A cheerful, but satirical opera in the Sahel, that places the individuality of the current African culture on the world map with a single blow. The late Prince Claus worked hard on this idea for years, even before the fund named after him was set up in 1996. In the interim, the composers have been selected and the production scheduled for the Metissacana cultural centre in Dakar. The auditions for dancers and singers will be held in April of 2006. Next year, the Sahel Opera will premiere in Mali, after which it will travel throughout the world.

From libretto to production, this is an entirely African project. So far, the Sahel Opera is the most extensive project for which the Prince Claus Fund has taken the initiative itself. Earlier, the culture fund set up the Cultural Emergency Response (CER), a sort of Red Cross for cultural legacy, in collaboration with the International Committee of the Blue Shields (ICBS). The Prince Claus Fund is also publishing a series of books; the most recent publication in the series is dedicated to communist architecture. In addition, the fund supports cultural projects and individual artists.

"It is a logical interaction,” in the opinion of director Els van der Plas. "We want to be sustained by the projects we support. Simultaneously we also want to take a personal position; we are a player in the field of culture and development. We wanted that from the very beginning. Our first priority was to set up a high quality network. After a few years, that network began to grow. Increasingly we saw that the Fund itself was becoming interesting in terms of content. The Fund itself has become a knowledge centre."

Our own productions, such as the Sahel Opera, offer added value in all sorts of areas. “The opera was conceived and created by people in the Sahel region,” Els van der Plas explains. "The idea is to stimulate talent and to improve the cultural infrastructure. Because of our contacts, we can bring this opera to the world stage and have it produced on international podia. We can offer people a place so that they generate more recognition. In 1998, for example, we organized an African fashion show. The designers subsequently became famous internationally. It is a logical consequence of our standing in the world. We do not simply want to be the financiers, and they the recipients. That is not an interesting relationship."

In addition to subsidizing projects and developing cultural policy in Europe, the European Cultural Foundation also sets up its own art programs. TheoneminutesJr. Network stimulates young people in Europe and North Africa to translate their vision of their own society into short films. "Our projects offer us the possibility to experiment,” explains vice-director Odile Chenal. "In addition, this is a direct extension of the foundation and its philosophy. But we do not simply want to implement our own ideas. We are open to what is happening in Europe. If you only support projects, you have few opportunities to disseminate your ideas. But if you only implement your own projects, you become very closed off. What it is all about is the interaction among all these activities."

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