. So, in planning ‘A Restless Art’ I was determined to involve artists working in other European cultures. With limited resources, I settled on the contrasting experiences of the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal as the main focus, though I will look further afield. My limited knowledge of languages, other cultures and their histories makes this risky and exciting – but that’s not a bad test of whether something is worth doing.
On Thursday, thanks to the Gulbenkian Foundation, I’ll be in Lisbon to meet some of the artists who have been funded through their PARTIS programme, which aims to support social inclusion through the arts. Interestingly, it an initiative of the Human Development rather than the Arts programme, and so is a direct response to some of the social pressures faced by Portuguese people today. You can get a glimpse of some of these projects online in a series of short videos (with English subtitles for those, like me, with insufficient Portuguese). At the weekend, I’ll be seeing a Mozart opera performed by by young offenders of a prison as part of this programme: more later. In the meantime, here’s a short video about a photography project with young people in an education centre.
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