Many young Mediterranean artists are currently developing artistic projects with social aims, thereby demonstrating that creative needs can efficiently assume social responsibilities, especially in the most deprived areas and with the most vulnerable groups. Thus, a social and intercultural movement has been gradually born of which Love Difference is a clear exponent, which uses artistic expression to discuss and cooperate with other sectors, with the aim of seeking solutions to the main problems of Mediterranean society. The role of youths in these projects is fundamental as it has been them who have encouraged and coordinated the activities in an interdisciplinary way, very open to participation.
When in 2002 I started working in Love Difference, Artistic Movement for an Inter-Mediterranean Policy, I discovered an increasingly large number of creative socially-oriented projects. The knowledge gained, along with an ever greater involvement in projects and activities related to the dialogue between cultures, greatly modified the meaning which until then I had attributed to young contemporary art.
In this article I present two participatory projects that value the creativity of the young. I am not dealing with emerging individual artists from the Mediterranean area; instead, I find it equally interesting to reflect on creative processes which through art allow young people to become the creators of their own time. I will not present isolated cases but rather two examples of a Mediterranean and international scenario in constant growth. These projects, through interdisciplinary participatory practices that value the resources and skills of the groups, represent the response to the contemporary need for expression and creation oriented to the common good. Today, an ever larger number of artists have decided to create their own time, “to carve out their own time” – in the words of Michelangelo Pistoletto –, through new shared practices capable of instituting common values for a whole society.
The Gudran Association for Art and Development was founded in 2000 on the initiative of two Egyptian artists, Aliaa El-Gready and Sameh El-Halawany. Later, the number of participants was increased and currently the group has 26 members. The main project of the Gudran group was born in the small fishing village of El Max, on the outskirts of the Egyptian city of Alexandria, an area marked by social unease, polluted, and with low education and health levels. El Max extends all along the banks of a canal. In front of the village houses, small fishing boats are moored which sail every day into the sea to return with the fruit of fishing, the main source of subsistence for its inhabitants. Here earning your living depends to a great extent on the weather and sea conditions.
These projects, through interdisciplinary participatory practices that value the resources and skills of the groups, represent the response to the contemporary need for expression and creation oriented to the common good
The early activities of Gudran in this context were a series of laboratories aimed at children, adolescents and women with the objective of achieving a state of “social peace” in the village, promoting the group’s artistic work and encouraging a growth of the social status of the most vulnerable classes in the community. Between 2002 and 2004 an international art symposium was created, called “Boustashy”1 which, through art laboratories, aspired to an exchange of experiences between adolescents in El Max and several artists from different parts of the world. Laboratories and workshops are the means through which to make the El Max community participate and allow understanding of the element of transformation inherent in the creative process. The laboratories, aimed at the adolescents of the villages, Fine Arts students and young artists from Alexandria, allow them to share a broader project of reassessment of the territory, a regeneration design constructed with the contribution of numerous equally creative singularities. In other words, laboratories allow the activation of the social responsibility of the individual and the development of an “aesthetic” sense in society. The video by Islam Kamal on YouTube shows the very young artists working. The recent international music festival “One Language = Music”, also designed as a workshop, involves a new participatory project by the Gudran group in the centre of Alexandria. Moreover, we find the same practices in another context.
The NGO Asiles, Action and Intercultural Solidarity was created in 2001 in Paris with the objective of acting from an artistic and educational point of view in the exile areas, the so-called refugee camps. Asiles has, since its foundation, worked in Northern Lebanon, where it supports the cultural organisation Maison de l’Amitié Franco-Palestinienne, also active since 2001 in the Baddawi refugee camp. Despite the announcement of imminent reforms, Lebanese law limits the possibility of Palestinians getting access to most qualified professions, denying them the opportunity to study. By obliging them to live in the refugee camps they are unable to find an alternative future, through a direct and constructive commitment within society. Therefore added to poverty is the extreme marginalisation to which the community is submitted, making it very difficult to escape.
Asiles is developing the project “Transmission” with which it transmits, through the education model based on the practice of learning by doing,2 operational dynamics for the creation of artistic projects for the common good. The target groups are Palestinian students and youths to whom they want to offer instruments of personal expression and vocational training for the creation of a local group capable of achieving their own autonomy and with a capacity for self-management. Such skills are transferred through the participation in art workshops in which international artists take part, didactic laboratories, the production of magazines (L’Espoir) through the constitution of a local writing team, and the definition of a training programme leading to the management of cultural projects in the long term.
Since 2004, a series of activities has been developed which explore diverse aspects of living art (theatre, puppets), music (dance, singing) and visual art (design, photography, sculpture), mainly involving the local groups in each of the steps: preparation, organisation and allocation of the budget and the provisions, and not only of the merely artistic activities. The artists have suggested actions and moments of reflection, exchanges of ideas and debates aimed at a shared training with a view to learning education practices. These experiences resulted in the need to see art as an important instrument of exchange and affirmation of freedom in “confinement” areas, where youths are given very few opportunities for the development of their imagination.
The activities of Gudran and Asiles have been conceived to open a space of freedom and neutrality through art, to go beyond the limits of the environment where youths are obliged to live. Artistic participation is therefore an urgent need. Art then becomes a fundamental complement to the education process. The artist’s contribution develops in parallel to the educational approach of the teachers, and complements it. The artistic process, moreover, supports the implementation of a network of relations linked to the aim of a responsible social transformation; thus, the issue does not revolve around the artistic object in itself. The activities of Gudran and Asiles are extremely important as a strong stimulus to the development of a broad and articulated artistic project which considers the transfer of project practices and methodologies as an integral part.
Groups of creators such as Gudran and Asiles never forget the demands of the context in which they have to act: for this reason, since the beginning of their activity they have dealt with the problem of how to make the projects interact with and integrate into the local reality. Their actions, moreover, form part of a project which seeks to assume its own responsibilities over a longer period than that linked to the contingency of artistic creation.
 The word Boustashy, which gave the title to the event, indicates the moment when the fishermen of the village go the sea, when it is calm, between one storm and another (it usually has a length lower than seventy-two hours).
 Through this methodology participants learn to listen, to adopt a multi-perspective vision of a problem and to adapt their organisational and initiative skills to the context.