What is it that binds society? This question forms the starting point for a series of peripheral activities that Toneelhuis is setting up under the umbrella title CTZNS for three artistic creations: Grensgeval (Borderline, directed by Guy Cassiers), Zielzoekers (Soul Seekers, directed by Mokhallad Rasem) and Het kleine meisje van meneer Linh (Mister Linh and His Child, directed by Guy Cassiers).
CTZNS collects good practices found in society, positive initiatives that bind people together (citizens with papers and citizens without them). With CTZNS, Toneelhuis wants to transpose the artist’s in-depth method of working (via preliminary research, meaningful contacts, the proper choice of language and images….) to the world of journalism students. In today’s world, journalists have an increasingly greater responsibility as a binding factor. Not only do they bring facts out into the open, they also create that openness. The opinions and discussions they launch form and expand the public domain. The public domain is not just a physical space, it is also a mental space in which people can and may think freely. Journalists (the written press, photography, video and film…) shape public opinion with words and images and have a big responsibility in a unifying or polarizing society.
The positive experiences with invisible-cities.eu, a digital platform that was reproduced in the various European partner cities, and the knowledge that Toneelhuis gained though this, have provided an excellent basis for setting up CTZNS. The platform will be publicly launched in April 2017, but the preparatory steps have already been taken. Below we explain the various steps and the first results.
In the various European partner cities, CTZNS allows journalism students and theatre personnel to participate in different social and journalistic activities. Each of the partners forms a ‘citizens network’ of the schools and social organizations in their own city that are most relevant for them. In this initial phase, the students and theatre personnel participate (perhaps somewhat outside their comfort zone) in activities organized by and/or for people with a refugee background, such as getting-acquainted evenings, collection activities, open-house days at refugee centres, going to shows, talking with people in the social field. These activities can also take place in areas outside the city. What’s important is that schools and theatres participate in initiatives that exist in the social sector.
After that, the core group of journalism students (eventually supplemented with a number of interested people from the initial phase) will continue to work in an intensive workshop phase. Experts will guide this core group toward the moment when each of them can independently search for good practices of citizens’ initiatives that are contributing to a cohesive society. These good practices will be digitally transferred to the platform CTZNS.
The first workshop was held in Antwerp from 20 to 24 February 2017 with students from AP University College. On each of these days, the students worked with a different expert on the refugee question. They were, respectively: Mieke Van den Broeck (lawyer/activist); the young pair behind the website MVSLIM; philosopher Bart Brandsma, who gave a workshop session on his polarization strategy; and finally, filmmaker Ruben Desiere, who talked about images and the creation of images.
The CTZNS format, with its different steppingstones, accompanies the three artistic Toneelhuis creations as they travel and can be supplemented by the cities visited on tour in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain. As the three productions travel further abroad, this group can be joined by young people from other countries where new partners have rallied round the project.
For the umbrella project Beyond Borders (comprising CTZNS, Grensgeval, Het kleine meisje van meneer Linh and Zielzoekers) support from the European Union has been requested. The refugee relief organization Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen will be working as an active partner in expanding the content of the digital platform and is a candidate for taking over the website after the project is over. In this way, CTZNS.eu can develop into a permanent project that also contributes in the longer-term to a more humane perspective of ‘the refugee’ in today’s society.