Cultural Rag: An evening in wonderland for a good cause
May 6, 2009 3 Comments
A simple look at the three full page list of events – front and back – made me realise that there was little point in setting myself a fixed programme for the Cultural Rag evening in Maastricht.
So I chose to just stroll through the Kumulus theatre, inhaling the scents of spring, and taking in the good mood that radiated from every corner.
Each and every part of the building had been turned into a world of its own, with performances taking place everywhere. I stumbled upon strange figures dressed in chicken attire or wearing a jukebox. The corridor walls were covered with paintings.
The Cultural Rag, the arts festival of the Rag Week, was organised by UM Cultuur, an overarching group including all student associations at Maastricht University involved in cultural activities.
What is Rag Week?
The Rag Week is an initiative that is said to have originated in Victorian England when students, sacrificing part of their study time, collected rags to donate them to the needy. Although the origin of the name is still wrapped in mystery, the concept gained success and, after more than a century, spread to the Netherlands.
Maastricht this year hosted its tenth Rag Week, with all the proceeds going to two different charity organisations – one national, one international. Fundraising activities were manifold, from barbecues to poker evenings to, obviously, parties.
This year’s national charity is a local initiative, Samen Spelen, aiming at encouraging parents to stimulate their children’s development through play.
“The international charity was really hard to pick,” said the president of the Rag Week Board, student Eva Romswinkel. “But we decided not to go for a big one and chose to support the Bachi Amaa foundation, an initiative of a student at the Law Faculty”. Bachi Amaa runs an orphanage in Nepal, which now hosts six children.
In line with the slogan “Actions not words”, Maastricht’s Rag Week this year collected EUR 31,500, doubling last year’s earnings.
“Rag Week wants you”
For the Cultural Rag, UM cultuur with the collaboration of Studium Generale turned the Kumulus theatre into a stage for arts and every possible creative expression. Activities took place simultaneously in every corner of the building, in the courtyard, in the various rooms and even in the corridors. The principle was that of “Rag Week wants you”, the slogan with which organisers called upon students in the months previous to the event.
Some students were also specifically selected to participate in the event. “Studium Generale organises activities where students get to perform some acts. Now, to the good ones I’m always asking: ‘Do you want to do something for the Rag Week?’”, explained organiser Katrin Henss of Studium Generale.
I spotted two pantomimes in little cabins along the hallway. Brita Lemmens, Arts and Culture student, said they had been asked to come up with something for the Cultural Rag: “We are preparing a play, so this is also good practice”.
I continued with my tour and was caught by a smiling lady who said she was going to talk about positive thinking. For the next hour I entered a world of peace and harmony, too often forgotten today. The organiser of the workshop, Roos Nabben from the Brama Kumaris Spiritual Academy, invited us to think about the beauty within ourselves for once, by removing the negative thoughts which infest our minds. “We are too much used to unnecessary and negative thoughts, and we are forgetting how to do positive thinking”, she said.
Purified and charged with renewed energy, my journey in wonderland continued. The room next door was dimly lit and several empty pedestals provided for a quaint setting for the ‘sing-a-song-writer’ event. Here young talents, with the help of their voices and guitars only, were performing self-written songs to the delight of a small but enthusiastic audience.
Music could be heard all around the Kumulus theatre. Besides the various bands and solo singers who played on the main stage, I also spotted many other artists, such as breakdancers, magicians, Indian dancers and fire-eaters. In the frenzy of the evening, I took part in some group dances while a laughing crowd cheered. Cakes, Chinese spring rolls and sangria served on small buffet tables provided for the necessary fuel for the evening.
Connecting people in Maastricht
Smiley young people were seen chatting, dancing or just observing the performances, mesmerised. Although the Rag Week’s website stated that the second goal of the event, after charity, was “to improve the contact between students and residents of Maastricht”, only students populated the theatre. “We always say that, but it’s not working,” Katrin Henss pointed out. “We try to do the same thing at Studium Generale, to connect the city and the students, but it’s clear that some activities only appeal to students”.
Rag Week Board President Eva Romswinkel agrees but is still optimistic. “We will try to do more promotion next year and to put a flier into every mailbox” she said. “I would like to add more activities by residents, if they could do something. I would really like Rag Week to be a Maastricht project, not only a student project.”
This year’s Cultural Rag yielded around EUR 1,200. Henss seemed quite satisfied about this result, but a bit more sceptical on the Rag Week as a whole. “I see a very big problem. An organising team, who is doing this once a year, who has never done this before, is just not working. Every year the same mistakes are made, like late promotion. If you want something successful you need to promote it at least a month in advance”, she said. In her view, the fundraising would also be more effective if students and the Maastricht community organised the event together.
Furthermore, the concept of charity does not thrill everyone. “Young people like the idea of having a festival. What I see is that it’s getting more and more difficult to get them motivated to do something for charity”, Henss said.
Charity might be out of fashion, and it most probably wasn’t the primary motive of many participants. But the crowd that attended the Rag Week, and especially the Cultural Rag, clearly seemed to enjoy breathing a new creative atmosphere. It felt good to be able to be spontaneous and join in the many activities, without the constraint of a programme.
For a relatively small city, Maastricht offers a good deal of cultural initiatives, but the kind of interactivity and diversity seen at the Kumulus theatre during the Cultural Rag doesn’t happen often enough. This model should be picked up, maybe next time in a way that would unite local residents and students. As I walked on the gravel towards the exit of the theatre, past some candles in the fresh night, I knew I wasn’t the only one thinking that wonderland is a place one should visit more often.
Text and photographs by Sofia Tussis
Sofia Tussis is an Italian student at Maastricht University, specialising in European Studies. She loves the town, its people and its bicycles, its weather a little less.