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Ann Cassano

I am a cultural anthropologist. Over a decade I’ve worked for and with refugees on EU policy and on grass-roots level. In the last four years I’ve mainly coordinated projects where refugee-artists and -crafts people cooperated with established local artists and cultural organisations.

I often noticed all of us started out with good intentions, aiming to ‘empower newcomers’. But in the daily management other concerns crept in: what about funding, media exposure, our own careers? Each day so many, seemingly minor, decisions were taken, which slowly but surely took us away from our initial goal.

This observation was echoed by the newcomer-artists I worked with. Instead of organisations supporting them, these artists had to struggle against them, and felt unheard, unappreciated, just another item in the so marketed ‘innovative and inclusive refugee project.’ All this signalled to me that we had to guard the cooperation process, and be more explicit in how to work truly democratically and inclusively.

It’s our opinion that projects of refugee-artists working with local organisations and institutions are a fractal of the larger, societal issues currently at play. They show on a micro-level how integration works, which challenges and opportunities arise. Newcomers have to find their way in the dominant (organizational) culture. Established artists and museum staff see their own unspoken values and expectations on professionalism, on the art world, challenged. Different, sometimes opposing, points of view, values, and customs will have to be negotiated in this cooperation. This will inevitably lead to conflict, and our experience reflects that.

Contrary to the general view, conflicts are only harmful when things are left unsaid, leading to a breakdown in relationships. We use Deep Democracy, a method to resolve conflict, make the minority voice heard, and gain the wisdom of the whole group, newcomers included.

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