Preparations underway for new Roma Institute for Arts and Culture

(Photo source: Council of Europe)

On the occasion of International Roma Day, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, reaffirmed the Council of Europe’s support for the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture, which will be launched in Berlin later in 2016.

“45 years ago, Roma people from across the world came together for the first World Romani Congress, near London, to congregate around their common identity.” Said Mr Jagland in a statement. “Today over 10 million Roma live in Council of Europe member States. Events are planned across Europe to mark today’s anniversary and to celebrate the proud contribution of Roma arts and culture to Europe’s common heritage. We know that much work is needed to end the segregation still experienced by Roma communities. The Council of Europe has therefore recently adopted a new strategy to help governments tackle anti-Gypsyism and to support innovative, local projects to boost inclusion.”

He reaffirmed his support for the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture, which the Council of Europe is establishing in cooperation with the Open Society Foundations and the Alliance for the European Roma Institute. “This is an initiative to which I have attached huge personal importance since becoming Secretary General. Crucially, the Institute will be Roma-led, giving Roma a space in which to tell their own story.” He said, “It will also serve an important educative function. Roma communities have been living in Europe for more than 600 years, but relatively little is known about their heritage and its influence.”

It has also been announced that the proposed seat of the new Institute will be in Berlin, with the German government ready to host it. Speaking about the location of the new Institute in Berlin, Romani Rose, head of the German Council of Sinti and Roma said: “The location of Berlin for the seat of the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture sends a clear message: in the centre of Europe, in the most culturally vibrant European capital, there is a place to celebrate the resilience and creative power of Roma communities and to challenge the pervasive prejudice and stereotypes against Roma.”

The Institute will be a Roma-led initiative, where projects to celebrate Romani heritage and connect Roma communities from different parts of Europe will be coordinated from a  vibrant creative hub. The Institute will host events, exhibitions and performances to give Roma artists a platfrom, and to engage the wider public in appreciation of Romani culture. It will also play a role as a policy advisor to the Council of Europe and member states.

Speaking about the Institute, Timea Junghaus, art historian and the founder of the European Roma Cultural Foundation (ERCF) said, “Making images about Roma has been the monopoly of non-Roma for over six centuries. The past testifies that the cultural institutions of our majority societies were not effective alone in taking up the mission of making European Roma and Roma arts and culture visible in our societies… There is now a significant crowd of educated Roma artists, creative producers, scholars and intellectuals, who can lead the discourse and practice of Roma representation. The Institute will be a hub for Roma to nurture and spark this movement in the field of arts and culture and in the process to challenge long-held assumptions and prejudices.”

Michaela Zatreanu, Roma education expert, said “The European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture is an organization by Roma and for Roma that, through arts, culture, history, language and media, will support Roma identity, promote better understanding of Roma and combat the prejudice that is dangerously on the rise in Europe today.”

The European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC) is a joint initiative of the Alliance for the European Roma Institute, the Council of Europe and the Open Society Foundations. Its establishment was endorsed by the member states of the Council of Europe in September 2015. On its establishment, Dr. Nicoleta Bitu, member of the Alliance for the European Roma Institute, said, “The establishment of the European Roma Institute is great news for all Roma who fight against racism, for artists, journalists, writers, linguists, historians, and for all Europeans determined to create alternative narratives about Roma and counter the negative prejudice that poisons people’s minds and souls.”

The institute, which will take the legal form of a foundation, is expected to be launched in the middle of 2016.

This article is partly based on a press release from the Alliance for the European Roma Institute. It can be read here [on Facebook].