Learning from scientists

Part of the adventure of the Traction project is working with people from very different disciplines to mine. I knew that opera was a stretch but I’ve always been drawn to what I don’t understand. The technology side, though, is so far beyond the limits of my competences that I can only let it wash over me for now, trusting that I will acclimatise to its new concepts and possibilities. And this is a research project, funded by Horizon 2020, not a cultural project supported through Creative Europe. It depends on applied science and social innovation.

What I’ve already found is an enviable clarity of thought in my new scientist colleagues. The project management processes are a steep learning curve, but they have a logic and economy I’ve never seen in a cultural organisation. I thought my use of language was fairly precise but I’m discovering how much simpler and more direct I can be. Here’s an example from CWI’s press release announcing their participation in Traction. Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) is the national research institute for mathematics and computer science in the Netherlands. Opera and community art are far from their usual concerns but their account of the project (in English) is much better than I’ve managed. So this is what I’ll be working on (among other things) for the next three years.

Opera uses all the visual and performing arts to create extraordinary worlds of passion and sensibility. It is rightly recognized as a great achievement of European culture. And yet a form that once inspired social and artistic revolutions is often seen as the staid preserve of the elite. With rising inequality and social exclusion, many see opera—if they think of it at all—as symbolic of what is wrong in Europe today.

TRACTION aims to change that using opera as a path for social and cultural inclusion, making it once again a force for radical transformation. We do not want to make opera palatable to those who don’t attend. We want to define new forms of artistic creation through which the most marginalized groups (migrants, the rural poor, young offenders and others) can work with artists to tell the stories that matter now.

By combining best practice in participatory art with digital technology’s innovations of language, form and process, we will define new approaches to co-creation and innovate in three fields:

  • Opera creation and production;
  • Immersive and interactive digital media; and
  • Social integration and community development.

Experimental projects in inner-city Barcelona (ES), a youth prison in Leiria (PT) and rural communities in Ireland will test and share new ideas.

If you’d like to know more about the project as it unfolds, check the Traction website and Twitter account. I’ll be writing about my experience in the project on Regular Marvels, keeping this site for wider discussion of participatory and community art.

Photo of Paulo Lameiro, artistic director of SAMP, in the green screen studio at Vicomtech during the Traction kick-off meeting in February 2020.