MeM’s participation in “The Future of belonging: culture, societies, and minorities”- conference

Conference “The Future of belonging: culture, society, and minorities” organized by our Finnish partner Cultura Foundation took place on the 29-30 of September in Helsinki. The topics discussed included inclusion, internal safety, participation, and identity.


Our project had a strong presence at the conference. MeM evaluator Sadjad Shokoohi presented the key findings from the evaluation report. In his talk, he focused on the outcomes of the projects for both participants (art mediators) and organizators (institutions). As the results show, participants reported a significant increase in knowledge and skills regarding art mediation, diversity, inclusion, and socially engaged art. They also evaluated the practicality of the gained knowledge and skills as very high. As an unintended outcome of their participation in the project, participants reported promotion of their wellbeing, as well as development of interpersonal and communication skills. To our great delight, the results of evaluaition showed high overall programme satisfaction.


Another project evaluator Alina Jašina-Schäfer talked about the context and broader attempts of different institutions and cultural projects to challenge the perceptions of minorities as strangers through interculturalism and diversity, and become the engines of social change.


“Since practices of stranger-making are deeply seated within societies, and their nationalist discourses, challenging the stranger figure who lurks as a potential threat to social cohesion becomes a truly difficult endeavour. I would call the work within cultural projects like MeM – “partisaning”, as it is directed precisely against these uneasy traditional structures and ways of knowing about minorities as dangerous strangers. While we do not yet speak of big social changes that would undo the problematic us/them boundaries, MeM has clearly initiated a row of small but promising transformative acts. It fostered the new understandings of the social that unveils the complexity of people’s belonging; it demonstrated how through art-mediation diversity can be done “with” the people and not “for” or “on behalf of” them; and finally, it brought along the personal and institutional transformations of participating individuals and organisations” – tells Alina.


The conference continued with an interactive session called “Future of Art, Cultural, and Civil Mediation”. Senior Nurse Lecturer, chairperson of Moniheli ry & HEED Finland Emma Tamankag, The Finnish Forum for Mediation‘s representative and director of VERSO-programme  Maija Gellin, and MeM’s curator of education and mediation Daria Agapova talked about potential of mediation as a tool for inclusion and peace-making.


The application of mediation is broad, and demand for it is high in many areas. The speakers discussed the role of cultural mediators in social and health care fields, Verso-programme that offers training in restorative practices and mediation to children and professionals working in early childhood education, schools and other learning institutions, as well as victim/offender mediation, peace mediation, and art mediation. The audience actively participated in the discussion, sharing their thoughts on the future of mediation and ideas in what contexts it can be used efficiently .


As a final event of MeM programme in the framework of the conference, Nadezhda Gretskaya, MeM art mediator and the first officially certified UNESCO Story Circles facilitator in Finland, had a talk on the Intercultural Competences as Skills of the Future, and Story Circles methodology that helps people develop their intercultural competences.


Audience had a chance to go from theory to practice and experience Story Circles themselves. Here is how one of the participants – Olga Nenonen from Tampere University – describes the experience: “Story Circles has proven to be a great way to get to know each other, communicate with different and previously unfamiliar people. The method is based on equality, attentive attitude to participants, empathy, and tolerance. It is a well-developed method with carefully selected and efficient mechanisms. Facilitator Nadezhda Gretskaya did an excellent job. Due to the experience, barriers in communication within the group disappeared. Awkwardness was gone. There was a sense of intimacy, increased understanding, and even euphoria.”


We warmly thank the organizers, speakers, and participants for this experience!