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ICAF/COMUART SUMMER SCHOOL IN BARCELONA

After the last ICAF festival in March 2017, our Spanish colleague Eva García approached us with the suggestion to hold the next ICAF Summer School in her hometown Barcelona. She had attended our very first Summer School in the Netherlands at the end of August 2016 and saw many possibilities to improve it – as did we. After an extended working session with Eva in rural Catalonia in August 2017, we decided to go for it, got our ICAF intern and Barcelona resident Laura Blanch involved and the rest, as they say, is history. With a financial contribution from Barcelona’s prestigious Grec Festival and in-kind support from the Sala Beckett in the Poblenou neighbourhood, the invaluable partnership with Eva’s organisation ComuArt, and the help of many local volunteers, we managed to produce our very first ICAF event outside of the Netherlands.

The second ICAF Summer School took place between 22 and 29 July. It attracted close to 60 highly qualified participants from Catalonia, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, the USA, China, Australia, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and many other places. Our artist teachers came from Mexico, the UK and the USA. For them, for the participants and for us as organisers it was a challenging but ultimately a very rewarding experience.

 

 

Opening
From 4.30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon 22 July 2018, the first guests were beginning to trickle into Sala Beckett, a former workers cooperative that a few years ago was converted into a pleasant, easily accessible and well-equipped performing arts and workshop location in the popular neighbourhood of Poblenou. For the days to come it was going to be our ICAF home away from home. By 6.30 p.m. most everyone had been registered and Eva García and Eugene van Erven could proceed with the official opening of the summer school, which included the launch of The Way We Move, a photo book documenting ICAF 2017. The book is a co-production between ICAF and Charnwood Arts in the UK. It contains many spectacular photographs made by Charnwood's director Kevin Ryan and his Taiwanese colleague Liao Yun Ching. Later that evening, we all walked to the Can Ricart Square for what had been intended as an outdoor meal and open air film screening of the ICAF film documentary directed by Northern Ireland’s Chris McAlinden Byrne of Pillarpix Productions. However, a severe thunderstorm and torrential downpour forced us to quickly improvise an indoor space instead for dining and film screening. Many hands made light work and the evening turned out to be quite delightful after all, despite the climatological setback.

On Monday morning those of us staying in The Student Hotel Marina (guest teachers and Rotterdam crew) met for breakfast and then travelled by streetcar to Sala Beckett. There, at 10 AM, the three modules officially began...

Teatro Linea de Sombra (Mexico)
Teatro Linea de Sombra (TLS) is one of Mexico’s most respected performing arts collectives known for its collaboration with visual artists and cultural theorists. Through meticulous research in the tradition of South American collective creation it tackles important social and political issues like migration and violence, creating impressive shows in the process. 

 

At the outset of this module, artistic director Jorge Vargas and his associate Alejandro Flores made clear that TLS is not a community arts organisation. They do not actively involve residents in their projects as participants, although they do engage them as consultants. This constituted a big difference with the highly participatory practice of several participants in this module and caused tension, that only diminished slowly in the course of the week. Another challenge – and point of contention - was the lack of time to respectfully and carefully engage with people and material in the Raval neighbourhood that Jorge and Alejandro had chosen as their territory for research.

In the end, however, this collision between participatory and engaged avant-garde art proved very productive indeed. In the process, we learned a great deal about the philosophy and methodology of TLS and how Jorge and Alejandro think and work. We also came to appreciate them as human beings and colleagues working, perhaps, in a different part of the cultural sector but with a similar drive and vision for arts in society. And they, in turn, learned a great deal from the resistance they encountered in our summer school and from our joint attempt to implement their approach in a context that is literally worlds apart from the circumstances they work in back home in Mexico.

 

Forklift Danceworks (USA) 
Maria Valls from Madrid assisted the facilitators in this module and sent us the following report: “Allison Orr, founder of Forklift Danceworks in Austin Texas, and her colleague Krissie Marty shared with us their methodology for co-creating performances with members of different sectors of society, letting themselves be inspired by the beauty of movements and gestures from daily life.

With that in mind, a group of participants that had come from all corners of the earth accompanied Allison and Krissie when they visited workers from Barcelona’s sanitation company Urbaser. They proposed to work alongside the Urbaser employees during several days with objective to learn from each other and possibly but not necessarily to collectively create with them a short choreography. The workers agreed, were thrilled in fact, and during the following days the summer school participants had to wake up before the break of dawn, have breakfast at 4 a.m., held intimate conversations with their Urbaser partners, learned the art of sweeping streets and handling huge water hoses at midnight. In the afternoons, back at the Sala Beckett we formulated questions and pondered over possible answers. Meanwhile, Allison and Krissie transmitted their special ways of listening and observing, which formed the basis of their work. Their method motivates and enthuses.

On the final day, the summer school participants and the Urbaser workers decided to jointly mount a small showcase of what we had created together, for the participants in the other modules. Looking back, the Forklift module allowed us to experiment with an artistic process, discovering unsuspected talents in others. Above all we realised that apart from Forklift’s own undeniable talent and artistry their greatest expertise lies in building and maintaining human relations. Hallucinating. We all stay in contact. Life sometimes offers gifts like that.”

 

Critical Facilitation (UK)
The role of facilitator was central in Sheila Preston's group. Who are you as a community arts facilitator? Why are you doing this work? How do you choose to be present in the group?  What do you communicate consciously and unconsciously about yourself and your intentions? What are your personal motives, pitfalls and dilemmas?

Sheila created a safe and yet a critical space in which participants were able to take a closer look at these questions, both on a conceptual and on a personal level. The group consisted of very diverse practitioners, all of whom brought a different arts discipline and life and work experience to the table. This week reminded many of us that being honest and critical about oneself as a facilitator is incredibly important, but also makes one very vulnerable. Not one facilitator is neutral; all of us have personal agendas, histories and wishes. We shared our vulnerability in Barcelona in all its strength and honesty, and we were challenged to dare to fail, to admit it, to learn from it, to ask for help, and to forgive ourselves. We’ve learned to observe and listen better, that we have the right to be silent and don’t always have to know what to say or do all the time. The group dynamic in this module showed our capacity to see each other’s humanity with all its beauties and flaws and to be able to accept all of that. That reflection, honesty and acceptation is healing and something that we can take with us and spread throughout our local contexts.

Farewell Party
Looking back, the 2nd ICAF Summer School had its interesting but also complicated challenges, but then again that is part and parcel of learning. All in all, it was a very rewarding experience for most everyone. Participants learned heaps from our guest teachers and vice versa. Being confronted with someone else’s practice over four intensive days and reflecting critically on it taught many of us something about ourselves and the limits of what we do and why we do things in a particular way.

As ICAF team, finally, we learned that we are indeed capable of transplanting our special spirit to another context, but that it would have been impossible without the generosity, energy and flexibility of our many partners and volunteers in Barcelona. We are very, very grateful to all of them.

 

Jasmina, Anamaria, Eugene