The International Community Arts Festival (ICAF) began in 2001, when Rotterdam was selected as European Capital of Culture. The organizers of this high-profile event offered funds to Rotterdams Wijktheater to organize an international community theatre festival. It was a time when, in the Netherlands, terms like “cultural diversity” and “participation in the arts” had begun to appear in arts policy papers and as part of cultural debates. For RWT, however, these issues were far from new. After all, the company had been co-creating original theatre productions for, with, and by residents of a number of neighborhoods in Rotterdam since 1992. Even before this, co-founders, Peter van den Hurk and Annelies Spliethof, had been engaging in similar work in the East and South of the Netherlands and had their roots set in radicalized theatre academies and the message-driven political arts scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
ICAF introduced the English term ‘community theatre’ to the Netherlands and provided a broad audience the opportunity to become familiar with this growing worldwide movement in the arts.
ICAF focussed on methodologies of how to create and how to produce community theatre. This time, the event was a mix of discussions and workshops in which guests demonstrated (or talked about) their methods, followed by performances in the evenings.
The term ‘community art’ well and truly landed in the Netherlands and the practice quickly diversified all over the country. ICAF was no longer satisfied with only showcasing or verbally presenting work; we wanted to leave something behind that would last long after the festival had finished: our first artist-in-residency was born.
Community arts researcher Eugene van Erven came on board as programmer and through his international network opened the festival up to literally all corners of the world. Anamaria Cruz joins as festival producer. For the first time, ICAF manages to present community arts from all continents. Since then, until Eugene’s retirement in 2020, they formed an inseparable team.
ICAF took its interdisciplinary and global ambitions to another level including five artist-in-residencies in different neighborhoods in Rotterdam. Furthermore, the featured art disciplines of the festival were still relatively underdeveloped in the Dutch community art sector. In hindsight, 2011 may well have been a turning point for ICAF. More than before, it caused a buzz that visitors to our event took home and passed on within their own networks. As a result, we received requests and invitations from all over the world, which in turn led to new contacts in places like Portugal, Spain, and Francophone Africa.
With ‘space’ as our theme, in 2014 more than ever before we programmed events outside: an Aboriginal storytelling performance from Canada on one of the harbour wharves, a colourful and musical street parade co-created with many local participants under the supervision of Catalina García from Colombia and a fully functioning outdoor bread-oven built by Peter Schumann of Bread & Puppet Theatre.
ICAF organised the first ICAF Summer School in Utrecht Leidsche Rijn, in collaboration with the Sharing Arts Society. The summer schools arise from the need to go more deeply into a specific methodology than is possible during a single festival. For Dutch makers it is an opportunity to learn one-to-one from foreign community arts makers, and for foreign makers a way to test their methodology outside their own local context.
ICAF expanded its permanent team with community arts dramaturge and theater maker Jasmina Ibrahimovic in the role of assistant programmer. This is also the first time ICAF that works with international guest curators. For this edition it was Matt Jennings (Northern Ireland), Tania Cañas (Australia) and Bonnie Chan (China).
ICAF organised its first Summer School in Barcelona, at the invitation of the Grec Festival, in collaboration with Eva Garcia from Comuart. The Summer School consisted of three modules led by dr. Sheila Preston (UK), Forklift Danceworks (USA) and Teatro Linea de Sombra (Mexico).
In the run-up to the festival in 2020, ICAF was working with international and national consultants for the first time. The consultants are our eyes and ears in the world and point out our blind spots. With the announced departure of Eugene van Erven, we wanted to safeguard and further nourish and grow the international network. The consultation sessions also gave birth to the idea of the global ICAF Hubs as satellite organisations in other parts of the world.
Two weeks before the opening of ICAF 2020, we had to cancel the festival due to COVID-19.
ICAF organises its first virtual MINI ICAF, with an ICAF Hub in Singapore, in partnership with community theater group Drama Box. After MINI ICAF Eugene van Erven retired and stayed on as voluntary advisor and scout. Jasmina becomes director of both the Rotterdams Wijktheater (the parent organisation of ICAF) and ICAF, and determines the direction for the future with Anamaria. In March 2021, the team was joined by curator and editor Amy Gowen.
The here and now
ICAF is currently building an online platform that will be a virtual manifestation of ICAF in the broadest sense of the word. Next to that we are developing the ICAF Hubs and are preparing our next festival in March 2023!