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Opera co-creation for a social transformation

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TRACTION (Opera co-creation for a social transformation)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2020-12-31

Inequality is the defining issue of our time. It constrains the lives and chances of millions of European citizens and makes it harder to address existential threats. Europe is a cultural space, or it is nothing. Unless its citizens share, and feel common ownership of, the culture that expresses what are lightly called “European Values” there is a real threat to the most successful peace-building project we have known.

Opera is the unavoidable heart of this challenge. A cornerstone of European cultural heritage, opera has always spoken to both elites and people, expressed both authority and revolution. Its colour, passion, beauty and drama have inspired generations. But in recent decades, this art has too often lost sight of its popular roots and radical edge. European Opera may be the total art that includes every aspect of practice, the theatre of emotion that aspires to transcendent and universal artistic experience. Opera is in danger of becoming a symbol of European inequality but – crucially – it also has the capacity to rewrite that story, to include those left behind in wider prosperity, to renew itself and so find the energy, the resonance and the heart to be once again the root of living culture.

Traction provides a bridge between opera professionals and specific communities at risk of exclusion based on trials, understood as experimental attempts embracing new technology, to foster the co-creation of community operas and novel audiovisual formats. Moreover, TRACTION also addresses cross-fertilisation activities between these trial-nodes and new ones that will join the network during its lifetime.

Five specific objectives are being addressed to demonstrate the feasibility of this novel approach:
O1: Promote, through their empowerment, a transformation of communities at risk of exclusion
O2: Establish an effective collaborative and participatory production workflow for the co-creation and co-design of art representations
O3: Lay down a community-centric methodology to conduct an efficient and measurable community dialogue that will last in time and be replicable
O4: Explore novel audiovisual formats based in European cultural heritage, such as opera
O5: Maximise the social and market impact of the TRACTION results
The progress during the first year has been satisfactory, meeting the main targets while adapting to the exceptional worldwide situation. Two months after the successful KOM, the first COVID-19 lockdown began. This had a direct effect on the communication within and outside the project in the following ways: a) human interaction for meetings and b) human interaction for gathering requirements and community dialogue. The first was solved through the intensive use of communication platforms and the second though a change of approach, heavily involving user associations to proxy the opinions and needs of the end users. The later meant a reduction in the number of people consulted but enabled the consortium to continue the work in a smooth manner, qualitatively gathering relevant information for both technology requirements and co-creation understanding.

One major achievement of the first year was the successful collaboration between the artistic and the technical partners, following a user-centric methodology. This fostered collaborative group dynamics, allowed for a common understanding of concepts and terminology, aligned the goals and objectives of the project, and resulted in a structured requirements-gathering process. A second achievement of the first year has been the successful development of two tools for co-creation, the Co-creation Space and the Co-creation Stage, based on the needs of the trials in the project. As a third achievement, the three community opera trials completed community dialogue activities and began co-creation projects reflecting the diversity of their social situations and artistic priorities and defining a range of research experiences. This diversity may be represented graphically as a spectrum of co-creation practice that has broader theoretical relevance to co-creation in other disciplines, including technology.

COVID-19 challenged the envisioned evaluation of the technology: both the Leiria prison and the Liceu opera house were closed for periods. Alternative solutions were found so that pilot activities could be successfully completed and provide evidence on the benefits of the developed co-creation tools; as well as new requirements to be implemented in the second year.

The principal finding from year 1 has been to confirm the character, diversity and value of the three pilot environments, beyond what was described in the project definition. This piloting environment has been tested to the limit (thanks to COVID-19), and it now offers a robust understanding of the collaboration, participation and co-creation that will be possible during the next two years of the project. The successful implementation of community dialogue and beginning of co-creation activities mean that community opera pilots are developing in ways that will enable the testing of new technologies, with capsule performances planned for June 2021. It is particularly encouraging that the partners have also been able to plan additional technology piloting.
- To use new ideas of cocreation and participatory art to involve citizens in the creative process of opera.
- To empower people and communities in three trials: inner-city Barcelona a youth prison in Leiria and diverse communities in Ireland
- To embrace new technology in order to explore novel audio-visual operatic and art representation formats.
- To provoke an impact on the relationship between opera and digital technology.
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