enhancing cultural awareness through cultural production

Kari Kinnunen

The Grundtvig project ”Enhancing Cultural Awareness Through Cultural Production” aimed at finding methods with which to increase and practice tolerance and intercultural understanding, especially in adult education. The project emphasized educational methods implemented in inter- and multicultural contexts . This choice was based on the assumption that in addition to cognitive elements, education which enhances tolerance and intercultural activities, necessitates emotional experiences and social participation. All four educational institutions involved in the project had prior experience in cultural education which offered a perfect tool for active participation, but also left room for personal experience.
Cultural education offered a wide variety of activities through which immigrants and national populations could meet each other and interact. The number of participants and the duration and intensity of the activities developed and organised varied greatly within the project activities.

The Interkuul event organised by Jägerei Hustedt can be considered as one extreme which attracted an audience of several thousand. The event was of short duration and the educational intensity was slight. The majority of the visitors only stayed for a few hours, because of the informal nature of the event. The educational activities aimed at the public cannot be considered to be extensive.
Informality allowed the public to choose the degree of participation and commitment and this can be considered to be the main characteristic of Interkuul. The threshold for participation is low in these types of events. The activities aimed at the public only partly fulfill the educational criteria, the educational guidance being dependent on the organiser of a single attraction. The degrees in which the event offered experiences and intercultural cooperation varied greatly from one person to the next. The main benefits of large events like Interkuul are the attainment of a large audience and a widespread intercultural cooperation. In addition the main responsibility of the event is on the organisers not the participants. This implies that a too great demand is not attached to the participants’ behaviour. Furthermore, large events often acquire a lot of media attention, thus the role of the media should be taken into consideration when evaluating the influence gained. Events, such as Interkuul belong to the first phase of intercultural education. Here the emphasis is put on raising public interest and accomplishing intercultural cooperation in a situation where the participants’ can choose the degree of participation. European history, even recent history, is still full of examples of multiple barriers existing in the way of intercultural encounters. These are the reasons why events such as Interkuul as a means for intercultural encounters continue to present challenges.

The intercultural event “Tellus” organised at the Korpilahti unit of Humanities Polytechnic in Central Finland took place in a very different type of environment compared with Interkuul in Celle. The immigrant population in Finland is about two per cent of the total population, the smallest percentage in Europe. Most of the immigrants currently in Finland have arrived during the past ten years, during which time their number has quadrupled. The majority of immigrants in Finland live in the south of the country, in the Helsinki region. In contrast, Korpilahti is a small country municipality/ community almost 300 kilometres from Helsinki. Its population has to the present day been very homogenous, thoroughly Finnish. The immigrants who participated in the intercultural project organised at Korpilahti were mainly from the following three groups: Russians, Iranians and Kurds. For these immigrant groups the integration process has been more difficult than for other ethnic groups. The reasons behind this can be partly explained by religion, in the case of Kurds and Iranians, and by prejudice based on history, with regard to Russians. The integration process has been further hindered by the high level of unemployment ranging from 50 to 80 per cent in these three ethnic groups. For these reasons the multicultural event organised at Korpilahti was both regionally and culturally extremely difficult and challenging.

Music, song and dance were chosen as the cultural elements around which the encounter between the immigrant and Finnish population was built. The choice proved a fruitful one as these cultural elements can easily be used to overcome cultural barriers and thus be used as convectors of intercultural activities. The event received wide-spread publicity in regional newspapers. The second intercultural event organised in Finland, a community theatre event organised in the Helsinki region received much less public attention.

In “Children and War” the subject was children, Kosovarian children, who had experienced the destruction and terror of war returning to their homes. The traces and experiences of war were portrayed through the photographs taken by these children. The possibilities offered by new technology were coupled with the world of children and their experiences. The learning by doing method was used in its most creative form in this project. This method is both emotionally and intellectually very demanding for the creators, their instructors and the public alike. Compared with the events organised in Celle and Korpilahti, projects like “Children and War” demand not only a long working period but also technical professional skills which are not available everywhere. The method is multiphased and offers plenty of possibilities for intercultural cooperation at all stages.
In opposition the second intercultural project organised in Cologne “Intercultural story-telling” does not necessitate any technical equipment, but relies on the skills that all of us already have: communication skills, memory and soul. Due to its simplicity story telling can be produced in all conditions and environments. The method has been tested over several centuries of human oral tradition. Story-telling is built on face-to-face contact, where both the speaker and the audience are part of an active process through which experience, attitudes and feelings are conveyed.

The Austrian and Finnish project partners both tried Brazilian Augusto Boal’s “Forum Theatre” method which is one of the forms of “Theatre of the Oppressed”. The method aimed at increasing the participants’ awareness of cultural differences and similarities, immigrants’ awareness of their own culture. Furthermore it aimed at improving their aptitudes to resolve problems encountered in every day life and increase their civil courage. Boal has developed this method on the basis of participative and improvisation theatre which combine the roles of the audience and actors. In improvised every day situations the participants deal with intercultural problems, where oppression, power and violence have concrete manifestations. The aim is that the participants gain control over every day racism. The method demands a lot of time and professional expertise from the instructor. In addition the method demands thorough commitment from participants, immigrants in the educational process. The project implemented in Finland suffered slightly from the lack of commitment from some participants.

The partner from Graz implemented a demanding “Intercultural work” – workshop. This was formed by four three-day modules. The workshops aimed at strengthening the participants’ sensitivity and sensibility to work with people from different cultures. In addition the workshops aimed at improving the participants’ skills to command cultural conflicts. The method was divided into four distinctive parts which combined cognitive, social and emotional elements and treated individual, group and community levels. The participants were of several professions, the common factor being their professional contact with immigrants. This intensive, structured and lengthy method demands a high level of education from the instructors. The method can be classified as professional interdisclipinary adult education.

The influences of Grundtvigian ideology still have a firm footing in Danish adult education. The over 100 year-old Askov folk school has widened its mission outside this tradition into internationalism and Europeanism. The “living word” proclaimed by Grundtvig 150 years ago was replaced by live interaction in Askov. Young students were given the opportunity to create a theatre event and a film founded on intercultural interaction. These cultural productions were developed and completed by a multicultural group of students. The theatre event was shown to a European audience in places of youth cultural activities. A Scandinavian boarding school and folk high school was opened towards Europe through the theme of tolerance. The method adopted by Askov necessitates a command of European networks and a professional director. Furthermore this method is intensive and time consuming.

Education emphasizing tolerance and intercultural understanding may be contained in the curricula of basic education. Futhermore, educational contents having these aims find a natural place in several subjects. In adult education the situation is different. Participation is voluntary, there are no standardized curricula and education offered is guided by demand. Liberal adult education emphasizing culture is one of the most popular forms of adult education in several European countries. Adults cannot be impelled to participate in intercultural education. They choose their subjects based on personal needs and interests. This is one of the reasons why the partners involved in the project chose cultural education as a mediator for the “tolerance” theme. Cultural education opens numerous possibilities for educating people towards tolerance and multiculturalism. The number of participants may vary from a few to several thousands depending on the way the education is carried out. The intensity of participation may begin with that of a curious bystander’s passive role to end with participative theatre, where the people involved use all their emotional arsenal and are responsible for the whole learning process. Thus the cultural field offers the possibility for a large variety of educational events. In cultural education, encounters may be organised in such forms which take into consideration not only the local population’s customs and traditions but also those of immigrants.