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REFEST Images & Words on Refugee Routes

Interdisciplinary Approach to Expand Festival Audiences

Refest gathers four organizations from different countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, and Spain) managing small medium-sized festivals in 3 main field of artistic expressions: photography, illustration and essay-writing. The objectives of the project are to expand and diversify the audience in four festivals by widening the spectrum of their cultural proposals and to address public perception on refugees in public opinion through the artistic representation of the material collected and elaborated during the itinerant programme.

Participating organisations:

  • Association Urban (BiH)
  • Photography Association Organ Vida (HR)
  • Association Passaggi Cultura (Italy)
  • Foundation MonteMadrid (Spain)

Participating festivals:

  • Balkan Photo Festival (BiH)
  • Passaggi Festival (Italy)
  • Organ Vida Photo Festival (HR)
  • Festivalito de Villaverde (Spain)

These four festivals have become spaces and time of creativity, concentrated debates and social effervescence. They encourage artistic excellence, foster greater artistic expression, encourage more cultural diversity, determine more socio-cultural benefits to the local community and increase level of exposure for artists, constituting good practices of cultural expression and performance of relevance for the public sphere of each participating country and for the European identity-in-the making.

However, due to austerity measures and the cumulative effect of the recent years of recession hitting festival-goers, these festivals struggle against market saturation and competition of other festivals, resulting in a decline in visitors and revenue. This has caused a negative effect on the quantity and quality of the sponsors which, in turn, has contributed to further decrease the available budget. These organisations have therefore decided to put their heads together in order to find a shared solution to rupture this vicious circle, keep their cultural offer competitive while further enhancing the quality of their artistic proposal and the socio-cultural role they have hardly established during the past years.

Considering this partner composition and the ongoing public debate Festivals have all agreed to develop and action which will address the controversial topic related to refugee and the movement of displaced person. This topic, while addressing one of the priority of the Creative Europe programme, appears to be the best to reconcile many of the needs that have emerged during project preparation because:

  1. it is of the most crucial and emotional issues in all participating countries;
  2. it will serve well to color the debated in the four festivals;
  3. enhance their role of cultural provocateurs while encouraging diversity;
  4. it is well suited to become object of artistic co-production.

Festivals agreed to outline a proposal in which artists and creative professionals from the 3 different disciplines related to their festival work together as to create new modes of artistic and cultural expression while investigating a thought-provoking issue affecting the political debate, such as that of refugees. On the base of these considerations and of the useful suggestions from some of the artists collaborating with them, festivals believe that the more adequate solution to meet the need of a high artistic quality, to blend the 3 disciplines and to respect the creative freedom of the artist is to develop and adapt a programme based on the practices of the Artist-in-Residence.

Artist-in-residence are well known practices in Europe (especially in The Netherland with the Dutch International guest Studio). They are physical places where artists and other creative professionals can stay and work elsewhere temporarily. Moreover, Artist-in Residence are also programmes which lead creative professionals and artist to get in touch with a wider audience (e.g. through a final exhibition). These opportunities offer conditions that are conducive to creativity and provide guests with context, such as working facilities, connections, audience.

The programme will select artists through a Call for Artists at national level, the selected professionals will then form 4 multidisciplinary transnational working groups in each country. Each group will investigate a topic of their choice (e.g. refugees in movement, perception of locals, condition of woman, identities and loss, fears and hopes etc.) but linked to the main theme (refugees) and to the location of the four residences (Spain, Italy, BiH and Croatia). Their final works will then circulate in the 4 festivals.

The Artist-in-Residence programme they propose is deliberately self-managed and artists-led. As a consequence, the co-creative journey of the participating artists will realize a unique artistic experience documenting the journey of refugees to Europe, thereby addressing perceptions, stimulating knowledge, raising awareness, promoting empathy and representing the increasing diversity of the society with a view to increase and engage with audience.

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