Magazine article American Theatre

On Global Citizenship

Magazine article American Theatre

On Global Citizenship

Article excerpt

Last June, Theatre Communications Group kicked off a yearlong celebration of its 50th anniversary. Throughout this year, TCG will explore and celebrate four core values that are important to its own work and to the work of the theatre field: artistry, diversity, global citizenship and activism. American Theatre has commissioned four reflective essays, each touching on one of these values. In this third installment, Ann Mari Engel of the International Theatre Institute (an organization for which TCG serves as the U.S. center) shares her thoughts on how global citizenship is shaping a new ITI committee.

THE INTERNATIONAL THEATRE INSTITUTE (ITI) was founded 63 years ago with the aim to promote understanding and peace between theatre people. It was formed on the initiative of UNESCO, in reaction to the shock of the World Wars, and the organization and its national centers have been working in this spirit ever since.

ITI's members have often reacted publicly to violations of the rights of theatre artists. Nevertheless, some of us believe that artists' rights should have a more important place in our international work, and that we have to raise our voices higher on these issues. In 2010, we started a working group, which resulted in a motion to the ITT Congress in Xiamen, China. The motion was approved, and so the ITI Action Committee for Artists' Rights was formed.

In defending artists' rights, we can lean on the "UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of he Diversity of Cultural Expression." In 2005, the convention was signed by 117 countries, but few have implemented it in practice. The convention's first guiding principle is that "cultural diversity can be protected and promoted only if human rights and fundamental freedoms--such as freedom of expression, information and communication, as well as the ability of individuals to choose cultural expressions--are guaranteed."

Additionally, the UNESCO "Recommendation Concerning the Status of the Artist" states that all of its countries must respect the "human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or relation, by the Charter of the United Nations."

It is an important responsibility to watch over the rights of theatre artists and their free artistic expression, and to analyze violations and make those cases public. Every days somewhere in the world, there are attacks on individuals expressing their ideas, on journalists and on civil rights defenders. In many places, artists are subjected to censorship and hindered from practicing their profession. Our new committee will, when needed, make official statements to political authorities with the participation of national centers. We wi11 collaborate with other international networks and activities, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freemuse and freeDimensional, drawing upon their knowledge and experience.

In the work of the committee, we will focus on violations concerning artistic work (though we also recognize that violation of artists' rights often stem from their involvement in political work). We need to become much better at reporting to each other from all over the world. We have asked ITI members to learn the best practices from their local networks and non-governmental organizations already active in watching and campaigning, and to visit the committee's website ( for more information about its aims and tasks, and about the cases it is working to publicize.

In 2010, the working group disseminated information about cases of censorship in Ma Ira and Zimbabwe, and publicized ways that the drug war in Northern Mexico leads to the breakdown of local theatre structures. …

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