Given that circus is a high-risk art form, there is a growing awareness within the industry that safety and prevention are priority concerns. However, the knowledge and expertise needed to proceed in a professional and coordinated way are lacking. There is an urgent need to rectify this situation.
Safety is one of the topics Circuscentrum is focusing on as a matter of priority in its 2021–2025 policy period. And for good reason: safety is crucial in an industry where risk is central. The circus sector has grown significantly in recent years and so too has the need for an overarching safety policy.
As a central platform and knowledge centre, Circuscentrum is committed to developing and sharing the required knowledge through training and exchange as well as through research and reflection. Together with organisations from the sector that have sufficient credibility and experience, Circuscentrum aims to ensure that everyone has access to the necessary information and can work toward a safe environment that meets the needs of their organisation.
What are the current challenges concerning safety? How are the various actors in the sector approaching these today? What is needed in order to be able to anticipate danger? Where do gaps still remain? Where is there a need for overarching agreements, research and collaboration with external experts? How can we unite our strengths within the sector and what can we learn from each other? These are the questions we face today and the basis for further improvements in this area.
We are deliberately taking a holistic approach in which technical safety, physical safety and psychosocial safety go hand in hand. These different aspects of safety are inherently interlinked and the associated road map should (in the long term) in turn lead to a more integrated approach to safety and welfare: an ‘integrated welfare policy’.
Safety is a shared responsibility that concerns everyone: after all, a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. As such, it is important to work toward an inclusive and safe space for all involved: from staff to partners and practitioners. We draw attention to safety by developing measures tailored to different stakeholders: the safety workers and managers, the circus supervisors, the children and (young) adults who learn and practice circus.
We feel it is important that the professionalization of the sector can and should continue to go hand in hand with challenge (experimentation), creativity and self-development. Safety is essential, but ‘calculated’ risks are part and parcel of the circus arts.
Objective of the road map
We want to create the safest possible environment for all circus practitioners – professionals and amateurs alike – to train, create and perform, regardless of technical level, gender identity, sexual orientation, political or religious beliefs, physical ability, health, cultural, social or ethnic background or whatever else.
What is our approach and who are our partners?
We seek to realise an integrated safety policy in which technical, physical and psychosocial safety are of equal importance. Because of the expertise that ECDF possesses, we are joining forces with this Antwerp-based circus organisation. But we are also calling on the expertise of other organisations and experts as well. A working group has been set up to help shape the road map: needs are being identified and translated into actions. In addition to the working group, groups of professionals are also being brought together – where relevant – with a view to exchanging knowledge.
In this initial phase we are working together with the structurally supported youth circuses and with numerous experts from the sector and beyond.
In a second phase, other actors from the sector will be involved: safety expertise is important for artists, creation centres and festivals alike.
Implementation of the road map
The central working group is responsible for the actual implementation of the road map based on input from the groups of professionals. In 2020, funds were requested from VIVO for specific actions regarding this implementation.
What is planned for 2023?
The safety needs of the artistic sector are also great. In 2023 we are expanding what started in 2020 based on a need identified by ECDF and Circusplaneet into a sector-wide road map.
As a hybrid organisation, ECDF remains Circuscentrum’s key partner in extending this road map to serve the entire sector. As in the first phase, we will once again start with the creation of a working group to identify the needs and requirements as best as possible. The working group will have a diverse composition with representatives ranging from artists to companies, creation centres, festivals and so on.
Specific actions for 2023–2024 will be further defined based on the assessment of needs.
During MAD Festival 2024, we will organise the international conference Circus – A Safe Space for Danger in collaboration with FEDEC and other relevant networks and partners. With this conference, we aim to reach both national and international circus professionals. The programme will centre on the three forms of safety mentioned above, with a focus on both the educational and artistic sectors. This gives circus professionals a chance to be inspired by good practices and exchange knowledge. We will share the results and translate them into a collective manifesto or charter.