Born from a need to think together the present and the future of the education, the professional Circassian training and the circus profession, the FEDEC became a solid network gathering and representing the whole sector of the training of circus artists.
Vocational circus arts training began in the early Seventies thanks to many pioneering men and women. Former circus artists, athletes, dancers, men and women in the theatre and educators were all behind new forms of circus and new aesthetics that werein contrast with the traditional family circus. Keen to play an active part and pass on their skills and knowledge to help the development and recognition of the circus as a major art form, they founded the very first circus schools.
The schools were islands, each one isolated in its own region, often the only one in its country. They had the same issues and faced similar challenges. They needed to meet up so that their 3 main actors – the directors, teachers and students – could share their ideas and experiences.
The FEDEC was founded back in the early Nineties and, at that time, was still an informal organisation. Its first projects and initiatives were conducted under the auspices of EFECOT (European Federation for the Education of the Children of the Occupational Travellers), founded in 1988 in Brussels. The FEDEC had not yet been founded, but an initial college of people represented the circus schools (Vincent Wauters, Jean Vinet, Teo Greenstreet, etc.) and the education activities in schools outside the traditional circus families.
In due course, the FEDEC became autonomous and wanted to have its own structure. The FEDEC was created as an independent, yet informal entity in 1988 at the instigation of three higher education schools (Circus Space with Charlie Holland as its course director, the Cnac directed by Bernard Turin and the ESAC by Philippe Haenen), who invited all the professional circus schools to join the network. From 1999 onwards, Jean Vinet took the initiative of submitting a European project grant application. The FEDEC would use the funding obtained to create its first project called ELLIPSE, organised in Auch in October 2000. The 3 schools then invited other schools to raise the profile of student creation, and Carampa and Die Etage joined them. This first project was a resounding success and created a space for educational and artistic proposals from vocational schools and their students.
The association’s official statutes were not registered until 2004. Successive presidents have all left their mark and visions for the network: Jan-Rok Achard (1998-1999), Bernard Turin (2000-2002), Philippe Haenen (2002-2008), Tim Roberts (2008-2014) and Donald Lehn (2014 -2017).
Since 1998, the FEDEC has expanded and has become a strong network which brings together and represents a wide range of circus artist training structures. Its role is to think collectively about circus arts education now and in the future, share visions and look for solutions which are both realistic and creative to move pedagogy and creation forward. It also works for the recognition of training courses and circus professions.
A wide variety of schools and training programmes has emerged, reflecting the diversity within circus arts themselves. The structuring of the training pathways and the different levels of education which exist today (secondary, vocational and higher education) is an ongoing process. The network supports its members in their dealings with local, regional and national authorities for support for programme development and the recognition of training programmes, artists and the teaching profession. Help can also be provided regarding premises and infrastructure.
The FEDEC’s commitment to pedagogy and the recognition of circus arts and their professions is based on open discussions and a horizontal flow of information, knowledge and expertise. These principles of collaboration between the members were established from the very first educational exchange projects for students and teachers and were strengthened thanks to 2 flagship projects: EPE (2005-2007) – European pedagogical exchanges between peers for circus school teachers (Leonardo Da Vinci Creativity and Innovation Award in 2009) and, since 2006, the CIRCLE project at the contemporary circus festival CIRCa.
In 2008, the FEDEC was chosen for the first time to be a partner network of the European Commission – DG Education and Culture, as an active network in the field of education and training. It receives the Jean Monnet annual operating grant, enabling it to run two wide-scale projects as well as CIRCLE: the first directory of circus arts training programmes and the MIROIR01 survey – a dialogue between schools and employers on graduates’ competencies and their professional integration.
The operating grant also aims to professionalise the networks and in 2009, the FEDEC set up an office for member services and coordination. In 2010, at the GA hosted by member school Rogelio Rivel, it created the themed Focus Groups to delve deeper into the issues concerning students, teachers and directors, pursue partnerships with the professional sector and encourage research. Since then, members gather twice a year – first at the FEDEC Internal Conference which takes place every year in March/April and is hosted by a member, and then at the FEDEC Encounters at the CIRCa Festival held at the end of October. The FEDEC organises its internal meetings there as well as a large number of inter-network meetings with representatives of other sub-sectors, such as the leisure and youth circus with EYCO and the professionnal sector with venues and organisations hosting and producing circus with Circostrada – the European Network for Street Arts and Contemporary Circus, JTCE/Circus Next, Territoires de Cirque – Association of artistic presentation and production structures in France.