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International youth–led project is developing global citizenship through arts and culture

Posted on 25 October 2016

Diversity is one of the most important issues of our age. We live in a remarkably diverse society, and how we evolve and face the challenges of the future will depend on how we can use the creative resources that diversity gifts us.

Over the last couple of years we have been supporting Dorset-based Opera Circus’s The Complete Freedom of Truth through our National Lottery funded Grants for the Arts scheme. It is a project for young people across Europe that uses arts and cultural activities to provide essential skills training and to broaden cultural awareness by developing the participants’ own creativity.  

The Complete Freedom of Truth, 2016 programme. Image © Robert Golden.

Arts have an amazing ability to give voice to the voiceless. Participant, 2015 programme

In a post-Brexit world and with the refugee crisis far from over, understanding of equality, inclusion and human rights is more important than ever. At the heart of the The Complete Freedom of Truth is the belief that arts and culture can be a tool for change; and an unwavering passion to develop access to the arts for all people - whoever they are and wherever they live.

The creative programme promotes tolerance, inclusiveness and deeper learning of the ‘other’ and has been a highly valuable – and in some cases even life-changing – experience for participants.

The Complete Freedom of Truth, 2014 programme. Image © Robert Golden.

It’s been such a transformative experience

“Who I was before The Complete Freedom of Truth and who I am now is completely unrecognisable. It’s been such a transformative experience. I have been free to realise in life what is important to myself and also how I can help others in the process of achieving their goals on an international scale.” Zoe Cochrane, 16 years old, dancer and participant in the 2014, 2015 and 2016 programme.

Where it began

The Complete Freedom of Truth set out to bring together young people from diverse backgrounds through arts and cultural activities in the widest sense. Having worked with children and young people through the arts in the UK, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and extensively in Srebrenica, Opera Circus wanted to explore the use of non-formal learning in arts and culture to develop young people’s life opportunities.

Opera Circus developed a series of youth and school exchanges and arts and cultural programmes between Dorset in the UK and the Srebrenica region. The youth participants from these communities share many of the same problems: high youth unemployment (67% in Srebrenica and 27% in West Dorset); very low wages when jobs were found; no higher educational facilities nearby; difficulty in finding somewhere to live in the same area due to cost; and a sense of isolation from the rest of the world due to living in semi-rural or rural environments.

This work led to an inclusive International Youth Festival at Bryanston School in Dorset in the summer of 2014, supported with funding from our National Lottery funded Grants for the arts scheme.

we believe that there can be transformation through the arts

During the festival 72 people explored ideas of democracy, freedom, truth and equality through culture and the arts. 50 young people from London and Dorset, Bosnia, Serbia and Romania worked with 7 partners, 17 artists, facilitators, carers and guests took part in workshops with Parkour, Dance, Music, Drama, Physical Theatre and Production and created a professional production on the penultimate day. 

The Complete Freedom of Truth, 2016 programme. Image © Robert Golden.

Where next?

In 2015, with the help of a further Arts Council Grants for the arts award and a successful Erasmus + application, Opera Circus developed an inclusive two week summer programme where young people from the UK and across Europe came together in Bosnia to discuss social and cultural issues that affect their lives. Over 100 participants, including young artists, dancers, poets, writers, musicians, Parkour and Circus artists took part. Creative workshops and discussion groups were facilitated by both experienced practitioners and young people, with the programming being youth-led. Passionate about youth agency, The Complete Freedom of Truth aims to support the growth of young people into the cultural and social change makers of the future.

"Ultimately, we believe that there can be transformation through the arts – that involving yourself in creative and artistic outlets can bring about social and political awakening and change, but also that change can happen on a very basic, fundamental level through the arts – self-esteem can be boosted, people can feel inspired to create new projects and to further pursue creative endeavours." Amy Wisenfeld, 23 years old, 2015 project participant.

Gandhi said you must be the change that you want to see in the world

"At the heart of The Complete Freedom of Truth seems to be a unity of breaking down barriers: barriers of social inclusion, barriers of race, religion, disability, age, gender. We explored what it would be like to live and create in a place where these things are not what defines us. The world doesn’t seem as big as it used to.

“This August we spent 3 weeks living for freedom. The time shared in Bosnia brought together people from across Europe.  We lived for those weeks together, creating and visioning and dreaming up the world that we want to live in. A world that is full of creativity, full of open and honest discussions, democracy. We all came to the same conclusions; we dreamt of an inclusive world. We each played a part to that vision, feeding in our own experiences and fantasying for the future.

“I say to those friends of mine across the globe now more than ever we must practise that world. Gandhi said you must be the change that you want to see in the world. So if The Complete Freedom of Truth is a global army then our weapons are truth and kindness.” Ellis Davis, 23 years old, Clore Emerging Leader 2016,UK performing arts/theatre practitioner with Diverse City and participant of 2015 programme.

The Complete Freedom of Truth, 2015 programme. Image © Robert Golden.

The legacy

Not restricted to the summer programmes, The Complete Freedom of Truth runs longer term youth led projects addressing issues such as the European refugee crisis and the representation of minority LGBT groups in Bosnia; elsewhere in Europe projects that developed through the summer programme in Bosnia are run on a voluntary basis.

The Complete Freedom of Truth ran a residency at the University of Bournemouth this summer in partnership with the Comune Di Sarteano in Tuscany. There are plans for a further residency in Italy in 2017 for which Opera Circus will be working with several local refugee, peace, community and cultural organisation. They will be designing an informal arts inspired European Policy Makers Seminar to look at Youth Policy and the Youth Voice in Europe, leading to a final celebration and creative performances in the town.

The Complete Freedom of Truth, 2015 programme. Image © Robert Golden.

As a result of her work with young people across borders in Europe, Tina Ellen Lee, the Artistic Director of Opera Circus, was awarded the European Citizen’s Prize in 2015. She said: “The Prize is an award for exceptional achievement in displaying an outstanding commitment to promoting better mutual understanding and closer integration between citizens of the Member States and facilitating cross-border cooperation within the European Union”.

We believe that art and culture can help us tackle society's greatest challenges. They bring us together as communities, helping us connect with one another to combat social exclusion and achieve great things. There’s evidence that art and culture has a variety of positive impacts on our society including that participation in the arts can contribute to community cohesion, reduce social exclusion and isolation, and make communities feel safer and stronger. The Complete Freedom of Truth is a shining example of this in action.

Find out more:

Follow The Complete Freedom of Truth and Arts Council South West on Twitter

Read more about our Grants for the arts programme and guidance for applying.

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