Blog Culture Matters

Jun 07
Culture and Arts for Social Engagement in Palestine – CASE project

How to employ culture and arts to activate community participation and stimulate dialogue in midst of COVID 19? This was the challenge we faced in Palestine when we were launching the project “Culture and Arts to Support Community Engagement in spring 2020, at the very outbreak of the global pandemic.

Crisis create obstacles, but they also tend to trigger creativity and activate our improvisation skills. The initial planning with gatherings and public events in different localities of the West Bank and Gaza was no longer realistic. In order to get things moving our partner and involved artists had to search for alternative ways to implement the project by mixing digital communication, social media and face to face events where the situation did allow it. Here some highlights of some of our cultural projects implementation during Covid-19 pandemic:

“Maqamat Rantis" – Ramallah, West Bank Artists Bashar Khalaf and Petra Barghouti

Rantis village is a conservative community in the Westbank attached to traditional values. Rantis women are disempowered, therefore, it was almost impossible for them to enter the labour market, despite the fact that the percentage of women among young graduates is very high.

The two artists Bashar Khalaf and Petra Barghouti developed the idea of organising “Al-Sabbar Cultural Festival" during summer 2021 to help stimulate the people of the village to participate in the building of their community through art and culture. In order to keep a constant communication with the targeted groups during the pandemic, the artists used electronic communications tools to exchange ideas, projects, questions, videos, articles and feedback. Once a week they met in person with members of smaller groups in order to develop their artistic work. A group of women from Rantis participated in the dialogue sessions and the training workshops to develop their skills in handicraft and craftsmanship. They succeeded in producing traditional handicraft with modern designs that will enable them to access new markets. It is also interesting that the project motivated some of the participants' husbands to produce artisan crafts for the project. ​


Workshop on "sources of power" with women from Rantis, Photographer: Petra Barghouthi, 2020, ©AMQF

“Beitkom Amer" Al Kamalia School- Old City of Gaza - Artist Abdullah Al-Rozzi:

In the old city of Gaza, Abdullah Al-Rozzi and a team of artists and community activists restored and revitalised Al Kamaliya school, a neglected historical building, which used to be a girls' school in the seventies of the last century. The school had been closed for more than 60 years, due to wars, political ups and downs and quarrels over the ownership of historical buildings. It had become a rubbish dump, and neighbours feared that this part of Gaza's historical identity would be removed to make space for a commercial building. A project was launched to draw attention on the endangered architectural heritage in the old city of Gaza. With strong support of the local community and authorities, the artists succeeded to transform the school in a cultural centre, platform for community activities and a meeting place for residents of the area. The project attracted the Gazans community to come and participate in person, as the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown measures imposed in the Gaza Strip started only during April 2021.  


Lightning & inaugurating Al-Kamaliya School, old city of Gaza. Photographer: Mohammad Issa Aswad ©AMQF​​​


Starting the activities by celebrating the National Cultural Day. 

“Masahat"- The Old City of Hebron - Artist Izz Al-Jabari:

The realities created by the occupation of the old town of Hebron by armed Israeli settlers is a threat to the cultural and social heritage of this ancient city. Frequent clashes, movement restrictions and the closure of entire neighbourhoods led to the economic stagnation and marginalization of the Palestinian neighbourhoods in the city centre with its historical monuments.

Izz Al-Jabari and a group of artists created interactive spaces for the local community, governmental and civil institutions to meet and enjoy together cultural and artistic activities. To lower the risk of infection the audience assisting on the spot was strongly limited. To reach out to a wider crowd the artists used virtual technologies and 360-degree photography to document and broadcast live events through social media. Open-air events such as concerts, puppet theatre and performances were organised in the old city to attract the surrounding communities, to revitalise the squares and to reanimate the cultural and social life in the once vibrant historical centre of Hebron. 

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Interactive puppeteer pe​rformance in front of a road block in the old city of Hebron. Photographer: Fayez Al Karaki, ©AMQF

Thanks to Ragheda Andoni, author of the blog and responsible for Culture at the SDC in Palestine.
May 31
In Bolivia, the Swiss Cultural Fund overcomes the barriers of COVID-19

Despite the pandemic, in Bolivia, the Swiss Embassy and Cooperation has already supported two calls for cultural incentives through its Competitive Fund.

Twenty initiatives that promote social cohesion and resilience through art and culture, reinforce democratic values, create spaces for intra- and intercultural dialogue and develop artistic processes, especially for women and young people, linked to local development issues, are supported in this way. This initiative, implemented by Solidar Suisse, seeks to generate reflection and dialogue based on values such as respect and solidarity. In this way, the various artistic and cultural proposals bring together ideas and help to face the new reality with a commitment to a positive future.

An example of these supported initiatives during the pandemic is the project "Social Sculpture against Violence", developed in the municipality of Viacha (La Paz). Bolivia has the highest number of cases of physical violence in the Latin American region. Through art as an ally of community social action, this project worked to prevent cases of violence against women and young people in this municipality, which increased during the pandemic.

With the support of the Fund, a drawing competition on the prevention of violence against women was held for children and young people in the municipality. With this inspiration, six Bolivian sculptors worked on sculptures to inspire the population in the fight against violence against women. The community was part of this work as they had the opportunity to participate not only with their drawings, but also to experience clay modelling  (under strict biosecurity measures) in order to reflect on violent attitudes and practices, always with the theme of preventing violence through art work.​


Sculpture (Solidar Suisse)

Competition winner and sculptor (Soidar Suisse)
"We artists have developed the sensitivity to capture emotions, situations and experiences in an object that will become our work. It is necessary to take this art to the everyday life of a square or other public space in travelling exhibitions, not only for recreational or aesthetic purposes. Our proposal aims to generate, through artistic mediation, social change in the problem of violence". (José Mamani, sculptor)


Another project called "Creators of music and clown: testimonies of quarantine" had the central objective of making visible the artistic and creative potential of adolescents and young people who provided their "testimonies of quarantine", to later convert them into artistic languages.

It all began in the middle of the pandemic, during the months of rigid quarantine, when we have all experienced a diversity of feelings, sensations; we have lived many situations that have become very complex in themselves because of the closure of schools. We have experienced confinement in homes and, therefore, social disarticulation throughout the country. This have had a huge effect on children, young people and adolescents (Edson Quezada Rodríguez, project leader).

With adolescents and young people from different areas of the city of Cochabamba, meetings were held in which they could create their own "quarantine testimonies" using the quipus technique, i.e. writing through the different meanings of the colours. They then proceeded to transform these testimonies into artistic languages. The young people and adolescents went through clown and music workshop sessions, to then compose songs and create clown plays. These creations were then published on social networks.

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Clown Play (Circus El Tapeque)

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Thank you for the inputs on the project to Selina Baumberger, responsible for Culture at SDC in Bolivia. 

Click here for the text in spanish!

May 24
Virtual production, dissemination and dialogues around literature


Participants of the virtual novel writing laboratory. 

The novel laboratory is a creative experience that facilitates the adventure of writing. In Nicaragua, the laboratory is one of the cultural initiatives of the Swiss Cooperation.  Initially, the project was designed to be carried out face-to-face, but due to the pandemic situation, it became virtual to realize diverse activities including novel-writing courses, dialogues about books and an online youth magazine called Les Escribidores

In the novel-writing courses there are almost 60 people taking classes virtually; most of them are Nicaraguan talents, however, there are participants from Canada, the United States, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Chile, Spain and Norway; we only missed one participant from Switzerland. The virtual platforms have allowed participants to have more time to incorporate the methodology and technical resources, given that they can invest more hours than in a face-to-face course. 

Not everything has been easy.  One deficiency found in virtual courses is the lack of personal interaction with the teacher and among participants. However, other forms of communication have been developed, such as WhatsApp groups and face-to-face meetings in small groups. 


Is it possible to write a novel in the midst of the pandemic?

Yes, it can be done! The participants of the virtual laboratory have 32 proposals for novels with themes related to violence against women, memories of the country's history, crimes linked to politics or family quarrels, as well as personal stories derived from or framed in national contexts. They are a myriad of ideas arising from the experiences and emotions that each participant has encountered within themselves during the process.

According to the participants, “virtuality" has given them more time and space to create, imagine and recreate situations that they have been able to write due to the confinement. This time is crucial to dedicate themselves to the creative process and the application of the techniques learned.


The experience of teaching an online novel laboratory.

However, the main challenge of teaching the novel lab virtually has been the lack of real emotional interaction between the presenter and the participants, as well as between the participants themselves. These virtual courses reiterate something we have always known: emotional contact is more easily achieved by sharing a cup of coffee than by connecting to a computer. But what can we do?  This is the life we have for the moment and we are going to live it this way, taking advantage of the opportunities. Until we come back.​


​Click here for the spanish version of this article!

Thank you for the inputs on the project to Danilo González, responsible for Culture, and Irene Kränzlin at the SDC in Nicaragua, as well as Linda Báez, coordinator of Laboratorio de Novelas.​

May 17
Regional Arts and Culture Project in the South Caucasus (2017-2021) - Using the Documentary Films in Education in the Times of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily hit the cultural sector all over the world, and the South Caucasus region is no exception. Through its Regional Arts and Culture Project in the South Caucasus, the SDC has been striving to support the cultural sector in the three South Caucasus countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

In the frame of this project, as one of the main components, the SDC supports the documentary industry culture by empowering the civil society to reflect on critical social issues and by nurturing the cross-border dialogue and cooperation between the film-makers from the region.

The SDC's implementing partner for the project's documentary component is a local organization - Noosfera Foundation (NF). NF has a solid experience of running the biggest regional documentary film festival - CinéDOC Tbilisi for 8 years. With the SDC's funding, the festival's Focus Caucasus section has become well attuned to screening the films covering acute social issues in the region, building up its audience (with focus on ethnic minorities and youth in rural areas) and engaging the civil society in discussions. Moreover, films shown through the CinéDOC-on-Tour (i.e. mini-festivals and screenings) in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and the subsequent discussions started to expose the local residents to the power of the cinematic story-telling, helped them speak up and debate openly on controversial topics in a sensitive manner. The annual Summer Schools and New Talents Caucasus brought together the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian film-makers to upgrade their skills and learn by interacting with each other under the guidance of the international tutors.   

As most of the activities described above were supposed to involve large-scale public gatherings and lively discussions with the audience and the film-makers, the introduction of COVID-19-related restrictions took a heavy toll on these arrangements. What used to be practiced so successfully for so many years by Noosfera was suddenly under threat against the looming shadow of the pandemic. NF found it impossible to carry out the project activities as planned. New and creative ways to reach out to the audience and engage them through various online platforms and tools had to be explored and devised. Best practices and lessons learnt outside of the South Caucasus were actively sought.

As it became clear, most of Georgia's public schools and tertiary education institutions also found themselves struggling with the COVID-19 containment measures as they were expected to go online with their classes without preliminary preparations and relevant experience. Teachers were well aware of the difficulties to keep their classes interested and motivated in these difficult times. That is why, after several exchanges between the Tbilisi State University (TSU), an NGO Coalition Education for All and Noosfera, a timely and mutually beneficial partnership was forged: it was decided to include the pertinent documentaries from Noosfera's rich depository into the curricula offered online by the Faculty of Law at the TSU and by the teachers in eight rural schools. 


Young member of audience introduces a film in the framework of mini festival i​​n the village of Katchreti (rural area of Easter Georgia).

Educational film screening for children in Racha (mountainous region of Georgia).

High interest and engagement by the TSU and eight schools was demonstrated throughout all the steps leading to online screenings of the films: the professors and teachers were closely involved in selecting the documentaries for their online classes, devising the schedule of the screenings, coming up with Q&A sessions and integrating the films into the exams. An online evaluation was introduced to collect feedback from the viewers to gauge their interest and plan next steps accordingly. All in all, approximately 300 students and 300 pupils participated in online screenings since November 2020.

The partnership, conceived as a solution to a rather desperate and hopeless situation, helped Noosfera find its long-term partners in the education field for the benefit of Georgia's young generation, currently deprived of proper education and cognitive opportunities under the extended lockdown. It became clear that online screenings and discussions could be integrated into the formal studies; moreover, the films are excellent tools to complement and diversify the academic curricula, to reach out to the students and pupils when they find it challenging to navigate through their fears and anxieties as the life is no longer normal.

Instead of feeling isolated and alienated by the lockdown, TSU's and target schools' young viewers watched a wide array of documentaries on various acute social themes, such as re-socialization of former prisoners, drug addiction and social stigma, women and girls in jail, society and outcasts, adaptation and struggles of the individual, justice and law, etc. The discussions following the films helped them ponder over important global issues, become more tolerant and open, recast their opinions and judgements.  

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Classroom screening - children at the discussion after the screening.​​

Educational screening for children in a village in the upper Ajara region (Georgia).

Noosfera rightly sees its films as cognitive tools to help the young generation develop critical thinking and analytical skills, and overcome stereotypes and biases.

Due to the excellent results achieved, TSU's other faculties (e.g. sociology, journalism, psychology) and more public schools have expressed their willingness to cooperate with Noosfera.

Noosfera plans to create a network of the interested academic stakeholders, including students, to formalize its partnership and exchanges. To ensure an even better quality of uninterrupted screenings, Noosfera has upgraded its website for online streaming, webinars and online discussions to enable an easy access by the teachers and students. As of autumn, the Armenian and Azerbaijani audience will also be able to watch the films online.

Even if the pandemic is apt to linger in the region, the days will no longer be dull and gloomy with Noosfera's online films to watch.  


Thank you for the inputs on the project to Tamar Tsivtsivadze and Iamze Tsagareishvili, responsible for Culture at the SDC in South Caucasus. 

May 10
Amid Lockdown and Unprecedented Health Crisis, the Cultural Activities with their Economic Footprint and Positive Social Impact Kept Going in Egypt.

The Lockdown and Culture: While a partial lockdown was imposed on almost all domains in Egypt due to the spread of Coronavirus, a total one was in effect on the cultural sector to make it the hardest hit by the pandemic. The lockdown led to the closure of all schools in Egypt, including Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School (DAAS) in Cairo and Aswan Music Project in Aswan (AMP), where SDC is granting contribution to the Aga Khan Music program provided at these two schools to qualify graduates to enter the music profession and gain skills for a variety of income-generating activities.

Strategy Adaptation and Success Stories: Creative and innovative by its nature, the cultural field inspired its pillars, both donors and implementers, to adapt their strategy. The SDC supported DAAS and AMP transfer to virtual training. The virtual performances by the students were so successful that they crossed the borders and reached audiences outside Egypt. The Students of DAAS were invited by a culture and arts organization in Amman, Jordan, to do an online live performance that allowed the Aga Khan Program students in Egypt to share their culture with other countries during the lockdown. In addition, when the lockdown measures were slightly relaxed and performances became allowed with certain restrictions, many students used the training they received to perform at public entertainment shows that enabled them to generate income. Moreover, the students of AMP took part in the celebration organized by Om Habiba Foundation at “the Nile Museum" in Aswan on the occasion of the International Woman's Day while DAAS performed at Luxor Festival for African Cinema in March 2021.


DAAS Students at Luxor Festival for African Cinema.

Promoting Community Cohesion, Raising Awareness and Attracting audience: In Aswan, Aga Khan Music program helped to promote community cohesion by integrating students of different ethnicities and religions in Aswan into an environment that respects cultural diversity. Furthermore, the workshops organized in different villages outside Aswan city raised awareness of the value of arts and music in a very conservative society, attracted more audience, and encouraged more applicants to join the music program.

Flexibility: Although the strategy adaptation allowed for the continuation of the cultural projects, significant budgeted activities could not be implemented in 2020. As a result, the Swiss Cooperation Office in Egypt showed flexibility allowing its partners to extend the time of implementing the music program of Aga Khan in Cairo and Aswan.

The lockdown had its toll on all cultural players but meanwhile it inspired them all; it inspired the implementers to adapt strategy to achieve objectives, the SDC cultural advocates to adopt flexibility to have their goals materialized, and the beneficiaries to keep going.​​

Thank you for the inputs on the project to Lobna Sobie, responsible for Culture at the SDC in Egypt. 


AMP Student's Training Session. ​​
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AMP Students celebrating the International Woman's Day. 

May 03
The Swiss Cultural Fund in support of the Independent Cultural Sector in Albania during the COVID-19 pandemic

The impact of pandemic in Albania

The cultural sector in Albania was severely affected by the pandemic. In a time when cultural spaces closed for several months and activities were restricted, independent cultural workers were left out of the national mitigation schemes. Under the new circumstances, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) contributed to ease the challenges that the sector faced through its project Swiss Cultural Fund (SCF).

Transformation instead of cancellation

As the pandemic soared, it became apparent that the biggest threat to cultural actors were cancellation and postponement of project activities or even grant contracts. To avoid this impact, in March 2020, SCF supported transformation of its ongoing supported projects, instead of postponement or cancellation. One successful case was the regional residency implemented by Zeta Centre​, where nine artists from Western Balkan countries were safely sent home and successfully collaborated through virtual connectivity to create their work, while a small team in Tirana worked to build the exhibition under safety measures inside the gallery. The example of virtual collaboration and transformation of physical activities was successfully applied to five other regional and local cultural projects.

Support for culture in the times of COVID

Perhaps the most ambitious solution that SCF designed under COVID pandemic was the support for the documentation, production and publication of virtual tours of cultural heritage sites in Albania. Through an open call, the grant was awarded to a team of skilled cultural heritage professionals, photographers and software technicians, who put together the virtual tour of the museum and site of the castle of Gjirokastra, a UNESCO city in southern Albania. 

 

Caption: An audience member visits the virtual tour website on her smartphone, during the launching event, held under COVID safety measures. Photo (c) SEKTRA NGO 2020.

The virtual tour enables local and global audiences to have access to an important part of Albanian cultural heritage in times of travel and visiting restrictions. Furthermore, it facilitates other researchers of cultural heritage, to gain information in a coherent manner.

Community engagement for the recovery of the cultural sector

From January 2021, SCF entered its second phase of activities, spanning until December 2023. To shape a better response to the negative impact that the pandemic made to the cultural sector, the project's team worked closely with the community of independent artists and cultural organizations to identify the most vulnerable disciplines and potential ways to facilitate their recovery.

More than 120 artists participated in an online survey and open discussion about the future of Albanian art scene under COVID. As a result of this discussion, support for cross-disciplinary collaboration between vulnerable and pandemic-resilient disciplines was regarded as a possible solution.


Thank you for the inputs on the project to Silvana Mjeda, responsible for Culture at the SDC in Albania. 

Apr 29
Inspirational culture projects from Mongolia

​Since 2005, from the beginning of SDC's culture small grants in Mongolia, Switzerland paid attention to the sector. Culture, artistic expression and diversity are seen as vehicles of social transformation. The culture projects is well aligned to SDC's culture and development policy, which states that promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue supports the inclusion of marginalised groups.

In the midst of the economic struggle of the recent years, Mongolia's cultural sector has been neglected and received little attention and support from the government. SDC's small grants supporting cultural initiatives have been greatly appreciated by many artists and art houses. The cultural support was also dedicated to encouraging and building up young and talented artists, resulting in increased youth participation in the society through art programmes.

The culture projects contributed to activities promoting Swiss-Mongolian cultural exchanges, in-between others the Francophone festival, Mongolia's jazz festival, and a fusion of Swiss jazz and Mongolian traditional music. All these and similar activities promoted Swiss presence and Switzerland's visibility in Mongolia. 

As a proven tool to selectively support local initiatives of groups or organizations representing genuine and local development concerns, the small actions primarily promote dynamic actors of the civil society, who are addressing gender, inequality and discrimination issues, thus contributing to social reform processes. The culture projects contribute to social transformation and development through the creative use of art and stimulating artistic diversity.

Specifically, the current projects support actions focusing on:

  • Innovations and testing of new ideas, e.g. testing innovations and technologies, supporting public-private partnerships etc.;

  • Knowledge and know-how transfer, where possible supported by Swiss expertise, will stimulate Swiss-Mongolian exchanges.

  • Contribute to the cultural diversity and development by providing grants to Mongolian art houses, artists and practitioners, and

  • Promote cultural exchanges between Switzerland and Mongolia through meaningful artistic and cultural expressions and initiatives.


In July 2020 Mongolia established and renewed the Ministry of Culture and appointed a very intellectual Minister Nomin. Since 2005 SDC in Mongolia implements over 130 projects in culture and art. ​​​​


These two projects that have been implemented by SDC in Mongolia. 


1 - Encounters

"Encounters" is a contemporary dance performance by Mongolian professional and wheel-charied dancers. Involving four Mongolian professional dancers and four people in wheelchairs, "Encounters" deals with human encounters by using the means of contemporary dance. "Encounters" is a piece about distance and proximity; a piece that asks how people's paths can cross, how we as humans can approach each other and how we can overcome differences that distance us from others. "Encounters" asks what happens when people with different preconditions and backgrounds converge and connect. Which new possibilities can arise?

Get some insights: video impression of "Encounters"

The piece, choreographed by Fabian Cohn (Swiss, based in Berlin) was staged on October 5, 2019 at HUN Theatre, ASEM Villa, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, within the scope of Swinging Wheelchair Project, initiated by Bidchadna NGO and supported by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

"Encounters" was developed in collaboration with the performers. The different abilities of the performers and the way they cope with these differences were the inherent parts of the developing process. And in this sense the merging process of the people in wheelchairs and professional dancers became as part of the piece itself.

A specific movement language helped to create “one" piece out of the different starting points: Inspired by Body-Mind centering, Ideokinesys and Gaga, choreographer Fabian Cohn developed together with choreographer Dominika Cohn a unique movement language which works with inner pictures as well as with the visualization of elements (like water, air, etc.) and “body systems" (like bones, lymph, muscles, skin, nerves etc.). The form of this expression seeks for “authenticity“ rather than „perfection“; it is generated by inner pictures / imagination and will vary individually according to each dancer.

The project brought substantial confidence and motivation not only for participating disabled artists, but also for the disabled audience. It also motivated others to think differently about the disabled, inspired collaboration.   The theatre with 330 seats was full. We estimate that through comprehensive social media, TV, radio and other promotions and news, we reached around 200.000 people. 

About the choreographer: Fabian Cohn, born in Basel, Switzerland, studied physical theatre and mime at “Die Etage", Berlin (2006-2008). He works as a freelance choreographer and director in the fields of contemporary dance, mime and film. Together with dancer/choreographer Dominika Cohn, he founded “YET Company" in 2010. YET Company stands for fresh and interdisciplinary choreographic creations that aim to reach diverse audiences. The works of YET Company are usually based on experimental approaches, whilst featuring a strong sense of aesthetics and a subtle humour. Several productions of YET company have been publicly funded and toured internationally. In his latest works, Fabian Cohn has focused on the poetics of movement. His recent choreographies aim to open a new perspective of the beauty and fragility of the liveliness.

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2 - Bloosoming Nomads - Contortionist Gils changing the world

“I've come across a historical document that says a contortion performance used to be held at the Saran Khukhuu Theater, founded by the famous Mongolian enlightener Danzanravjaa in the 18th century. Considering that it had already become an art form in the 18th century, we see contortionism as a part of Mongolian cultural heritage that has existed and developed in Mongolia through the ages. Now the world is globalized, and contortion is developing in every corner of the world. There have been concerns that the Mongolian origins of this heritage may fade or dim in the future. Therefore, the cultural workers of Bulgan Province decided to preserve, pass on, and spread this heritage with a goal to develop it“ said teacher Ts. Enkhtuya.​

Initially, the Bulgan Cultural Centre started training for over 300 children. Over the time, many children quit the training again, because it was too demanding for them. Contortion is an art that requires a lot of patience, perseverance, and endurance. But the instructors, didn't give up and worked hard, and continued to teach and spread contortion to a small number of children. In the province of …there are no professional teachers or schools that train or educate this sport-art. Contortion is simply a person's innate talent, patience, and persistent training combined with the unique flexibility of a Mongolian. “Therefore, we invited teachers from Ulaanbaatar who had developed contortion for many years to come work with us, and they trained our own dance teacher. As a result, they reached a level where they were able to demonstrate contortion" added the teacher Ts. Enkhtuya.

Although the number of students was small, the children worked hard, overcame every challenge, and trained persistently, and fell in love with the art of contortion. They now have their own repertoire, and participate in various competitions, as for example, in the television show “Mongolia's Got Talent". The Cultural Center and teachers sought ways to further develop and promote the contortionists, make them popular, and have an influence on other children. Get some insights here!​

Here, SDC joined hand with them and supported the Blossoming Nomads project, a documentary about these girls and their mastery of contortion skills, what obstacles they had to overcome, but also, what they've achieved, and finally about their dreams. The Cultural Center distributed the video to all 21 provinces and 333 soums in Mongolia. Various positive changes occurred as a result of implementing the Blossoming Nomads project.

Thank you for the inputs on the project to Tansagmaa Tsog, officer of responsible for Culture at the SDC in Mongolia. 

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Aug 31
Publication: Reflection Papers on Culture and Development

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Culture Matters! In times of crisis, such as the present, art and culture take on special significance. They offer space for our need for social cohesion, emotional expression and exchange. But cultural achievements are not only relevant in times of crisis. The SDC's Culture Network, in collaboration with the author François Matarasso, has produced ten reflection papers that highlight the role and potential of art and culture in various areas of international cooperation. They are the basis for a discussion and learning process that will help us to orient and implement our cultural commitment. It is with great pleasure that we present these well-founded reflections, collected in the booklet Reflection Papers on Culture and Development.​

Read the reflection papers on the Shareweb Culture Matters or ​on the FDFA Publication page.


 

Jul 23
Learning from the crisis – new cultural activities in Honduras during COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has abruptly put the arts and culture in a very vulnerable spot. At the same time it has forced the culture sector to rethink and to become even more creative. One of these innovative solutions have been supported by the SDC in Honduras – it is a platform that seeks not only to support artists, but also to reach out to a rural audience.

A highly limited social life, the home office, a total curfew or the mask as a steady companion in the public - the COVID-19 crisis has completely changed our habits and routines. Obviously, these are extremely difficult conditions for the artistic sector and its vulnerability became abruptly tangible when the pandemic hit the world some months ago. Festivals, concerts, theatres and many other cultural activities have been cancelled or postponed and as a result many artists and other employees in the creative world have become dependent on financial support.

New possibilities

But there is the other side of the coin: being limited in possibilities and prevented in working the usual way, new possibilities and a courage to experiment has emerged. The artistic sector is by nature creative and innovative and hence many theatres, concert organizers, museums, and cinemas have discovered new opportunities in the virtual world. When the Team Culture and Development at the SDC HQ in Bern asked the Community of Practice Culture Matters whether they adapted, changed or even created new cultural projects during COVID-19 many reported to have transferred activities to the virtual world and to have come up with possibilities to gather an audience via different social media. 


 

The SDC and MUA discussing the project.

​Supporting artists with a solidarity platform

Honduras is one example of a SDC partner country, where a new culture project emerged during the lockdown. The country has declared a state of emergency: the public life is very limited and the population is still under partial curfew. The official cultural support in Honduras is rather low and if culture is supported it is mostly mainstream culture. No surprise the current conditions make it hard for independent artists to gain money and have an audience.

An opportunity to support cultural actors in the country arose with an initiative of the “Committee of Cultural Centers" (Commite Centro culturales, CCC) which is a network of cultural organizations. They initiated the idea to create the "Platform for Artistic and Solidarity Action" (“Plataforma de Acción Artística y Solidaria", PAAS), which shall provide a Solidarity Income Fund (ISE) for artists and cultural actors. The "Women in the Arts Association" (“Asociación Mujeres en las Artes", MUA) is holding the chairmanship of the Committee and is now leading the platform. The SDC and the MUA signed a six-month cooperation agreement on June 5, 2020.

The main idea is simple: artists and cultural actors can provide virtual artistic products or performances for which they generate income via the platform. Additionally the users can donate money to the artists. This also includes other employees working in the culture sector and being impacted by the financial losses due to COVID-19 like stage designers, lighting technicians, or sound technicians. Additionally, the platform offers tips and tricks for artists on how they can make the best out of their performance on the platform, like e.g. an instruction on how a short and attractive video can best be produced. The platform will soon go online, in the meantime MUA is using other social networks. The platform is at the moment receiving support of two technical firms. The same firms also ensure that the platform can exist for another year after the SDC support.

Broader audience and inclusion of rural areas

Exceptional about this platform is that it takes into account that rural, confined or socially distanced areas might not have access to the internet. This is a general problem for culture projects that go virtual. Even if some people have a smartphone, their data is often not sufficient in order to stream the cultural content. So the platform has chosen to disperse micro-concerts, poetry recitals or narratives via the country’s Community Radio Network, the so called “Radios Communitarias”. Like that it kills two birds with one stone: the artists receive a broader audience and the culture becomes more inclusive by reaching more people. Who knows, maybe this pandemic is able to teach us a few things that are adaptable also in a post-corona world.

Thank you for the inputs on the project to Chantal Felder and Mayra Espinoza, responsibles for Culture at the SDC in Honduras


 

Jan 29
Vientianale’s On the Road Tour – A Filmmaking and -Screening Project Funded by the Lao Culture Challenge Fund

​The Lao Culture Challenge Fund was launched in 2013 by the Swiss Cooperation Office in Vientiane, Laos and is in its third project cycle. This fund was setup with the goal to contribute to and develop emerging cultural initiatives in Laos so that they could grow, find audiences, share and teach their creations to others. One such initiative is the Vientianale's On the Road Tour which screens films from Lao directors in rural areas and offers workshops on filmmaking for young filmmakers.

- by Touravanh Hook

 

The Lao Culture Challenge Fund

What is unique about the Swiss support to Lao culture is that the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation contributes to developing Lao culture with the objective to improve the social cohesion in the country, bridging cross-generational gaps for understanding and appreciation of cultural values, and prioritizing Lao citizens as the end beneficiaries. Support is provided through funds for project activities and organizational management training.  The later has proven the most valuable to the project partners. It gives them an opportunity to learn and improve in areas that would help them ensure sustainability of the organization, business or cultural expression. Topics include marketing, finance, networking and proposal pitching to banks, investors and other funding sources to name a few.

The fund works to develop the cultural industries in Laos. So that they can progress and become viable career choices for the growing youth in the country. Sectors include digital arts, music, literature and publishing, performance arts such as theater and dance, and fine arts to name a few.  One sector in particular that has benefited from the improved social-economic growth in South East Asia is filmmaking and cinema. The emergence of affordable smart mobile devices, decrease in video production equipment prices, expanding internet access and exposure to content learning and sharing platforms such as youtube and facebook has opened the doors for a new generation of aspiring filmmakers.

Unfortunately, much of the economic improvements seen throughout the country has not benefited those that are most vulnerable to falling or remaining in poverty traps. The disadvantaged populations that face the most forms of discrimination are still living in rural areas and most often from ethnic communities and women. The 2015 population census indicates that inequality is increasing in these areas.  This is where the project Vientianale's On the Road Tour comes in: films from Lao directors are screened in rural villages and workshops on filmmaking offered in communities throughout the country.

 

This initiative gives opportunities to youth and adults to experience films made by local directors that often address ideas and values from their own country. In the workshops on filmmaking the participants are taught innovative ways to create and produce short films on mobile devices and how to share their films on sharing platforms for others to see. Often times, some directors themselves are present to help with the learning.

Vientianale's On the Road Tour: A small snippet of a village visit by Helene Ouvrard

As the sun starts to set, children start gathering at the temple's grounds, in a village about 20km outside of Thakhek in Khammouane province. A screen has been put up and soon the film will begin. Villagers sit down on the mats they brought with them while some have set up some food stalls. Tonight's film is The river flows, the latest Lao film to be released in Vientiane's brand-new movie theaters. This was the last screening in Khammouane province for Vientianale's On the Road Tour , a film roadshow which started in Paksane in Bolikhamxay province 10 days prior and which visited 24 schools and villages as far as Nakai, before moving on to Vang Vieng and up to Kasi at the far end of Vientiane province.


 Screening in Vang Vieng, Vientiane Province

Launched in 2013, at the initiative of the Vientianale Film Festival, the project is in third edition and has successfully toured in 12 provinces of Laos with a combined audience of about 25,000 people. One of the Vientianale's core goals is to bring the best of cinema to local audiences as well as to promote Lao filmmakers. With only four movie theaters around the country, most of which opened only two years ago, many communities living in rural and more remote areas of the country have scarce if no opportunity to watch recently released Lao movies.

The mobile screenings enable students and rural communities to watch the best and most recent Lao feature and short films in their schools and villages. The day screenings, which take place in local schools feature a selection of the best short films from the Vientianale short film competition, are very popular with students who pack up entire common halls and classrooms. Teachers are often surprised by the quality of the films and have as much fun as their pupils. "I'm very impressed.  I cannot believe that this is a film made by Lao person", confirms a teacher from Viengkham high school.


Screening in Bolikhamxay Province

Vientianale's On the Road Tour relies on a team of young Lao volunteers who have gained experience running activities in rural areas. In addition to showing the films, they also quiz the students on the movies they have seen or play fun games with them in between films. After day screenings at school are over, the team moves on to set up for the night screenings in villages. As all places visited are different, Vientianale's On the Road Tour has set up its screens in many locations, from temples to football fields, from small wood-thatched classrooms to university common halls capable of hosting up to 1,000 people. "We had a packed hall in Nakai the other day. It was great to see all the kids laughing and having fun watching our films" says Bouthavy, a Vientianale's volunteer.

Filmmaking workshop in Xayaburi Province

With film education as a core goal, Vientianale's On the Road Tour also organizes film workshops for young aspiring filmmkakers in the provinces visited. Over three days, experienced Lao filmmakers from Lao New Wave Cinema and Doklao Media Center introduce young Lao between 14 and 18 years old to the basics of their art, from scriptwriting to shooting and editing. The participants develop their own stories and produce their first and own short film. At the end of the workshop, the films are screened and the participants get precious feedback from their teachers. As they have limited material and means available, all the films are shot on the participants’ own smartphones so that they can go on making their own films.

 

 Filmmaking workshop in Pakse Province

With over 7,500 enthusiastic spectators, the popular roadshow will go on traveling in new places in the future.

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What is "Culture Matters" ?

Culture Matters is a community of practice set up by staff members at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

We want to:

  • share our experiences with culture and development
  • show how art and culture bring about change
  • advocate for art and culture as effective paths towards development and humanitarian goals.

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Because it make it possible for anyone dealing with SDC support to art and culture to share his/her experience and reflections. It’s about inspiring others and getting inspiration, triggering reflection and debate, and eventually shaping good practice.

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