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Tea for Two at ELIA

12 September 2017

Carla Delfos and Maria Hansen talk about the past, present and future of ELIA

This is a historic moment for ELIA.

On 15 September, the woman behind ELIA’s powerful voice, Carla Delfos, will hand over her leading role to Maria Hansen, a charismatic figure with a great deal of experience in the arts sector.
To get to know each other better, Maria and Carla sit down to talk a bit about this transitional period, their visions, ideas and thoughts on ELIA’s future.

But let’s step back first for a moment. How did it all start?
Carla graduated from Theater School in Amsterdam and before ELIA, she was an actress, theatre director and writer. She wanted to unite artists, however, smiling she adds, ‘that is not possible, you can’t unite artists. But then I thought you can unite institutions, that is something that’s accepted in our society’.
Her reasons for starting ELIA was to get recognition for art and artists in our society and it seems that this initial mission of ELIA is more relevant now than ever, even after almost 30 years.

Maria agrees. She sees art institutions as the means to make this happen. ‘ELIA is a group of institutes that support each other and educate artists’, says Maria. ‘They have a hugely important role in bringing creativity into our society’. For Maria, it is exciting to be part of a network of these particular schools that form and shape young talents before they become fully-fledged artists.

ELIA’s mission, a voice that speaks for a better understanding of the role, value and importance of arts and arts education in society, is more relevant than ever. For ELIA, it is a unique, European assignment to deepen and expand this mission in the future and influence and advise policymakers. Maria’s foresight is ELIA as a ‘must-have’. She says: ‘If you are an arts education institution, of course, you are a member of ELIA!’

Both are strong women who have had an established career in the cultural sector for many years. Very fast the conversation moves to future-forward visions.
Carla is convinced that there will be enough work for ELIA in the future, ‘If everything we strive for is achieved, then ELIA does not have to exist anymore, but I think ELIA is needed more than ever’.
It is an ecosystem that needs to be in balance and this balance is currently off’, says Maria. Perhaps all layers of society should take responsibility to give young artists an opportunity, the corporate world as well. ‘That would be really interesting in the future, a system where creativity becomes part of the way we approach life. I always say corporations should hire artists. Getting creatives on your team makes your organization better, they will always enrich the company – no matter what your core business is.’
Carla agrees. And picks up on this point to continuing sketching her dream of a world where there is more creativity in people’s lives. And not only:  ‘Creative people should have a much bigger role in deciding how things are developing in our societies’. ‘It is the government responsibility, they should be well advised to find the real talent and cultivate it’ adds Carla. ‘Too often, they throw the baby out with the bathwater’.

Carla and Maria spent some time together these past months preparing and transferring the necessary knowledge to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Maria observes ‘I appreciate how thoroughly Carla approaches this transition, it is very clear she cares deeply for ELIA and for this transition to go well.’ She continues by acknowledging that ELIA is an operation that is ongoing and it is very important for her to have a flying start. However, one of the special insights that Maria gets passed down is the wealth of memories from ELIA’s past.

When asked to share an anecdote from ELIA’s 27-year history, Carla shares a poignant moment from recent European history: ‘In 1994, when the war was raging in former Yugoslavia, the General Assembly in Berlin decided that ELIA needed to make a statement. ELIA is not a political organization; we do not make overt political statements. So the General Assembly decided to organize an event in that particular area of the world to support the creation of dialogue. It was a very unprecedented decision of the GA, this never happened again’. It was therefore decided to organize a conference hosted by the Zagreb Theatre School. A month before the event took place, Zagreb was under siege and the theatre school was bombed. Carla remarks ‘I really thought our people could’ve been there!’ The conference was moved to Graz, Austria and became very political. Gyorgy Konrad, an eminent Hungarian writer and activist, was one of the keynote speakers. ‘What nobody knew’, Carla reveals, ‘is that we were surrounded by police and security at all times during the conference’.

Activism goes hand in hand with ELIA’s advocacy commitments. Extrapolating on the influence and contribution of ELIA to the European landscape of arts education, we asked Maria why is art so important to her?
‘Artistic expression is part of human life’ says Maria, ‘it distinguishes the human race and so artistic expression leads to creative process. And that is what all the ELIA institutions do. They learn about and teach the creative process. They teach young people to become professionals and fully fledged artists.’ The rest of humanity, that do not possess artistic talent, or as Maria puts it, who are not ‘blessed with this incredible creativity’, can listen, watch and admire. They can be appalled and fascinated and ultimately feel connected to it and with each other. According to Maria, this connection forged between artists and admirers of art is the quintessence of human civilization. ‘It is the most important factor of our civilization and literally life on earth, otherwise what else is there?’

Maria sees herself as an enabler, a creator of space for art to bloom. She says ‘My mission in life is to create space for artists and that’s always what I have done in many different capacities’.
And as in well-written theatre play, the two ladies end their afternoon chat sharing a quote they both keep at heart: 'Alles van waarde is weerloos' (All things of value are defenseless) - Lucebert


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