Model Forest Leaders series: Raising environmental and social consciousness through performing arts

Model Forest leaders are the forest company executives, government officials, academics and indigenous and community members who have made outstanding contributions to improving our forests and the lives of the people who depend on them. They champion local forest issues, help raise awareness of sustainability and work to support local communities, rural livelihoods and the environment. 
 
Today we highlight the work of Teatermaskinen (The Theatre Machine), an independent theatre group and partner of the Bergslagen Model Forest in Sweden.

The Bergslagen region in south-central Sweden has a 2000 year history of integrated land use of its ore, forests and water resources. Forestry remains important, but in recent decades new issues like attractive living within commuting range from cities, nature tourism and wind power have appeared. The legacies of the past involve several challenges requiring a cross-sectoral collaborative approach for future sustainable rural development and landscape restoration. The Bergslagen Model Forest, a partnership of private, public sector, non-governmental and education organizations, emerged as an answer.

The goals of the Bergslagen Model Forest include working towards sustainable management of forests, mining and water; biodiversity conservation; and community and rural development. To support action in these areas, the Model Forest uses four cross-cutting themes: an integrated landscape approach, a collaborative research process, communications and outreach as well as arts and culture.

In the heart of the Bergslagen region resides Teatermaskinen (The Theatre Machine), an independent theatre group and a partner of the Model Forest. Established in 1997, the cooperative showcases theatre and visual arts as well as offering workshops that address central issues of contemporary Sweden – unemployment, racism and the migrant growing community, for example. As Anders Olsson, the company’s producer says: “We have a vision of linking people to forests and providing them with an immediate connection to nature.  We want to raise environmental consciousness and put the record straight on sensitive historical issues that we researched such as colonialism and Sami People - who once resided in Bergslagen”. The theatre company’s focus on cross-cultural collaboration and cross-sectoral knowledge exchange is a key contribution to the Model Forest partnership.

Since its creation, Teatermaskinen has performed at least 25 new plays in front of more than 750 000 people of all ages. Plays are performed in different environments like community centres, youth centres, universities, at union meetings, places of work and study groups.

In 2011, the theatre company, with the help of the community, erected a public building to provide a space for performances and other cultural events. The Culture Reservation, as it is known, is located within a 5 square kilometre area in the forest outside of Riddarhyttan, Västmanlands län (200 kms northwest of Stockholm).

The Culture Reservation was designed to be a place where the memory of Sweden’s non-dominant cultures can be preserved. They work with the local community and with artists all over the world to support sustainable development. There is particular emphasis on learning from indigenous cultures and their way of walking on the earth: “the language of forest people”.

It is a cultural hub and education centre that explores, teaches, gathers and creates experiences in a variety of art forms – dance, film, theatre, music, publishing and even puppetry. Experiences are gathered from artists as well as the audience and members of the larger community, including researchers and business owners.

Teatermaskinen regards performing arts and culture as possibilities to create change and democracy. The company wishes to make performing arts a place to discuss issues and operates as a safe haven for ideas. It believes that culture must be related to its contemporary time and that performing arts is important in examining human conditions.

Per Angelstam, new chairman of the board of Sustainable Bergslagen, the NGO behind the Model Forest, notes that “nature and culture are key factors for creating an attractive region, and thus opportunity for innovative rural development. This is increasingly dependent on creating awareness that cultural identities are being broadened as communities become increasingly diverse. Teatermaskinen is an important part of this process both within the Model Forest and beyond.”

For More Information

Contact Anders Olsson:  anders@teatermaskinen.com, and Per Angelstam: per.angelstam@slu.se

Teatermaskinen website

Bergslagen Model Forest website