Culture for empowerment

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Culture for empowerment aims at empowering young or disadvantaged people through culture - based solutions.

This page is part of an ongoing, open-ended online collaborative database, which collects relevant approaches that can be used by city-makers to tackle unsustainability and injustice in cities. It is based mainly on knowledge generated in EU-funded projects and touches on fast changing fields. As such, this page makes no claims of authoritative completeness and welcomes your suggestions.

General introduction to approach

The culture-based solutions are a way for participants to open up about different types of daily problems. They also provide a stable social space to teach about fundamental aspects of society learning in a creative and fun way. Furthermore, it aims to give participants a sense of accomplishment and confidence that will help them tackle daily problems. This is e.g done through the creation of rap and hip - hop music where young people can rap about their problems or the possibility of creating an own theatre piece which will be performed internationally.

Shapes, sizes and applications

Co-designing hip hop and rap compositions: The project called ‘Educational Demos’ is focused on the elaboration of rap and hip hop compositions related to the defense of human rights (Demo as in Demo tapes). It helps to facilitate empowerment and build trust between young people and society and is a way to deal with their daily concerns. It is a resource, a tool to build a critical society, to create critical young people. As hip-hop is a music that traditionally was the music of unpriviliged people it is very relatable to people in similar contexts.[1]

Theatre of the Oppressed: Quite similarly, the theatre is providing young people from deprived neighbourhoods who are facing problems with tools that help them to talk about them and analyse them. It is a participatory theatre that becomes an alternative way of learning values, and a medium which allows for the exchange of experiences and the dissemination of ideas, facilitate contact between young people in an environment different from school and family. It enables young people to express their needs and concerns, the nourishment of critical thinking, encouragement of active political participation and citizenship.[2]

Upcycling refugee integration initiative: The initiative is part of the Refugee ScArt project and consists of a laboratory where recycling, social inclusion and economic support for refugees are tightly connected. Refugees gather plastic/garbage from the streets and create art/useful products with it. The approach/project is not funded by any EU project. [3]

All of those ideas seem to be widely transferable to marginalized communities in other cities, as long as the respective forms or art (theatre/ hip-hop) are appreciated there.

Relation to UrbanA themes: Cities, sustainability, and justice

The urban: This is about urban areas. Two out of the three projects where in the neighbourhood of El Raval in Barcelona. In general they all seem to be applicable to all kinds of urban areas (neighbourhood level/city level) and could work in rural areas as well, if there are similarly disadvantaged groups of people who can physically and socially connect.

Justice: The idea of here is the empowerment of people. I.e aims of the theatre approach are (p.2)[4]: "the empowerment of young people, raising awareness of social issues and of values such as equal opportunity, interculturality, nondiscrimination and the promotion of an active citizenship.” It therefore focuses on “recognition justice” as it is about responding to the needs, identities, and preferences of socially vulnerable users (refugees, excluded young people) in deprived urban neighbourhoods.

Sustainability: This is not at all about (environmental) sustainability apart from the upcycling of garbage done by refugees.

Linking sustainability and justice:. Only the refugee approach connects both dimensions, as the picking up of trash shall give disadvantaged people a chance to earn money/ emerge from isolation [5]

Narrative of change

More and more (young) people are feeling disconnected from society, because of different drivers and symptoms of inequality that affect young people differently in each country (e.g economic inequalities in the labour market, access to education, ethnic issues, gender issues). Arts and culture are a way to include all groups of society and are a means to express yourself. Providing young/disadvantaged people with self-confidence is understood as a key point of departure to grow as adults and human beings (as mentioned e.g. with the development of hip-hop and rap music).

Transformative potential

Culture-based approaches provide participants a sense of belonging, a sense of being needed and a more or less stable social environment where they can be themselves without any judgements (This is actively mentioned inside of the project materials). This can hopefully strengthen their capacity to question and (collectively) alter power relations. Yet this is only a very indirect, uncertain effect and is very difficult to measure. Speculative, such opportunities may also make the situation more comfortable for some parts of the marginalized groups and hence reduce the likeliness of more fundamental change.

The research project that studied the Barcelona case studies (CITYSPYCE[6]) problematises power relations between youths, young adults and policy makers in general and mentions several times that young people should not be perceived as a problem to be fixed, but should be perceived as a potential for providing more effective and efficient social support in post-crisis Europe. The approaches challenge the “youth as a problem” perception through showing what young people are capable of if they are in an environment where they feel respected/as equals. This is done e.g via the published demo tapes or the performance of the self written theatre piece.


Co-designing hip-hop and rap music has been done in the neighbourhood of El Raval in Barcelona. [7] The organisation behind the project is called TEB: A youth organisation that deals with young people and teenagers who suffer from different kinds of inequalities. The project receives funding from different levels of public administration particularly from the City Council of Barcelona, the district of Ciutat Vella, the Department of Welfare and Family of the regional government and the province administration. The people that run it are a youth worker, a technician and volunteers that collaborate intermittently. The project has existed since over ten years, yet it has evolved a lot during this period, e.g it has only achieved a consolidated status since three years ago. The participants are between 12 and 20 years old, which are divided into a younger and an older group. The project is specifically targeted towards youngsters (project words) in El Raval although if youngsters from other neighbourhood want to participate they can do so if there are capacities. The aims of the project are:

  • To raise awareness of human rights and promote active citizenship among youngsters.
  • To train young people on new technologies (programmes on audio edition, search of information, use of social networks) and on rap composition, including the elaboration of lyrics through rhymes, and learning of expressivity when singing.
  • To promote rap as an educational tool for young people, as well as a channel of social transformation.
  • To identify individual and social needs faced by young people and address them through this educational project, further activities of the organisation and/or redirect them to the most appropriate actors (e.g. social services, centre of information and assistance for youth).