Everyone No-one Excluded
The cultural programme of Matera 2019 was not only accessible: it was inclusive. It was not enough to guarantee physical access and participation in the events. It also initiated a profound reflection on what it means to plan cultural events that enhance each person’s diversity, providing tools and implementing processes of cultural involvement and co-creation.
Matera 2019 demonstrated how culture can help to serve as the glue that holds together complex communities, in which the individualities and diversity of outlooks of which they are composed meet, cross-fertilise and dialogue within the cultural experience. This is the spirit that spawned projects such as Movimento Libero, Silent City, Matera Città Aperta, Teatro nelle carceri or the city’s first Pride, which placed the enhancement of individual diversities at the centre of cultural creation.
The approach taken by Matera 2019 was not a merely rhetorical nod to inclusivity, to be relegated into a category of dedicated events, something “other” with respect to the main programme.
It may be asserted instead that attention to the active involvement of the communities on the margins of cultural processes or even at risk of exclusion, was the leitmotif that tied the most disparate events in the projects together: from the community gardens of Gardentopia, to the workshop and choreographic works of Virgilio Sieni for the IDEA pilaster project, to the Lumen project workshops focused on building light fixtures.
Silent City: the lyric opera of the community, for the community
How do you introduce people to a lyric opera, considered a lofty and elitist genre? And can a lyric opera, which we commonly imagine to be enjoyed primarily through sight and sound, be accessible to deaf or blind people?
These challenges and the need to tear down stereotypes were the starting point for the work of the L’Albero theatre company, in co-production with the Fondazione Matera-Basilicata 2019, which led to the production of Silent City: a community lyric opera. The opera focuses on the need to give a voice to the stories of the city’s “silent generations” , the elderly and children, activating a bottom-up process to create all the components of the opera, from gathering local stories, to the dramaturgy, to the music, the libretto, the sets and the costumes. The opera is a reflection on the concept of silence; on its meaning for Matera and for the Sassi, once lively and boisterous and now silenced by the forced transferral of the inhabitants in the 1950s; and on its ambivalence, which evokes both the void and the potential for imagination.
The great innovation of Silent City lies not just in its method of co-creation, but in the ways that it was designed and enjoyed, best practices that could be repeated and for which Matera 2019 chose to serve as a field of experimentation.
The Open Design School team worked on the staging of Silent City, taking care of all the details so that the show could be truly enjoyed by a diverse audience, moving beyond the concept of accessibility understood merely as a response to normative requirements. In this spirit, the space was adapted to suit an elderly audience with motor difficulties; the design included wood bleachers that could transmit vibrations, so that the performance could be experienced with the entire body. Sign Language interpreters were invited to narrate the show, which could also be followed through audio-descriptions transmitted through headsets or a libretto written in braille. The opportunity was also offered, before the show, to explore the stage and backstage with all the senses, to help achieve a truly accessible understanding of the opera.
Dance for all: Movimento libero, Ka Art and the actions of Virgilio Sieni
Several different pathways were activated within Matera 2019 to explore the relationship between dance and disability. The most significant experience in these terms was probably Movimento libero, developed in cooperation with the British Council. The project was permeated with a constant reflection about the accessibility of art and the spaces of performance, addressing the twin issues of capacity-building on the territory and the design of spaces.
The first phase of the Movimento Libero project, coordinated by the Open Design School team and inaugurated with the workshop titled DisOrdinary Architecture Project, initiated a design process to reflect on what it means, in terms of choosing and setting up a space, to work on inclusive dance and performance productions. The idea guiding the work of the Open Design School was that the design of accessible spaces must not be limited to the creation of additional infrastructure, such as a ramp or a special toilet, that responds to specific needs, but must on the contrary begin with the design of places that respond to the diversities in every person’s body: a space that is accessible only if it can be used comfortably by persons with disabled bodies, as well as by the elderly walking with a cane, by children, tall people or short people. Under this guiding principle, the venue for the performance of Movimento libero was first measured through diverse bodies and “induced disabilities”, such as blindfolding the eyes, and enriched with inclusive signage that could be clearly understood by persons with physical or cognitive disabilities or by children.
The design and development phase of Movimento Libero culminated in the inclusive dance workshop and in the performance of the StopGap Dance Company. This English dance company, known for its approach and integrating disabled and non-disabled people into the cast, involved the citizens of Matera in 5 one-day sessions in which dance became an instrument to enhance the diverse abilities and foster social cohesion within the community, by recognizing disability as a catalyst for innovative processes of creativity and artistic expression.
Movimento Libero was not the only experience centred on the role of dance as a means of expressive emancipation and creative engine. Similar considerations also played a role in the project titled Ka art. For a Collective Map-Making of Basilicata, which, in the performances and workshops of choreographer Jérôme Bel, peopled the stage with amateur dancers, common people, children, the elderly, people with physical or mental disabilities, so that the focus became the desire for freedom of expression, rather than technical perfection.
Though in a very different way and context, the attention to rediscover the body, touch and movement as a means of expression accessible to anyone was also the focus of the activities proposed by choreographer Virgilio Sieni for I-DEA.
Discovery beyond stereotypes: Silent Academy and the involvement of the Arbëresh communities
The Silent Academy project co-produced by the Sicomoro association and Fondazione Matera Basilicata 2019 brought to the streets of the city the stories and voices of the migrants who have found hospitality in this land. The Silent Academy activated workshops open to the citizens, in which the migrants, in the role of master artisans, cultivated their talents, often the fruit of passions and skills acquired in their native land, and later neglected upon arriving in Italy.
The results of these handcrafting efforts enlivened the atmosphere of the city in installations, exhibitions and performances in which local culture blended with the “other” culture. For the Feast of the Madonna della Bruna, the patron of Matera, Kingsley Ogbebor from Nigeria built the paper-mâché statues for the float that carried the icon. From the Silent Academy tailoring workshop, Ivory Coast fashion designer Eloi Sessou and tailor Ibrahim Savane coordinated a collective piece made by the migrant and local tailors, inspired by Matera’s icon of the Madonna del Gonfalone, in which an isothermic blanket became the symbol of the protection traditionally offered by the cloak of the Virgin Mary.
While Silent Academy was dedicated to the new migrants, other events in Matera 2019, in particular the Community Projects and Capital for a Day events, involved an ancient migrant community, the Arbëresh Community, dating back to the fifteenth century and the flight of the Albanian people from the Balkans to escape the expansionist drive of the Ottoman Empire.
Of the 50 Albanian communities recognized in Italy, 5 are in the Basilicata region, and count almost 9,000 people, between the municipalities of San Paolo Albanese, San Constantino Albanese, Barile, Ginestra and Maschito. The Arbëresh Community became part of the Matera 2019 programme for its dance and music in particular, for example in the Open Sound Festival; for the “neighbourhood meals” shared by locals, visitors and artists; and for the discovery of ancient skills, such as the workshops to build the Nusazit, characteristic paper-mâché puppets. Apart from the events in and of themselves, the interaction with the Arbëresh culture represented an opportunity for a wider discussion of the themes of migration and the relationship between modernization and the natural heritage, as in the exhibition Ripetizione Spaziata, part of the IDEA project, or in the theatre performances and workshops activated in the project titled La bella vergogna.
On the map below, you can learn more about the events of Matera 2019 that were held in the 5 communities of the Arbëresh Community in Lucania.
What may be observed in the cultural programme of Matera 2019 is that access to culture may be understood by thinking beyond the binary logic of “normal”/”other”, which consider diverse abilities as a problem to solve. The lesson to be learned from Matera 2019, which presents itself as a series of best practices for the future, is that placing the diversity of each and of all at the centre of design activates a process that can generate radically innovative cultural projects, which enrich the entire community.
Open data corner
At the centre of this platform, the data, now published in an open format. The Matera 2019 datasets are thus transformed into a digital commons that can inform, inspire and support new information and design practices for the local, national or international communities.
Below, you can download both the raw data related to the theme of this section and the aggregated data used for each of the above visualizations. You can also find more data in the site’s Open Data Center, which contains all the data available in the platform, or in our GitHub repo.