Galway Community Circus featured as case study in Arts Council Ireland's Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit

We are very proud to be featured as one the case studies in the new Arts Council Ireland Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit. We believe that circus is for everyone, and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is at the heart of circus practice.

The Toolkit provides tools, templates and other relevant resources to support the sector to reflect on how they might approach Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). The Toolkit also includes step-by-step guides and case studies. You can download the Toolkit at the link below.

Written below are the details of our case study featured in the Arts Council Ireland Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit.

What have we done to embed/promote EDI values in our organisation?

Galway Community Circus as a whole promotes EDI values. These values are embedded in every activity and action we deliver within our programme. We believe that Circus is for everyone, and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is at the heart of Circus practice. ‘Circus for All’ is an international movement supported by the close Circus network that successfully supports one another and works together to drive change on a local, national and international level.

EDI values are embedded in each strand of our organisation, from Youth Circus (the belief that access to culture and a chosen activity is a human right, and an Access Award provided to remove barriers to inclusion), Social Circus (targeted outreach programme for marginalised and excluded youth and vulnerable adults) to our internal organisation structure (6 nationalities in an employee team of 7, 4 annual European Volunteers, Board of Directors representing our diverse community) and Artform Development.

Within Artform Development there are many annual projects that support our EDI values. One such project is that of Circus Transformation (CTF) Social Circus Training for Trainers programme. This programme has been delivered on an EU level for the past 7 years supported by Erasmus+. In 2022 we see this programme now being delivered on a national level for the first time supported by the Arts Council of Ireland.

The Circus Transformation Training course was developed through six years of research in 2009–2014 led by the University of Louvain (UCL), Université Libre de Bruxelles, eight European circus schools and the Caravan Network. EDI values and best practice is at the heart of this training and includes themes such as concepts of social inclusion, socio-geographical aspects of the territory and working within intercultural environments.

To date, the CTF training has been completed by 150 participants from all over the world including 13 Galway Community Circus artists. Twenty-one Irish artists are currently taking part in the new Irish version of CTF.

What steps did this change require?

EDI is embedded in the history of Circus practice and has been with Galway Community Circus since the beginning. In continuing to strive for better in this area our organisation undergoes constant change. Education, exposure, and understanding are crucial in any such evolution. We are very lucky to find ourselves in a community that has always included EDI as part of the conversation.

EDI principles inform our staffing and programme, and more recently we have been revising our organisational structure at a Board level. We are also creating an EDI Policy, born from our previous ‘Join In’ policy and including EDI as its own development area in our new strategic plan 2022–2027.

These changes and developments required our organisation to look inwards and revise all of our policies, practices, and culture within the organisation. We took the opportunity in 2020 to systematically break down our organisation's structure/people/ programme to see where we could improve and how we could do this. We identified any areas needing change or review, and we began to talk to appropriate people on these subjects. Thanks to the successful Capacity Building awards from the Arts Council we were able to contract outside experts to support us in identifying the areas of improvement and review needed.

What motivated us to undertake this process?

The review of this policy started in 2019. Capacity has proven to be an issue. For something as important as EDI in Galway Community Circus, we have taken our time, within the capacity we have been able to afford, to educate ourselves toward a more equal, diverse and inclusive organisation.

Societal change, the year that 2020 was and our own education and awareness of the barriers many in our community face when it comes to participation, have all been factors in this becoming a number one priority for our organisation in 2022. According to Census figures, in 2017 Galway was the most multi-cultural city in the country. The last census showed that around 1 in every 5 people were non-Irish nationals and 13% of the population of Galway City have at least one disability. This is the beautiful, multi-cultural reality of our community. Our programmes and organisation have to reflect our community, otherwise we are missing something vital within the services we provide.

What difference has this made to our organisation and those we engage with?

In the short term we see a more adequate portrayal of our community both within our membership and at a Board level, a more diverse employee team, the strengthening of existing avenues toward access to our programmes/ services and more people from all backgrounds participating in Circus.

In the long term we see a stronger, more educated, and connected community. Access to all within our services. A more diverse representation at senior levels within the organisation and Galway Community Circus becoming a lead Circus organisation in best practice for EDI on a local, national and international level.

What is the most important thing we've learned while undertaking this process?

That it is essential that access, equality and Inclusion are human rights; that if we want societal change for the better then it starts here; that we are doing something right; that we are making a difference; that the arts can change the world for the better; that it’s within our responsibility and gift to be a leader in this area.

Galway Community Circus continues to promote the understanding of differences between young people from different cultures and different socio-economic backgrounds and highlights active citizenship from the point of view of culture and physical and mental wellbeing.

Our Theory of Action is:

1. Ensure a safe, engaging caring environment (interactive space of care)

2. Provide high quality, youth centered programmes, based on active and voluntary participation

3. Promote lifelong physical and emotional health through the creative and physical expression of Circus arts

4. Actively reach out to the most vulnerable young people and reduce and/or remove barriers to their participation

We believe in ‘circus for all’ - for all ages, levels of ability and disability, and backgrounds. At our circus, we empower young people to be active citizens, confident in themselves, considerate of others, and equipped to take risks safely, try new things, and persist when faced with personal challenges. We help build balance, hand-eye coordination, body awareness, communication, creativity, problem solving skills and focus. The circus is non-competitive and body positive - all body types and levels of fitness are actively welcomed.

Wider society will benefit from an increase in inclusivity, active citizenship and social justice resulting in more socially inclusive, resilient, and sustainable communities.