Between October 2-6, all the partners of the SPARSE Plus Project and their local promoters travelled by train, plane, bus, and car from all corners of Europe to converge in the charming little village of Ascoli Piceno in Marche, Italy, which set the scene for us to collectively kickoff the exciting 4-year journey that lies ahead of us! Coming all the way from Sweden, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Germany, Romania, Hungary, and other parts of Italy, we got the chance finally meet each other in the physical world and build bonds that will come to form the cornerstone of this remarkable project!
Travel and Arrival
Our adventure began at the Budapest airport, where I (the local promoter coordinator) was joined with two of our promoters from Borsod county, Eva and Nimrod, and our external expert, Marci, whose lovely faces I got to see outside of Zoom for the first time! Little did I know that this would turn out to be such a monumental day, as Nimrod experienced air travel for the first time and on our train ride to Ancona, Eva got her first ever glimpse of the sea! In Ancona, we united with our German counterparts and were taken by a shuttle bus to our quaint little hotel, where we were greeted with a warm welcome by our Italian hosts from AMAT, the lead partners of the SPARSE Plus project.
Kick off DAY 1: Getting Acquainted
Our first day was dedicated to getting to know one another, sharing our cultures, and diving into a better understanding of the project. To break the ice, we opened the day with a cultural guessing game. Each partner was asked to bring five items that represented the character of their country, as well as a traditional bread and drink. These elements were arranged into creative installations, and promoters were invited to guess which table represented which country. After a brief presentation from each team about their chosen items, we were invited to mix and mingle and taste our way across the 9 countries. Everything from Swedish ginger bread cookies, to Polish sloplica liquor, to an assortment of dark bread and homemade jams and honey. And this only served as the appetizer for the culinary adventure that was about to follow!
Our cultural exchange continued through music and dance, with each partner sharing a traditional song or dance at various time throughout the next three days. Starting the day with an energetic Lithuanian partner dance works almost as well as an espresso to wake up the body! 🙂
After a day spent feasting on local Marche delicacies, including their famous fried olives stuffed with beef and pork, and listening to presentations about the SPARSE project structure, we were gifted with a captivating cello performance by a local musician.
Kick Off Day 2: Collaboration and Exploration
The second day of the kick off featured a “world cafe” session, where we delved into crucial aspects of rural touring, from artist selection to audience engagement strategies. It was exciting to exchange thoughts and experience with groups of artists, cultural managers, and promoters (both experienced and new). These conversations brought up some very valuable ideas that will surely inform the questions we’ll continue to raise in our preparation for the rural tours. After a delicious lunch at the hotel, we took a trip to Montalto delle Marche, a nearby municipality structured around a medieval village, where we enjoyed a guided tour, a presentation about their local urban regeneration project, and an enchanting performance by La Macina, a musical group dedicated to collecting folk songs and preserving the regional oral signing traditions. The day concluded with a magical dinner in a transformed church-theatre, where we snacked on delicious food and danced the night away.
Kick Off Day 3: Everything Starts with a Burning Fire
Our day began with a visit to Aula Verde, an outdoor environmental education space and ecological cooperative offering various excursions and educational-playful-sense-perceptive activities for people of all ages aimed at fostering a deeper connection with nature. Our visit began with a creative workshop led by 7-8 Chili Collective. Synchronized headphones with enchanting music united our movements, as we were guided through a series of tasks, evoking laughter, tears, and a profound sense of connection with ourselves, each other, and the nature surrounding us. The workshop concluded with all of us gathered in a circle and collectively feeding a burning fire, only to then put it out again, and plant a pomegranate tree in place of its ashes.
As we planted a pomegranate tree into the ashes of what was once a blazing fire, we recognized it as our “SPARSE” tree. Pomegranate trees are a symbol of unity. Thus, it was a symbol of our shared journey, a reminder that what will be fruitful tomorrow is a burning fire today. Our project, like this young tree, will require ongoing nurturing and dedication, and we, as partners and promoters, are the caretakers of this promising endeavor.
Post-workshop, we got to put our hands to work as we teamed up with the resident pizzaiolo to craft our own pizzas topped with locally and ethically sourced ingredients. Still energized by the wholesome meal and spiritually uplifting experience, the local promoters then ventured into the heart of Ascoli Piceno to explore the vibrant tapestry of history and culture that the town has to offer, and the partners headed back to the hotel to get down to business.
We ended the day with a celebratory meal followed by lots of dancing (great for sweating out all the calories from the last 4 days of pasta and bread!) and eventually saying our goodbyes (for now 😉 )
Our time in Ascoli Piceno was more than just a meeting; it was a profound experience of unity, cultural exchange, and shared purpose. This journey has set the stage for a collaborative endeavor that promises to enrich rural communities across Europe, sowing the seeds of cultural exchange, nurturing professional and artistic growth, and fostering connections that will endure for years to come. After 5 incredible days spent sharing, learning, laughing, and connecting, we come home feeling inspired and very excited to see what we will build together!
Some takeaways from Nimrod, Éva, and Marci:
Nimrod: „The experiences of Sparse+ kickoff meeting are unforgettable for me. I am very glad that I could meet the people participating in the program, and through the trainings, I got to learn about the cultural diversity, traditions, experiences, and expertise of their own countries. During the workshop activities, we had the opportunity to discuss the issues related to promoter work and gain a better understanding of the specific cultural situations in other countries today. I hope everyone returns to their own communities with beautiful experiences, practical professional knowledge, and a lot of ambition, so that the Sparse+ project can be successfully realized.”
Marci: “One of the strengths of this project is that it is designed to take advantage of everyones own strengths and capabilities. – The partner organizations seek out and recommend good performances – in the truest sense of the word – based on their expertise in contemporary performing arts. And local colleagues, as experts in the locality or area, choose the one most appropriate for the local audience. They then work together to organize the performance. I’ve seen many rural development projects, but few of them have had this truly collaborative approach!”
Éva: “My favorite moment was the first moment we all met at the airport!”
“What I learned from this kickoff is that speaking the same language is not essential in order to understand each other and to achieve common goals.”