The Initiative “Children’s workshops by the Gallery U”(later – Cultural Institution “The Embassy of Culture”)
Location: Minsk, Belarus
Implementation period: April 2016 – April 2017
Coordinator: Safia Sadouskaya
Context: Problem Solved by the Project
Today, Belarusian pupils practically have no chances to get acquainted with contemporary art in a form they are able to understand – school hours to study world and Belarusian art culture are minimized; there are no clear and interesting educational programs; museums do not use innovative approaches to attract target groups. The state basically supports traditional, realistic, and “convenient” art. Alternative and contemporary art are not known, not remembered, and not understood.
Our overall aim was to promote and popularize the Belarusian art of the 20th century as an important part of Belarusian culture and identity. The project team wanted not only to create a possibility of involving children and parents in the process of perceiving contemporary art, but also to designate the problem – practically the total absence of books and programs for children on the Belarusian art of the 20th century, which form new generations’ culture of thinking and perception of contemporary art.
Families (children and parents) interested in Belarusian culture, museum employees, teachers, interested NGOs, educational institutions, and society as a whole were target groups of the project. The basic beneficiaries of the project are children and youth who have learned more about Belarusian art and become active visitors of exhibitions, who are able to perceive contemporary art as a part of the cultural landscape of Belarus.
– The main product of the project is the book “Art of Belarus of the 20th century for children. Vitsiebsk School”. It is the first book of such a kind for children in Belarus. It was created by: poet, artist, businessman Adam Hlobus; writer Andrei Khadanovich; musician and artist Lavon Volski; philosopher Valiantsin Akudovich; historian and art critic Anna Kislitsyna, as well as Uladzimir Tsesler, Ruslan Vashkevich, Aliaxey Andreyeu, and Tatsiana Artsimovich.
Our financial resources were limited and we had to include only seven names of artists in the book, concentrating on the Vitsiebsk School and its evolutionary message for the history of arts, which is still topical now. We also included names of the Vitsiebsk School followers who worked throughout the 20th century.
The book-textbook is written not only in the Belarusian language, but also in the “children’s” one – in the form of fairy tales, poems, biographic stories, and interactive games.
– In parallel with the preparation of the edition, we carried out a series of classes for a group of children. As a result, there appeared a program of interactive classes for children on the art of Belarus of the 20th century and a corresponding methodical manual that allows us to popularize Belarusian art in informal education and to multiply our pedagogical experience. Besides, there were seminars on this technique for teachers and tutors in Homiel, Vitsiebsk, and Lyntupy (in May-June 2017).
The need of additional resources also forced us to resort to a crowdfunding campaign in order to print the book. It was organized on the platform ulej.by and it lasted for two months; it became a basis of our PR strategy. Thanks to this public fund raising, we solved the financial problem and generated a very loyal audience that waited for the appearance of the book. We had 300 in-advance orders (unique users), more than 500 subscribers on social networks during this period, which gave us a big share of self-trust in what we do.
It is extremely important to have an integrated approach to advertising actions – therefore, during the preparation of the book, there was a number of supporting actions/events – the most important one was the annual Christmas festival. Its topic this year was dedicated to M. Chagall’s paintings and its program included master classes. The festival was supported by the Belarusian People’s Bank. The Vitsiebsk-based factory of children’s clothes “Bell Bimbo” became one of sponsors of the book during the fund raising campaign.
The book presentation became a resonant event, which is proved by a considerable number of the followed publications. Of course, the event itself is not so important – it is important that we have offered a media precedent, an occasion for discussions on what such books should be, how they should be written, and what artists should be presented. There is again a question of the problem of the quality and quantity of children’s educational literature in Belarus and the problems of school education and the way culture is included in school courses.
The sphere of informal education (NGOs sector) is still the most flexible and innovative – that is why it is effective in the context of today’s challenges, which is proved by the increase of a number of art-educational initiatives (circles, classes in museums and art centers, studios, and clubs). We have become one of leaders of the new approach to contemporary art education, created an alternative textbook, an example for museums, studios, and schools. Readers’ further reaction to the book and the methodical manual, their popularity and inclusion in everyday life will make the purpose achievement indicators more palpable; however, we are already happy with the implemented work.
Development of the Project and the Organization, New Partnerships
Now we are preparing the following project – a book on Kazimir Malevich, supported by the Malevich Foundation (USA). This time, we hope to receive consultations and support from the cultural community of Vitsiebsk. Also, we plan not only to work on books, but also to multiply our experience of classes on Belarusian art.
Thanks to the organizational support of the CHOICE project, the initiative “Children’s Creative Workshops” of the U Gallery has become a separate organization – the socio-cultural establishment “Embassy Of Culture”. It was a certain challenge for the team – however, this step was necessary after we defined our strategy of development. Now we work on activity expansion, including, inter alia, new age target groups. One of the nearest educational projects will be aimed at working with teenagers and students.
In the course of the implementation of the project, we became experienced in the publishing activity; began to cooperate with the Lohvinau Literary House, the international consortium EuroBelarus, the crowdfunding platform Ulej, the “Singing Gathering”, and became more recognized and integrated in the cultural community of Minsk as a whole.
The work on the book became an excellent occasion to start our partnership with the project “Culture for local development” organized by A. Mickiewicz Institute and European Solidarity Center (Poland), as well as to participate in the EU program “Culture and Creativity”. For each member of the team, all these became not only useful experiences, but also a precondition for further personal and professional development.
Aspiring to changes, we, meanwhile, protect our main values – historical empathy and pride of our cultural heritage, comprehension of our belonging to Belarusian history and culture, as well as the vision of prospects of development in local and global narratives.