The History of Circo Para Todos


Circo Para Todos (Circus for All) is a non-profit organization created in Cali, Colombia, in 1995. Its mission is to support the social and economic integration into society of disadvantaged children and youth.

By teaching them the circus arts as a profession, Circo Para Todos aims to empower them and offer a positive future path.

The background

In the late 80’s, two professional circus artists, Felicity Simpson and Hector Fabio

Felicity Simpson and Hector Fabio Cobo, two circus artists and founders of the Circo Para Todos School in Cali, Colombia
Felicity Simpson and Hector Fabio Cobo, two circus artists and founders of the Circo Para Todos School in Cali, Colombia

Cobo, were travelling the world presenting their number Two Intrepidas, an acrobatic tango duo on stilts and unicycle, when they started to develop the idea of creating a circus school for marginalized children in Cali, Colombia, Hector Fabio’s hometown.

In 1995 they received their first financial support after presenting their project to the French ONG Fondation de France. They moved to Cali and launched their first “Circo Para Todos” community workshops programme. The primary goal of these mobile and temporary workshops was to motivate youth in circus arts and to create the possibility of becoming professional circus artists. Children who demonstrated high motivation were then selected to enter into the professional course.

The action

The programme has achieved local support from public and private child protection organisations such as ICBF (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar ), Casa Marcelino, Bosconia and Hogar de la Luz. Alongside the Circo Para Todos project, Felicity and Hector created the non-profit organisation Cirque Pour Tous in France in order to raise international funds. Over the years they have received support from the Fondation de France and the Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, the National Lottery Charity Board and the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (UK), and other European institutions in Spain, Ireland, and the Netherlands. They also received support from Cirque du Soleil, via their charity galas, to benefit the children of Cali. A year after launching the community workshops, the organisation set up a training programme for teachers, which gave, and still gives, young educators technical and social skills to lead these workshops. The objective being to aid the expansion of the project and strengthen its long-term existence and success.

In 1997 in Cali, Circo Para Todos opened the World’s first professional circus school dedicated specifically to the socio-economic and cultural integration of disadvantaged children and adolescents, developing students to the highest level of international circus.

The year 2000 marked the first European tour for the school students as part of the show Heranzas, presented at the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, the Thames Festival in London and in Vergèze (France). The young Colombian artists took this tour opportunity to hold circus workshops in 16 Scottish schools and a French high school in Nîmes, as well as participating in an educational exchange between The Circus Space in London and the Compagnie Malabar in France.

2001 heralded the first graduation of circus artists from the school. This was a momentus occasion, and with their diplomas in hand, the first wave of  graduates were ready for their new lives as profesional working performers.

 

Circo Para Todos tent in Cali, Colombia
Circo Para Todos tent in Cali, Colombia

 

In 2002, Circo Para Todos decided to create the artistic agency Circolombia in order to support and protect the graduates of the school throughout the first years of their professional careers. That same year, Circo Para Todos and its French branch Cirque Pour Tous organized the first International Social Circus Conference in La Seyne-sur-Mer, France, establishing a network of exchanges between different Social Circuses from 19 countries. 

2003 was an important year of international recognition:

• Circo Para Todos is invited to create the opening show of the European Social Forum in Saint-Denis, France.

• The Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI) presents Circo Para Todos with the ‘Schools that Do School’ award.

• Circo Para Todos is the subject of a sociology doctoral thesis supported by Brigitte Bailly at the Paris-Sorbonne University

• The following year, Felicity Simpson, President of Circo Para Todos and Founder of Circolombia, receives the award Colombia es Pasión.

In 2009 a group of six graduates were awarded a bronze medal for their act “Bankina” at the 30th Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris, opening the door to a successful new international career.

In 2010, 17 graduate artists of Circo Para Todos created the show URBAN (http://www.urbancircolombia.com), commissioned by the London Roundhouse. They performed first in London, then Madrid (Circo Price Theatre) and Obernai (France), and then began a world tour that continues to this day, and has already led the troup to Paris, New York, Sydney, Adelaide, Auckland, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Munich, Hamburg. They are now in Brisbane Festival, Australia, performing from 13 to 27 September.

 

Concrete Results. Circo Para Todos today

To date 30 graduates of Circo Para Todos have purchased homes for their families with the income from their professional circus work.
To date 30 graduates of Circo Para Todos have purchased homes for their families
with income from their professional circus work.

• Since 1995, about 4,500 young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods and social institutions for children in Colombia have participated in our community workshops.

• Since 2001, all 101 graduates of the school have been integrated into the professional circus and performing arts  world (circus companies, amusement parks, cabarets, TV shows, cruises).

• Thanks to their circus careers, about 25 graduates have already bought houses in Cali for themselves, their parents and their families.

 

Social Impact It is noted by partner institutions that there has been a dramatic decrease in aggression and violence in the artists communities and the school district in Cali since the school inception.

Institutional Impact Circo Para Todos has generated a growing demand for more circus community workshops. This demand is strongest from child protection institutions and cultural neighbourhood associations in Cali and other Colombian cities.

Cultural impact Circo Para Todos has trained a new generation of Colombian circus artists, who have a strong sense of their cultural roots. It has succeeded in creating a recognizable  “Colombian school” of international circus performers.

Circo Para Todos was the first professional circus school to offer a socially recognised qualification.

It has become a model for other circuses and social projects around the world, and has directly inspired the creation of similar projects in Chile, Argentina, Brasil and South Africa.