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European Education and Culture Executive Agency

SPEAK OUT: Together for a safer circus

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The circus, often viewed as a magical realm where aerial artists, acrobats, and clowns dazzle spectators, has a darker side hidden beneath its facade of a big happy family, with stories of sexism, sexual violence, and discrimination. Building a different future for the contemporary circus involves assuming an ethical commitment to integrity, inclusion, and gender equality to transform abusive conducts.

SPEAK OUT is a CERV-funded project that aims to prevent all types of discrimination and sexist and gender violence in the circus and street arts sector. It is led by the International Network for Professional Circus Education (FEDEC) and  the European social enterprise Jump, with expertise in gender equality. The aim is to support the development and evolution of training, teaching and creation in the field of circus arts to achieve physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe educational spaces and workplaces.

Where to start that transformation? Circus schools are key places where practice in the field of circus arts is defined, developed, and managed because they have the power of prevention and long-term change. SPEAK OUT began its research by having students from circus schools, affiliated with FEDEC, fill in an anonymous questionnaire. The result made it clear that many of those institutions regard abusive conducts as pedagogical tools.

How to face the problem when there are new students every year? The project focuses on the managers, who are the decision-makers.

"In the circus, people will not be saved from abuse as long as schools are afraid and ashamed to talk about it," said Rosa Matthis, an independent researcher working for FEDEC. "Many headmasters, school representatives and circus companies believe they are obliged to demand perfection from institutions to protect them rather than taking responsibility for their shortcomings and develop an institution that protects students and staff."

One of the key aspects contributing to the project’s success is not only its focus on education, but also a strong connection with circus companies and festivals. Among the activities envisaged for the two-year duration of the project, there are trainings for schools and directors of professionals’ circus organisations, peer-to-peer meetings to share good practices, and a toolbox for preventing discrimination and gender-based violence for students/teachers.

To learn more about the project, visit its website.


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