If you step onto an old wooden kitchen chair at home, you are sure to be reproved by the other family members. However, if a conductor does the same in a city’s most beautiful square and points his or her baton at a choir and/or orchestra, history has just begun. This exact moment was captured forever in a photograph as the beginning of a gala concert on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the International Children’s Festival in Šibenik, in front of the Town Hall about sixty years ago. At that time in Šibenik it was barely possible to find forty chairs that were all alike, which were used for local dignitaries while being arranged in two semicircular rows behind the conductor and his wooden chair. The gentlemen and a few ladies (back then, they were addressed as comrades) sitting in the front row were presented with bouquets of flowers. Everyone else, young and old, stood in the crowd behind the wooden chairs, the steps were kept empty by a security guard, and some men struggled to keep their balance while standing on the wall footings of the cathedral.

The photograph implies that speeches are finished, now is the time for art. The unpretentiousness reflected in the gala concert offers a desirable opportunity for us to step onto a chair in order for the audience to grasp that a chair can be a stage. Speaking of the stage, it represents the City that relies upon its children.

The launch of such a festival was initiated by a group of professionals connected with the National Theatre, who had already staged the first performances at the newly established Puppet Theatre. The festival was conceived to appeal to small children and pupils by presenting them a series of stage programmes, especially puppet shows. The purpose of the festival was to showcase the achievements of contemporary theatrical production for young people as well as to encourage a new audience to join various drama groups operating within the existing theatres in Šibenik. Later editions of the festival had these educational elements extended to all festival participants through seminars organized over several years for the puppeteers from the former Yugoslavia.

The launch of the festival was a welcoming idea at the time as the professional theatres opened after World War II were destined to be closed due to new political rearrangements of the domestic cultural  scene. It was at that time that numerous ideas were seriously considered, among them that of a festival of creativity for children and children’s creativity. It took the authorities five years to accomplish what had been envisaged – from the vision of the possible to setting up the institution. This five-year period saw three editions of the festival, which served to define the festival itself, with all the opportunities being made available by those who were entrusted with the implementation of the festival programmes.

In Šibenik, where the transformations in culture resulted in the closure of the professional ensemble within the National Theatre as well as the Puppet Theatre, the Centre for Culture was founded - which comprised the Children’s Festival - as the leading institution emerged from the new rearrangements. Thanks to a group of professionals who never left Šibenik and the thriving amateur theatre scene, the theatre never ceased functioning, with the programmes created for the theatre being barely distinguishable from those created for the festival. It was rather a matter of complementarity and support.

Conceived as an event that should showcase creativity for children and children’s creativity, polyvalent and expansive in terms of its ambience – to the extent allowed by the urbanity of the city – without any competitive ambitions but constantly striving to bring novelty and excellence to Šibenik, the festival grew ever more significant, while becoming an event in which it was utterly important to participate. This commitment to excellence has led to a long-standing practice of presenting festival participants with a certificate of appreciation, which should represent a sort of recognition in itself.

As the festival grew bigger every year with increasingly more participants, ensembles, children, professional associates, journalists, guests and ubiquitous festival-goers, it was likely to become a bloated event that would be impossible to follow. Consequently, those who were in charge of the festival introduced the role of the editors of festival programmes, with a roughly determined quantity of different programmes. It was a time of enthusiasm and élan when the City was readily available to assist its most significant festival. Cultural policies and political influences changed over time and consequently the relationship between the city and the festival was not as idyllic as it used to be. The festival lost some of its most romantic venues, including the Isle of Youth, which was supposed to be the site of the Seventh Continent project.      

Back then, there were heated discussions as to whether the Iron Curtain began on the western or eastern border of the former Yugoslavia but at the same time Šibenik hosted stars from the West and the East – Sergey Obraztsov, Josephine Baker, Peter Ustinov, just to name a few. Young (and all other) residents of Šibenik were lucky enough to have artists from all over the world at the city venues, where these artists presented themselves and their art; they were lucky to be able to walk along the Kalelarga (a popular street) that was a meeting point of similarities and differences of the world, where the moving itself was considered to be part of the festival. Young people in Šibenik had the opportunity to learn from these artists in a number of festival workshops. Adults learned how to take children seriously, while children were taught to overcome the boundaries of a world that was repeatedly described as a huge place. Who knows what they thought of its size since it could fit into a city as small as Šibenik. For many people this world created by imagination has certainly instilled trust in a life that begins at the stone venues of Šibenik and then it can take you wherever you want.

Due to the fact that the festival also included some accompanying content such as studio talks and press conferences, a need for additional programmes was identified; among them, special emphasis should be put on publishing activities that were performed in the later years of the festival through the collaboration with Juraj Šižgorić City Library.

As for the cultural life of Šibenik, this year boasts the 150th anniversary of the Croatian National Theatre in Šibenik and the 60th anniversary of the International Children’s Festival. Therefore, we would like to take you back to the origins of the festival that became synonymous with the city and all its residents a long time ago. Even today, the city echoes with the words uttered by Arsen Dedić – Šibenik, be a child.

Interestingly, the period of 60 years of the festival began 62 years ago! Anyway, the Council for Education and Culture of the People’s Committee of the Municipality of Šibenik appointed the Committee for the Organization of the First Children’s Festival on 5th May 1958. Since then the word first has been the most frequently used word in the festival chronology.

 

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