Barrio Comparsa

South America, Colombia
Art discipline: Music, Dance
Participated in ICAF in: 2014

Barrio Comparsa ['neighborhood parade'] was founded in 1990 in the Manrique Oriental area of Medellín by Luis Fernandez García and five of his friends. It was a time when large areas of that city were still heavily infested by drug-related criminal activities associated with the cartel of Pablo Escobar Gaviria, his competitors and his paramilitary opponents. In a recent weblog, Barrio Comparsa recalls:

We began as an alternative for the lives of young people in Medellín, which back then was going through a period of increasing violence. Since then we have consolidated ourselves as a multiplication project for arts and culture. We do this through festive, carnivalesque forms of expressions like parades, music and street performance. In our group we involve neighbourhood   residents from Medellín who come together to celebrate life, joy, and fantasy.

It would be exaggerated to claim that Barrio Comparsa single-handedly turned Medellín from one of the world's most dangerous cities into the comparatively safer place it is today. Yet, in the company's own words the 'Ludic Methodology' it developed and implemented over the past 23 years contains an explicit peace-oriented social change agenda:

We generate a new type of leadership based on stimulating human sensitivity, creativity, cultural management and facilitation, citizens participation, community self-management, interculturality and introducing paradigms that break down lack of self-confidence, exclusion, fear and resistance to participation. We do this by involving the population and engaging them to become agents of large scale transformations that contribute to personal and collective growth and the consolidation of democracy and a culture of peaceful coexistence in the country.

Barrio Comparsa was one among many other participatory grassroots initiatives connected to the arts, health, education and religious sectors of Medellín and that was loosely coordinated and supported under a city-wide policy entitled del miedo a la esperanza ['from fear to hope']. In combination with a number of economic and political factors that lie beyond the scope of this essay, these combined activities allegedly contributed to a relatively strong decline in the number of homicides in the city, including in the Manrique Oriental neighbourhood (Jaramillo and González 2012: 9). But a recent report also suggests that drug-related criminality continues to thrive in Medellín and that the worst violence may have simply shifted to other urban areas, particularly to downtown (ibid.). There seems little doubt, however, that over the years Barrio Comparsa has had a positive influence on the lives of countless young people in its own neighbourhood - and later in other parts of the city. 

At ICAF-6 Catalina García of Barrio Comparsa will work with residents of Ijsselmonde to create visual arts elements and a choreography for a neighborhood parade that will open our festival. There are various wonderful groups that will also partake in the festive streetparade: dance teachers-to be from Codarts, pupils of the school de Palmentuin situated in IJsselmonde and children of Circus MiX!