Tandem Family at the Network Meeting in Berlin. Photo by Olga Zarko Tandem and the Power of Serendipity On Saturday 3 September 2016, Tandem has celebrated the five years of the programme during a its very first Tandem Network Meeting, at Colonia Nova in Berlin. More than 150 people joined: Tandem alumni, current participants, partners and members of the team, all to celebrate the wide variety of experiences, creating a space for learning from past projects and partnerships, reflecting about the future, and sharing current perspectives on the place of art and culture in society. As he took on his new role as director of MitOst – one of the initiators of the Tandem programme together with ECF, Mario Tibussek got briefed about all the organisation’s activities, and of course about Tandem. He admits that he didn’t immediately grasp what the programme entailed, but as he joined this Network meeting, his very first Tandem experience, it all came together: “now I understand, I can see what it is all about and what Tandem stands for”. Mario in conversation with his colleagues Jotham and Sarah “I experience Tandem as a real energy” says ECF Director Katherine Watson, “Tandem is a process, bringing people together. It’s all about serendipity!” she adds. Katherine has been involved in Tandem since the beginning. So many people met since 2011, creating partnerships, aka Tandems, projects and initiatives from Beirut to Berlin, from Diyarbakir to Antwerp, from Kyiv to Cairo, and much more. Throughout the years and the contribution of inspiring people working in culture and civil society in culturally and politically very different regions, Tandem has been constantly crossing borders with culture. “The energy is infectious!” says Katherine, a sentiment which is also mirrored by Mario’s experience: “Tandem definitely made something right” he says, “I don’t know yet what it is, but it is the feeling I have participating to this meeting.” Katherine interviewed by Felix for the video trailer We’re all connected Tandem alumni and current participants at the Network Meeting. Photo by Olga Zarko We’ve started the day with one of Hatem’s legendary ice-breaker: “we’re all connected,” he says, asking everyone to join hands with someone else. No matter where we are geographically and how we think about ways of working and dealing with our own cultural and political contexts, Tandem participants do find a common ground for their work in culture and civil society. An important point that François Matarasso has touched upon in his talk, Making nothing happen: art and civil society in troubled times, which you can read on this website too. Putting today’s crises into context, François called for more creativity, more empathy, more imagination, adding that “Art does not change the world. But it does change the people who change the world.” These key points have been further developed with some data, with Prof. Dr. Birgit Mandel who has been doing some research about the Tandem programme, looking into “what makes Tandem special” as she said. Bhav moderating and motivating the crowd. Photo by Olga Zarko These talks brought a lot of food for thought for later sessions that focused on small group discussions around different themes, one of these was part of the World Cafe, led by Bhavesh Patel – facilitator and process designer of the meeting, where participants were invited to discuss the question: “How can our cross-border cultural work make more of a difference?” Many suggestions were shared on a toolbox or toolkit up on the wall, such as trying to focus on more local outcomes and make Tandem more relevant locally, and starting a series about linking with political advocacy. François Matarasso, Nick Connaughton, Julie Ward, Jon Davis and Sandra Hall. Photo by Olga Zarko We also took the opportunity to catch up with some alumni, including MEP Julie Ward, who had joined the very first Tandem Ukraine-Moldova round in 2011. “I made life-long friends I really care about” she recalls fondly before adding that her political awakening has been part of being involved in Tandem. She explains that during the placements within her Tandem partnership, they had the chance to learn about how European institutions actually work and what it meant for cross-cultural collaborations, especially with EU neighbouring countries. “I wanted to stand up for the role of culture in European contemporary society,” she says. “Through Tandem it was clear to me that arts and culture is a powerful tool for building capacity and democracy.” That’s also what we believe in and hope to continue working on for the next who knows how many years. Have a look at the day’s photo album on Flickr and on Instagram, and catch a glimpse of the energy in this short video.