We regret to inform you that the 25th edition of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, due to take place 8-30 May, is cancelled. Confronted with the SARS-CoV-2 crisis and in anticipation of the new measures about to be imposed by the National Security Council, we have decided not to proceed with this year's festival. The decision has not been taken lightly. After much deliberation amongst the participating artists, our team and partners (who have all been working on this edition for more than a year), we’ve chosen to forego KFDA 2020 and prioritise the safety of our audiences and everyone involved.
This situation raises an important question about the role of a cultural institution in such unprecedented times. The Kunstenfestivaldesarts is an international arts festival dedicated to contemporary theatre, performance and dance. Our mission has always been to support artistic creation, and despite these difficult circumstances we want to stay loyal to this credo. Faced with a global crisis that has so deeply affected and financially weakened the artistic community as a whole, we are committed to remunerating our artists and collaborators for the co-production and also offering financial compensation for the performances that have been cancelled. Given the complexities of the matter, it is crucial to support artists not only at this moment but also into the future. Therefore we have launched a Ghost Tickets campaign, inviting the public to contribute to this action.
While focusing on the state of the arts, we are also aware that this crisis is having a dramatic impact on the whole of society and on our most vulnerable citizens. Which is why we have formed a partnership with DoucheFLUX, a Brussels organisation that supports the homeless and people in precarious living situations.
The festival was born 25 years ago with the desire to go beyond individual communities, to bring audiences together in the same place: a theatre hall, an abandoned site, a public space. A festival provides the opportunity to broaden the image we each have of the city in which we live; to meet others without having planned it. A festival is a gathering place, a place to encounter the unforeseen, a space that we hope to re-experience again soon.
While being deeply rooted and well engaged in Brussels, the Kunstenfestivaldesarts has always transcended any opposition between the international and the local. However, an international festival is linked with international mobility, something impossible at the moment and uncertain in the near future. We want to highlight the significance of an international festival during the period in which we are now living. We can observe how this emergency situation has been instrumentalized by governments and political leaders in a spirit of isolationism and nationalism, throughout Europe and other parts of the world. Above all, the role of an international festival is –and will become even more-so– to preserve international exchange and the diversity of artistic expression; to bring to our city a plurality of visions from different regions of the world and help us navigate its complexity.
Last week we were in video conversation with Akira Takayama, one of the artists in this year's programme. While desiring to go back to work, he mentioned how some people in Japan currently feel similar to the way they felt in the aftermath of Fukushima: concern for the present mixes with the desire to seek new strategies and reinforce the irreplaceable role of artistic creation in providing vision and raising questions about the society we want to bring into being. Now more than ever, faced with the need and the risk of restricting our sights to the essential, artistic creation keeps our imaginations open to writing other possible futures. In April 2011, one month after Fukushima, theatre critic Kôjin Nishidô penned this message:
“We need theatre all the more at a time of crisis. Theatre is a mode of expression that confronts death, and theatre people should embrace it as part of their mission to constantly ask themselves if the stage can be relevant in the face of extreme conditions. Despite this, at this time of emergency, many have had to turn their theatre dark, sometimes for days and sometimes for nearly a month. The reasons for their decisions were manifold: safety issues, an unstable power supply due to rolling blackouts, and the pure, artistic questioning of the relevancy theatre can have during a crisis. Whether theatres should open their doors in this unprecedented situation that has already seen many deaths and casualties, is a question that admits no definite answer. Situations vary from one company to another, and the final call is up to each entity. So the single thing that people committed to theatre can do is take this opportunity to question and explore the power of theatre. On the evening of 11 March, when all transport in Tokyo came to a halt, Sho Ryuzanji’s company put on a performance for 21 spectators who had turned up at his studio that holds 70. The audience rallied to show their support for the fringe venue. (…) Those 21 spectators who came together in the Tokyo studio that evening must have been engaged in the serious question of what theatre-as-praxis permits: how it enables us to shape our lives, what is possible and what is not. This, I think, is how the theatrical imagination should work – a thought process that is open to the world. May we have faith in theatre and may art always be with us.”