Taking place in the Hof area between Expedition Metropolis on Ohlauer Straße and Rosa Parks Grundschule on Reichenberger Straße in Kreuzberg, the HofFestSpiele is a community arts festival with a difference. Now in its seventh year, the festival isn’t focussed on trying to present the very best offerings from a particular field of art, but instead provides a much-needed platform for artists and participants to explore a common theme and question together, discovering and exploring what community art means.
The festival runs across five days and is interdisciplinary in its approach. Performance art is at the core, and there is also music, theatre and talks on offer. It’s family-friendly and right in the heart of Kreuzberg. A key goal of the festival is to empower the local neighbourhood and involve them in the running of the event. It has the purpose of showing that you do not need experts to run a festival, and demystifies the concept of art and events.
Performers and participants come from a wide range of backgrounds, some are involved in the Expedition Metropolis theatre in various capacities, with the festival acting as a focal point to display what people have learned there during the previous months. International touring performers also appear in the programme, bringing their own unique approach to community art to Berlin.
There is no entry charge for the festival – making it free and accessible is very important to the organisers. Donations are encouraged, and you can always spend more at the bar, but the most vital thing is that you are there.
We spoke with Ulrich Hardt, founder of Expedition Metropolis and one of the HofFestSpiele directors, to learn more about the background of the festival.
Can you tell us a little bit about Expedition Metropolis at Ohlauer Straße?
Ulrich: The Expedition Metropolis theatre has been going for 22 years, but we moved to this location in 2010. When we moved, we had some formats for this place and context and for community art, exploring the question ‘What is community art?’. Community theatre or community art is a UK term, and in the UK everyone has an understanding of what it means, but here in Berlin, nobody knows. We started this work here to give shape to this term ‘community art’. Our philosophy of community work is connected with explorative learning and expedition, this is the reason we are called Expedition Metropolis. It’s about explorative learning and of using art for the success and understanding of your personal life. We are not a place where we are teaching or educating artists, and we don’t prepare people for their artistic career, these are tasks for other places. We are here to prepare people for life and for finding their focus, their competencies and their strength. It’s a kind of empowerment project. Art and empowerment is very important.
And how did the festival get started?
Ulrich: When we came here in 2010 we created adjusted formats for the new context. One format came from a meeting with the headmaster of Rosa Parks Grundschule. The headmaster was very interested in theatre and we had the idea that it could be good here to do a common festival. From our previous work, we didn’t like the festival format so much, but in this context we thought it could be interesting for one week to stop their business and our business and to have a common point to change this yard, which is usually a schoolyard and a yard for the theatre and for the NGOs, to a common festival place for people. The parents and kids can still come for their picnic with their blankets, but at the side they see art. The idea was to have a kind of festival where people who usually don’t go to artistic things can experience art.
What about the programming behind the festival, how does that work?
Ulrich: The idea was to make this festival a calling point and a harbour for different activities, initiatives and ideas that are going on throughout the year. It works very well as in this context the festival is an instrument to bring together things that might not initially have a common point, to have cross-border and interdisciplinary aspects. This is why the festival was subtitled ‘The Art of Gathering’. This festival is one format how to experience the art of gathering and the bringing together of different things.
We want to empower the neighbourhood and help them understand that they can make their art themselves.
Are there certain things that people can expect at each edition of the festival?
Ulrich: We have regular modules which are here every year, and which are almost like rituals now. We always have a group who is already on tour in Germany with the children’s culture caravan. This year we have a group from Nicaragua and they will show how they work in art for social transformation. There is always a group giving some energy and providing an example from somewhere else in the world. It is a good platform for projects that are around us in the neighbourhood, in the theatre or in the school, to show what they do. And then we have other people from the global network, where we find places and centres that are working on the same issues and have the same understanding politically, but in another context. We also try to get a dialogue between the different groups, between the local and global issues, and so this is a thread of the whole programming.
We always have in the festival a kind of ‘tree talk’, which is an audience talk or moment of reflection where we discuss certain cultural or political topics. Throughout the festival, we are always trying to look at certain questions which are relevant for our work and the work of the guests, and of course in the community. It means it is not like normal festivals where you have a curator who is curating the best examples of a certain piece of art or a genre, or curating to a single theme. Here it is more that the dramaturgic thread is that they somehow can contribute to a common question or theme that we have, and this we try to bring together.
Are there any other ways in which you involve the local community?
Ulrich: The idea is to involve the neighbourhood, to use these five days to teach people how to run an event, and give them the skills to do so. We want to empower the neighbourhood and help them understand that they can make their art themselves, they don’t have to wait for experts who are organising festivals for them. There’s a lot of jobs they can do – they can do something in the bar, they can host guests. It’s a platform to participate and learn how to do things yourself.
Visit the Expedition Metropolis website for the full schedule of the festival.