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Walsall for All Visit to Sicily, Italy - Day 2

Day 2 – Meeting with the Palermo Local Authority and Conservatorio di Musica (Conservatoire)

On our second day we were welcomed in the beautiful Villa Niscemi by the representatives from the Palermo Local Authority and from the Mayor’s team, as well as representatives of the SPRAR. SPRAR (protection system for refugees and asylum seekers) has until recently been responsible for implementation of support for asylum-seekers and refugees in accordance with the policy set out by Italian government (which has recently changed). We found out that the city of Palermo had been awarded a Smarter Cities Challenge grant from IBM. This meant that they were currently working on solutions for better integrated and smarter city using IBM’s technological knowledge and skills in problem-solving.

The current Mayor Leoluca Orlando made a remarkable speech ‘Cities in the Planetary Garden’ in Paris where he used the image of the Palermitan countryside, explaining that not all the trees in Sicily were indigenous – many came from other countries and continents. He argued that there are no migrants in Palermo, for “those who live in Palermo are Palermo. All different because people, human beings; all equal because people, human beings”.

It was reassuring to hear that similar to Walsall for All strategy, the IBM sponsored solution has identified education, employment and housing as the key components of successful social integration. We presented our Walsall for All strategy document and talked about different case studies and aspirations within it, setting the scene for what we would like to achieve in the next two years.

The proportion of migrant population of Palermo is similar to that of West Midlands conurbation which currently stands at 7-8% but there are some differences, particularly where it comes to age and gender groups. For Palermo, working with youth and under-age minors is critically important to engage and inspire them early on their journey. This is why the ‘voluntary legal guardianship’ scheme established in Italian law (the so-called ‘Zampa Law’) that enables settled Italians to offer mentoring and guidance, as well as legal guardianship, to unaccompanied minors is so important in facilitating early integration. For Walsall, working with families and existing communities, particularly women that may feel segregated, is equally important.

The Villa Niscemi is surrounded by green hills, full of trees and orange groves which we felt were typical for Sicilian region, however, based on the concept of the planetary garden, most likely not native to Sicilia. We felt that such an easily understood symbol of diversity is something that would be worth exploring in Walsall through creative arts. We also admired the brave leadership stance shown by the mayor on this complex topic.

The connection between arts and cohabitation of cultures was even more clearly demonstrated when we visited the Conservatorio di Musica in the afternoon. This over 400 years old institution had recently established an intercultural orchestra, opening their doors to talented musicians from West Africa and elsewhere, even if they had no prior formal musical education. We listened to the teachers’ and composers’ side of the story in terms of blending the influences and instruments and creating something completely new that attracts audiences in big numbers. The teachers observed that participants benefit in many other ways, for example their overall confidence and mental health improves during the process. Similar projects have taken place with other communities experiencing barriers and deprivation.

We have found some parallels with Midlands and discovered that Conservatorio has already established very good links with Graham Vick, the creative director of the Birmingham Opera Society, who is well known around the world for attracting lay artists into this classical form of art and making the performances more accessible and contemporary.


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