Culture is the essence, it defines any civilised society or individualPhoto Martin Inthamoussú

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Montevideo Sitiada

Website of the international dance festival Montevideo Sitiada

Sudamericana de Danza

Platform set up in 2000 by choreographers, trainers, dancers, social workers and cultural managers from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

African dancers dancing in the streets of Montevideo

The Power of Culture, december 2005

Culture is not a luxury?

In South America culture is definitely considered to be a luxury. The prejudice against dance is: dance = ballet = for rich people only. In my opinion, however, culture is a kind of food, and we, artists, are feeding the people. Every culture needs culture to develop. Culture is also like a weapon, a dangerous gun. People can be educated through people, but also miseducated: that is the artist's choice.

During the dictatorships in South America, the regimes made sure that people did not have access to culture. Right now, artists are free to express themselves again, but the audience is still not educated, and people still feel this ghost behind them.

All this means that we still have a lot of work to do. Our first task was to find new audiences for what we do – we are looking for the audience, they are not looking for us. That was our main challenge. That is what we wanted to change with our festival. We wanted to reach a new audience and show them that what we do is relevant and interesting. Another issue that we had to deal with is that art is not considered a serious profession, and that artists in Uruguay need to learn to regard themselves as professionals.

Why the support of the Prince Claus Fund was important for us

The support of the Prince Claus Fund for our festival enabled us to address both these issues. We were able to find a new audience by bringing performances to the We were able to find a new audience by bringing performances to the street, to unusual places, where people did not have to paystreet, to unusual places, where people did not have to pay. Secondly, it helped us to present dance as a serious profession because we could pay the participants for their perfomances.

When we first organised the festival in 2003 everything was very difficult: getting permission for performances in public spaces, finding the artists, getting an audience for what we were doing. Last year, however, when the third edition of the festival took place I was really surprised – the festival attracted large crowds and the performances in theatres were often sold out. I will organise this festival for the last time next year, and after that, the Ministry of Culture will take over. A great deal has changed in a few years, and the festival has become quite established.

Cultural exchange

African dancers participated in the festival for the first time last year. It was very difficult to get them to the festival, because of visa problems and travel expenses, but it was also very rewarding. It opened our eyes for African culture and contemporary African dance. It has had a very strong follow-up, the most important being that Edwin Mouturi, a dancer from Kenia who participated in the festival, is now setting up the African edition of the festival in Nairobi for 2007.

All in all, the support of the Prince Claus Fund has been crucial to the success of the festival. Not only financially, but also because of the personal commitment of the people who work at the fund.