One of the most popular quotes people in the arts like to circulate is that of Winston Churchill during WWII refusing to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort. His reasoning was ‘Then what are we fighting for?’ It is truly a heartwarming quote, appealing to the part of us that is more noble and kind. It even taps into our wish to improve the world for posterity. And for all those working in the arts it just reaffirms how important our work is. Unfortunately it’s not true. It never happened and probably would never had to happen as arts funding was so infinitely small compared to the war spending it would have made no difference.
What did happen though was that right after the end of WWII, Edinburgh Festival began in order to celebrate arts and culture as that which brings us together, through, over and above the horrors of war. It was a clear act of humanity trying to heal itself and still it was not enough. As only a few theatre companies were invited to this celebration, groups from all over the UK decided that they too should be there, performing in all sorts of places in Edinburgh and on the fringes of the official festival. This was the beginning of the Fringe movement, 70 years ago.
What those fringe groups in 1947 knew, and all those who have created or joined Fringe festivals around the world since realise, is how very political culture is. It is political not only in its themes, but and most importantly in who creates it and who can enjoy it. A look at who went on stage for example since antiquity will tell much on the position of women even in the most democratic of places, and a tour of any one museum in the world will not reveal a much better position. The same extends to people of colour, of lower economic standing, of the LGBTQ community and no matter how much we think we have evolved socially the need has never been greater.
Despite the seventy year long history of the fringe movement, Cyprus only caught up four years ago with Buffer Fringe Festival. It was obvious. The biggest manifestation of putting people on the sidelines is the buffer zone, whichever side you are standing on. The decades of division and no contact between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots and the series of failed attempts at unification have rendered the other antagonist, unknown, indifferent. Never an artist, hardly ever a person with a story to tell. The pain over war and bloodshed is nothing compared to the growing denial to acknowledge the humanity in the other and in ourselves.
This 11 of July, first World Fringe Day, just days after another crashing of our hopes for unification, we celebrate the power of the arts to create new imaginations, the power of fringe festivals to foster experimentation, the power of us to see the other.
Join the movement!
Buffer Fringe Performing Arts Festival 2017