“Singing Assembly” (“Speuny Skhod” in Belarusian) Initiative, after registration – “Culture of the Native Land” Cultural Institution
Implementation period: April 2016 – April 2017
Coordinator: Aliaksey Chubat
Context: How the “Singing Assembly” Project Appeared
Several years ago, the project manager Aliaksey Chubat took part in three ethnographic expeditions. He visited village houses, recorded the conversations with the old people. He drew attention to the fact that despite thousands of authentic songs being recorded they mostly remain in the archives. At the same time, mass art destroys the local traditional song culture of Belarus and threatens its diversity before our very eyes. The majority of young Belarusians do not acknowledge the value of the traditional song culture, which is still alive in Belarus (the phenomenon that many developed Western European countries already cannot boast).
The threat of losing the national song culture amid the generation gap and the influence of globalization seemed to be a huge problem – but not huge enough for us to give up. We risked to introduce our own way to diversify the cultural life of Belarus, attracting and motivating fellow citizens to actively sing folk songs.
To solve these issues, we worked in several directions. Firstly, we organized major thematic events where people could sing together (100-200 people). Secondly, two regular groups of students (40 people each) for in-depth songs study were formed. Thirdly, within the implementation of the project, we developed and launched “Travelling with the Singing Assembly” – a new cultural and commercial product that allowed us to gain certain stability. Fourthly, we began organizing song courses in addition to the activities of the project. Fifthly, we collaborated with different experts on singing so as to ensure that our field continues to develop after the end of the project.
Probably, it is thanks to high ambitions to become not just a widely known, branded project, but a mass culture phenomenon that we managed to achieve so much. We have made a great contribution to the diversity of the Belarusian cultural life. We organized about twice as many events as what had been planned and not only in the capital – we are known in many cities of the country. We managed to create a positive image of different generations singing together: elderly ladies sing along with the young girls, and both generations need each other. The growing number of our regular participants of younger age speaks for itself. We are particularly pleased with the popularity of meetings with the elderly ladies who are skilled in traditional singing.
The substantial research of the topic before the start of the project implementation became the key factor of our success. By the time we started working within the international project, our initiative has already made a name: the concept was developed, we carried out the negotiations with the partners, and even made a series of events, to which we owe our first audience. There already was a great team thrilled with the project idea and ready to act in a state of constant enthusiasm. Thus, participation in CHOICE has significantly helped the project, which was already gathering pace.
Organization and Partner Network Development
As communication trainings teach it is necessary to talk about the successes and the results of your cultural initiatives as often and as open as possible. So, here we have a lot of reasons for being proud:
1) We managed to effectively communicate with government bodies and media, which is not that easy in Belarus, where the state and the NGOs exist almost like in parallel worlds. The Department of Culture of the Pruzhany District Executive Committee, the Folkloric Center of the Aranchycy village, the National Historical Museum, the Vankovich Museum, the Museum of the RSDLP, the radio of the Minsk Regional Executive Committee “Minsk Wave”, the Piatrus Brouka Literary Museum, the Yakub Kolas Museum (Minsk), the “Kultura” newspaper, Grodno Regional Executive Committee – all these state institutions became our partners.
2) Apart from the state partners we collaborated with a number of for-profit and non-profit organizations: the branch of “Mova Nanova” in Vitsebsk, such music bands as Shuma, Guda, Uniya, the “Chabatuhi” folklore ethnographic ensemble, the “Pavaliaki” folk ensemble, the “Interkomtur” and “ColorLand” travel agencies, the “Grai” restaurant, the organizing committees of such festivals as “Kamianitsa”, “Lepelski Tsmok”, “Under the tutelage of St. Hubert”, the TUT.by Gallery, the Cultural Center “Gruntounia” (Brest), the “Joy to Children” public association, the Student ethnographic community, the “Vesianchuk” children’s studio, the “Lohvinau” Book Store children’s workshops. For instance, the travel agencies acted as market entities that can logistically support this type of business, and they were responsible for accepting money. The “Singing Assembly” made an advertising campaign to attract those wishing to go on a trip and involved its regular participants.
3) We closely followed the development of the other projects of the CHOICE program in Belarus. The project coordinator interviewed almost all participants of the program from the Belarusian side, which allowed us to see all the projects from the inside and to enrich ourselves with their experience. However, the cooperation with the “Children’s Creative Workshops” project, which hold contemporary art workshops for kids was of the utmost interest to us. Firstly, we organised a “Children’s Singing Assembly” project together. Secondly and most importantly, within this partnership we managed to express the concept that “modern art comes from the traditional art” and we successfully conveyed it to the participants of this cultural event. The connection between the traditional and contemporary art is not always easy to trace, that’s why such a concept seemed relevant.
The name of the project became a common name. The “Singing Assembly” is living its own life now: for example, Lyuban and Lyubanski District organised their own “Singing Assembly” meetings, though its was not a part of the project. Now every Wednesday an authentic folklore band from a certain village comes to the city itself and all guests sing songs of a particular region together.
We believe that we have created a local (Belarusian) precedent of innovative work in the field of cultural diversity of intangible heritage. We have made the singing of traditional folk songs together fashionable. The demand for such events has grown: singing together or, as people call it, the “Singing Assembly” has become one of the program items during festivals and other cultural events in the country. We are receiving requests to organize such events from the state cultural institutions as well.
On the way to the aforementioned results our team survived a major crisis. When the informal civil initiative was in the process of legalization to form a non-profit organization – the “Culture of the Native Land” institution, a different vision of the further development strategy of the “Singing Assembly” between the two authors of the idea got exposed. The conflict at that stage proved to be insoluble for us individually, and as a result one team split into two, working separately in the related field. However, as paradoxical as it may sound, the “Singing Assembly” format proved to be stronger than human disagreements: new volunteers and people who share our values joined the team. The initiative gathered a close circle of friends – people for whom the “Singing Assembly” becomes an indispensable place of social activity.
The project team plans (and has already started the work in some cases) to pursue development in the following areas:
1) further work with the intangible culture by means of creating a School of Living Heritage;
2) development of the topic of culture and economy synergy;
3) spreading the knowledge about the intangible heritage of Belarus, finding new approaches and ways of working with intangible heritage;
4) creating the environment for the formation of new cultural products (for example, making hackathons for the acceleration of projects in the field of culture).