- “Where are you from?” they ask.
- “I’m a citizen of the world,” she replies.
For these past few years I’ve been having this constant dream of being able to answer the question 'Where are you from?' with 'I’m a citizen of the world', where states, nations or borders do not really matter. A utopian dream, one might say, but I’m glad to have had the possibility of experiencing this situation, albeit in the short term, at the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators IV (YCI) which was held between 14 and 19 October at the idyllic Schloss Leopoldskron, or what is more commonly known as ‘The Sound of Music’ palace.
Not really knowing what to expect, in spite of all the prior preparations, I made sure to equip myself with three basic tools: an open mind, an open heart and an open soul, which turned out to be collective tools embraced by every participant. The forum brought together 50 young people – coming from different parts of the globe: Athens, Tirana, Salzburg, Baltimore, Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, Canada, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Nairobi, Manila, Seoul, Vietnam, Tokyo, and us, Malta – who are all using the arts and culture to catalyse economic, social and urban transformation in their local communities. This provided an appropriate break from the daily routine while guaranteeing a safe space to reflect, discuss, exchange ideas and share one’s worries and challenges.
Most of our sessions revolved around leaving one’s comfort zone in order to face and challenge social issues, such as imbalances in power. We discussed the courage this entails, how to best adopt bottom-up approaches, and thus engage with one’s communities where accountability becomes a norm and a practice that everyone commits to seek and offer in return. Discussions were intense and can be summarised in the shortest poem ever written, the two-word poem by Muhammed Ali Me-We which was proposed to us by the YCI Forum Facilitators Peter Jenkinson and Shelagh Wright during the introductory session. Me-We served a good baseline throughout the forum as it expresses a sense of community and an appreciation for support, collaboration and togetherness.
At this stage in my career such themes were really needed; I might not have answers as yet, but it did refresh my vision that, yes, the arts can be a means to trigger social change and I look forward to test the acquired skills and share them with other local practitioners. There is however one takeaway I must specifically mention: the passion of every YCI. This was clearly manifested in ‘The Schloss is Alive’ event, a showcase of talents put up and organised by a group of us in less than 24 hours. It was satisfying to be part of this group of creatives and to exchange some genuine feedback.
Finally, a word of thanks to all the organisers and faculty members who with great care, motivation and humility shared their experiences and provided us with the right tips and skills while also seeking our feedback. I would like to extend my gratitude to Arts Council Malta in partnership with the US Embassy in Malta for their support in making this experience possible. Last but not least, thanks to all the fellow YCIs in whom I found new friends, new colleagues and future collaborators.
Photo credit: Salzburg Global Seminar/Herman Seidl