As an organisation that focuses on issues related to social justice, sustainable development and migration, Kopin uses the arts as a means, rather than engaging in cultural and art activities for their own sake: for awareness raising, education and inclusion, applying a human rights and children’s rights lens.
Bodyless, for example, focused on the moral obligation to retell African immigration stories, collaborating with a young Somali refugee and various local artists and using innovative ways to engage our audiences in critical reflections about a topic which, in Malta and elsewhere, is laden with misconceptions, stereotypes and often underlying fears of the Other. Befriending, a one-on-one mentorship programme that brought together Maltese and foreign individuals, used the arts to stimulate a reflection of the participants about common identities. Little Book Makers allowed children to come together through art, providing crafts workshops to both refugee and Maltese children and, thus, a space for interpersonal encounters, for mutual learning and for having fun together. We also used arts and crafts activities when conducting non-clinical assessments of potentially traumatised migrant children in 2016, as a means for them to express their feelings in non-verbal, creative ways that could then be analysed by our psycho-social experts.
Undoubtedly, the arts can break down barriers between people, through interaction and engagement which deconstructs false perceptions and angst. The arts can bring people together who, due to their diverse backgrounds and experiences, might not have encountered one another otherwise. Embedding arts in educational activities can foster critical thinking and reflection, even self-reflection.
All of the above are condiciones sine quibus non for migrant inclusion. The latter does not mean tolerance, it mustn’t be laissez-faire. Inclusion requires forms of confrontation that lead to a better understanding of both opportunities and challenges of inclusion and a discourse about how we can make it work.
At a personal level, inclusion demands a sense of belonging which first requires and then produces positive experiences. Inclusion calls for the active involvement of every one in order to work. This, perhaps, is its greatest distinctive feature when compared to integration processes.
Migrant inclusion is a key feature of Maltese policy making of recent years, be it Malta’s strategy Integration = Belonging, educational efforts made by the Migrant Learners’ Unit in Maltese state schools or the work of the Arts Council, which in recent months has been engaging in active consultation processes in this regard.
Promoting inclusion within the arts field is indeed a win-win for all: it contributes to making Malta’s rich cultural scene and heritage accessible for all; it provides new, foreign perspectives and approaches for the arts in Malta; and it offers new, creative spaces for encounters that may not happen otherwise.