Original publication: November 2017
Author: Rasoul Nejadmehr
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2zahWhI
This essay is an inquiry into publicly funded cultural projects that are intended to address the current refugee crisis. It investigates different approaches to artistic interventions in different Member States (MS), the conditions of cultural projects’ successes and failures, and lessons that can be learned from these failures and successes.
Project typology: Based on the methodology applied and the questions asked, I have distinguished five types of projects with distinct perspectives and methods of application.
1. Pre-packaged projects: These projects have a predetermined agenda to be applied to refugees without involving the refugees in shaping that agenda.
2. Co-designed projects: In these projects, refugees are “invited” to participate in the planning of the projects. The relation of power within the projects may be asymmetrical.
3. Participatory projects: These projects are either planned by refugees or planned in a manner in which everyone has a say and no one dominates.
4. Intersectional projects: These projects start from the interrelated nature of identity categories such as ethnicity, gender, race, age, class, and ability.
5. Intersectoral projects: In their design, these projects include several sectors in addition to the cultural sector to achieve wider outcomes.
Different MS, different approaches: The main concerns of MS are areas of action such as employment and housing. Cultural activities are intended to assist these ends. However, there are differences between frontline MS, MS that refuse to receive refugees, MS that do receive refugees, MS that are new to receiving refugees, and MS that have been receiving states for decades. The concern in frontline states is to supply basic facilities and to fill the waiting and transit times of refugees with meaningful activities. Projects in receiving states deal with empowerment or integration of refugees into the host communities. In new receiving MS, projects focus on highlighting the benefits of cultural diversity. Projects in the old receiving states take the benefits of cultural diversity for granted and aim at intercultural dialogue and refugee empowerment.
Current refugee inflows have strengthened civil society. Projects run by civil society are usually co-designed or participatory and aim mainly to empower refugees. Although cultural projects are supposed to work toward the integration of refugees, an increasing number of them avoid using the term “integration”, instead using words like inclusion, intercultural dialogue, and refugee empowerment. They show ingenuity in addressing refugees’ everyday concerns in a variety of ways. The same ingenuity is needed to connect refugees’ concerns with those of their host populations.
Cultural projects are successful when they are human rights-based, participatory, intersectional, intersectoral, transnational, intercultural, and connected to the daily concerns of refugees and their host populations alike. Only then can they contribute to shared visions and narratives and connect people across boundaries and nationalities. They fail whenever they try to implement a pre-packaged integration agenda, since by so doing they remain within boundaries of nationalities, fixed identities, and limits of conventional canons. No project intends to confine itself within these boundaries. Projects are usually affected by their designers’ tacit and historically accumulated knowledge that carries reminiscences of old colonial and racial ideas and works beyond designers’ consciousness. Projects must instead provide spaces for critical reflection, not only for their target groups, but also for their owners and designers.
Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/602-003
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