"Community art is an international hype"

November 2006 -

"Community art often finds its origins in social dissatisfaction and the will to do something about it." Initiator Eugene Van Erven about the community theatre festival 'Art in my backyard' to be held in Utrecht from 23 to 26 November. "Community art is born when artists work closely together with specific groups in society - most of which have only limited access to participating in art - in the creation and distribution of their artistic work." Eugen Van Erven is one of the initiators of the Community Art Festival to be held in Utrecht from 23 to 26 November. The theme of the festival and the affiliated work conference is 'Art in my backyard'.

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"Community art is an international hype," according to Van Erven. Why is not completely clear. "This art often finds its origins in social dissatisfaction and the will to do something about it. In the Philippines, for example, community art was a true rage in the last months of President Marcos' regime. In recent years, an increasingly larger number of artists have been addressing social problems. They use their art as a tool, sometimes along with the very people directly affected, to communicate the problem. Other artists are unsuccessful with their autonomous art and seek alternative channels through which they can fulfil their artistic desires.

Also important is the fact that to an increasing degree, politicians watch as society threatens to slip from their grasp, and realize that art is a good way to stimulate social cohesion. A disadvantage of this is the fact that it sometimes causes art to be considered nothing more than a social instrument. In England this is referred to as social engineering.

A complicated issue with community art is the appreciation of the artistic accomplishment. A play made in a poor neighbourhood in which the neighbours are the actors cannot be compared to the theatrical performances of subsidized troupes. The biggest difference is that with community art, the process of artistic creation is an emphatic part of the work of art."

The program 'Art in my backyard' focuses on the stage arts this year, with Dutch theatrical companies including Stut Theater, Le Grand Cru, and Growing Up in Public, as well as groups from Macedonia, Mexico, Cuba, France and Ecuador. Utrecht will be hosting more festivals for community art in the coming years, featuring visual arts, photography and video. "Art in my backyard" is part of the Vrede van Utrecht and is supported by organizations including the European Cultural Foundation, Hivos and the DOEN foundation.