Making room for art at a Tunis school

Sunday 06/11/2016
Children planting in the garden at Kouttab Louzir. (Photo credit: Nao Maltese)

Tunis - Students at the primary school of Kouttab Louzir, in a poor neighbourhood in the old city of Tunis, were greeted with a surprise at the start of the school year.

A storage room had been turned into a beautifully decorated place for them to enjoy after-school ac­tivities. Complete with a library and the audio-visual equipment, the space opens onto a garden.

The Change Your Classroom re­modelling project is the product of cooperation between Tunisian Ministry of Education and L’Art Rue Association.

“The school is unfortunately sur­rounded by markets and there is no place for children to enjoy cultural activities. We had a dream of cre­ating a space that will change chil­dren’s perception of school,” said Sofiane Ouissi, founder and artistic director of L’Art Rue.

L’Art Rue was founded in 2006 by choreographers and dancers Sofiane and Selma Ouissi. It aims to use public space for artistic per­formances and tries to democratise art to make it accessible to all social groups.

“The association of L’Art Rue seeks to create artistic space for art­ists to be able to occupy the streets and involve all society so that they can adapt art as a way to express their concerns and issues,” Sofiane Ouissi said.

“Art has a role in society on all levels, social, economic and politi­cal and the right to culture is a right that is as necessary as the right to education, health and justice.”

Change your Classroom was launched in 2012 and had involved four schools. With the help of the Ministry of Education, the asso­ciation hopes to reach at least four more schools across the country each year.

“All the schools we have worked on will be today a part of the new strategy of the implementation of artistic activities in school. We are going to occupy them and inhabit them with artistic and educational projects,” Sofiane Ouissi said.

“It is important for children to ap­propriate the place and especially to like their school. We worked with them on the ways to improve the structure of their school and how to add something new to it,” said pro­ject director Aya Rebai.

“Through five different work­shops, the children conceived of a particular vision for this space. They wanted a library for reading and an open space to play. The prin­ciple was to change the classroom in a way that reflects their own ide­as and to learn to do that using basic means in an eco-friendly manner.”

Rim Mathlouthi, one of the train­ers for the project, said it can bring about positive change in the re­lationship between children and school, especially in underprivi­leged areas where little attention is given to art.

“In this context, children did not have the right to make use or bene­fit from this space excluded in their school,” Mathlouthi said. “They didn’t have the right to access it. In the workshops of reflection, the children decided to create a space in that deserted area that favours art and culture.”

“The idea is also to share with each other. This makes children better citizens, which we need in Tunisia today to be able to build a new country. By the end of the project, they called it the room of dreams, the dreams they shared.”

The regional representative of the Ministry of Education in Tunis, Tijani Gmati, and other education officials attended the opening of the Kouttab Louzir project.

“The ministry has dedicated all of its resources for the importance of cultural life in schools. These projects managed to create syn­ergy inside the educational institu­tions,” Gmati said.

“It starts here at this level. It starts with children sharing this passion and growing with it. These projects help spread light in these communities and encourage cul­ture and creativity among children, which helps fight extremism.”