Towards Inclusive Performing Arts: Sin Límites Festival
From 18-24 April 2022 SIN LÍMITES, Uruguay's first International Festival of Inclusive Performing Arts in Uruguay took place in Montevideo at Uruguay's National Theatre SODRE. As a pilot project for European Spaces of Culture, this project was the first one to be visited by EUNIC colleagues who joined the festival's activities and met with the festival's partners.
The programme, centring inclusion and accessibility on all levels, included performances, art residencies, workshops and research on inclusivity and was joined by artistic companies and artists with and without disabilities from Europe and South America. The festival was supported by over 40 partners including the Goethe Institute Uruguay and EUNIC Uruguay, the EU Delegation of Uruguay as well as local partners.
The festival was opened with welcome words by Martín Inthamoussu, President of SODRE, and Robert Kieft, Project Manager of the European Spaces of Culture initiative, followed by the dance performances 'En mis zapatos' and 'El hilo rojo'. All performances of the festival were realized with inclusion and accessibility in mind, not only by the diversity of dancers, performers and choreographers but also by offering Spanish Sign Language interpretation and audio descriptions for the audience, and making information about the program available in Braille on the festival's programme booklet. As the main venue, SODRE had been specially converted to be completely barrier-free.
One of the main concerns of the festival was to address the key challenges that people with disabilities experience in accessing cultural life in Uruguay. While inclusion is already well established in Uruguay’s public agenda and supported by institutions, accessibility is not yet fully implemented, especially in the field of arts and culture. This message for disability rights and social inclusion also fully aligns with the support of the EU Delegation in Uruguay and its agenda for promoting human rights.
The innovative character of the festival was highlighted in a talk about labour rights with Red Empresas Inclusivas, the Network of Inclusive Companies in Uruguay, by Daniel Suarez, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator at BASF Hub Montevideo, who spoke about the commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion that needs to follow the achievements that were made in Uruguay on a legal level. For him, the festival marks a "before" and "after" for the Performing Arts sector in Uruguay, and gives organisations a chance to understand what can be done from the private sector to work towards inclusion.
This is a giant step for organizations, for them to really understand what we can do from the private sector and from the public sector to work towards inclusion. What adjustments can we make? What is needed for us to really have an inclusive environment and an inclusive culture where people feel valued, respected and equal.Daniel Suarez, BASF
This practical approach to change was implemented through the decision of the project partners to establish working groups. In the commissioner working group for the artists, everyone could could suggest whom to invite and with whom to work with. Through this kind of process "no one was left behind". This process brought not only a change of practices but also a "change of mind".
You have to find a common language and a common dynamic. So it requires a change of mind.Irene Müller, Goethe Institut Uruguay
A story of trust
The success of the festival was praised in national as well as international news, especially the level of collaboration that helped to realize the festival. What stood out in conversation with colleagues from the Goethe-Institut and the festival's programming committee was that the project was shaped by building trust through a collective effort.
Valentina García and Inès Entico from the festival's programming committee noted the importance of involving a big organisation such as the SODRE National Theatre who carry a social responsibility to serve as an example of what inclusion and accessibility can look like in practice. This was made possible by keeping an honest approach, said Valentina Garcia, "and leaving room for asking questions".
In order to be able to work collaboratively, you need to trust your partners. And you also need to trust in the fact that your partners can come in and do have a voice and can express themselves and can really be part of it.Christiane Schulte, Director Goethe-Institut Uruguay
Putting accessibility into practice
Another key element of the festival was that it involved people with disabilities in every stage of realizing the festival, making it clear that inclusion can only happen when it is practiced from the beginning onward. Instead of focusing on differences between people with or without disabilties, the performances, workshops, artist residencies and the work behind them reflected a spirit of working together with each person bringing in their own skills. This was stressed by Nicolás Paredes, who works as an illustrator and graphic designer for the project, pointing out:
For me the important thing about putting inclusion and accessibility into practice is not to highlight differences. The real way to include people is to disregard those differences that can divide us.
Celina di Mauro, participating in a residency of choreographer Alessandor Schiattarella emphasised that inclusion should eventually become such a norm that people with and without disabilities share a space together and differences don't matter anymore:
I hope that the festival will be like a seed that blossoms at some point and that it will be an awakening for society where inclusion can be made visible on stage, where people with disabilities do not occupy a different place, where they are not hidden, where they do not have a special place, where they have a shared place and where we can all see, look, and celebrate our creative potentials that can coexist.