Earlier this week we received this question: Why a balloon? Why collect 10,000 balloons? And why does it cost a dollar for a balloon? A balloon might cost .05cents, maybe .20cents for a biodegradable one. Is that much overhead incurred by getting them to Kabul? And why aren’t we doing something more beneficial than a balloon? I’d love if it were some sort of education, food for the poor, or something that has more of an impact.
1. Why a balloon?
Throughout time, balloons have served as a symbol of hope, wonder, and possibility. From our research we know that this is true around the world regardless of culture, language, and skin color.
When we think of balloons, we think of Pascal from The Red Balloon, a French film from the 50s by Albert Lamorisse. We think of Carl Frederickson’s flying balloon-powered home in Pixar’s Up. We think of Professor Sherman’s adventure on Krakatoa in William Pene du Bois’ The Twenty-One Balloons. We think of Banksy’s iconic Balloon Girl. We think of all the balloons at every birthday party we ever had or attended as children. They were all good times. Every memory, magical. And for us, that’s what these orchestrations represent. Magic. The magic of joy, the magic of hope, the magic of imagination, the magic of dreams. But above all, the simple power of a community coming together to make this magic happen.
We give away 10,000 balloons to adults who are commuting to work at the beginning of the work week to celebrate them as individuals and as a community. We intervene in their daily routine to share with them hope, wonderment, and possibility.
2. Why is each balloon a dollar?
Your one dollar balloon purchase will cover the cost of one pink biodegradable balloon and the helium that will bring it to life in Afghanistan. One pink balloon will be gifted to a citizen of Kabul on your behalf this coming Spring. Part of your contribution will support art educational efforts (workshops with the University of Kabul, training sessions with project volunteers, panel discussions and lectures with local NGOs) that will be organized in Kabul, leading up to the installation. The series of seminars will be on topics such as contemporary art, cultural identity and urban public spaces. The project engages more than 130 volunteers from youth, civil society and artist groups.
The funds we raise through this campaign will help to offset the cost of all of the programming we are creating as well as food, transportation, and the uniforms for all of the volunteers who take part in the day of the orchestration.
3. Why not provide each community with food, healthcare or something that is more tangibly beneficial?
We believe that art and culture are just as important to people as food and healthcare. We believe that the gift of 10,000 balloons in the heart of the city will nurture the imagination (and the soul) of all involved for years to come.
Afghanistan, a historical region previously known as Aryana and Greater Khurasan, has one of the most rich and interesting histories of music making in the world, despite the tendency of musicologists to neglect its independence and important contributions to the music of the surrounding area. Since prehistoric (Vedic-Avestan) times, music in Afghanistan clearly indicates that the country due to its central location was an important contributor to the reciprocal development of music with people of Central Asia, Persia, and the Indian subcontinent. The subsequent historical, cultural & religious developments such as Greek, pre-Islamic Buddhist, Islamic, Ghaznavid, Timurid, and Hindustani, further demonstrates the intercultural development of music in the region. This multicultural music thrived for centuries and held an extremely important place in the lives of Afghan people until the late 20th century when the unfortunate discrimination began against music and musicians.
Attempts to introduce music education date back to 1924 when the first music school attached to the military college was founded and an effort was made to include music as a subject in the overall curriculum of the secular schools. In 1934, the music college within the Afghan Army was re-established and taught Western notation and wind instruments by Turkish instructors. Attempts to establish music education outside of the Army goes back to the establishment of music appreciation classes through the Ministry of Education in 1959 by Austrian musicians. After their departure in 1974, the classes were converted into a secondary vocational School of Music run by the Government of Afghanistan. In 1988, this school merged with the School of Fine Arts, and operated until 1992, when civil war consumed Afghanistan. It was during this unfortunate period that the suppression and even banning of music was implemented. The traditions of Afghan music were forced to migrate along with the refugees or go ‘underground’ within the houses and proponents who remained inside the country. After the social-political changes of 2001, the music department within the School of Fine Arts reopened in 2005 with many limitations and existed only by name.
At the end of January I had the honor of attending a performance by Afghanistan’s Youth Orchestra at the French Cultural Center. Dressed in colourful outfits, the 62-member orchestra enthralled its audience with melody of both eastern and western music — using a variety of traditional Afghan and modern western instruments including Ghichak, Dilruba, Rubab, Tabla, Sitar, Sarod, Guitar, Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute, Violin, Viola, Oboe and Trumpet.
Speaking at the opening of the show titled “Improving Lives with Education and Music”, the Deputy Minister for Education, Mohammad Asif Nang said that 200 students from different provinces of the country took part in the eight-week long programme of ANIM’s third Winter Academy under the guidance of expert music teachers from Afghanistan and abroad.
“Our aim is to creating cultural and conceptual dialogue through promotion of music and to portray a golden and colourful page of Afghan culture to the world,” said Mr. Nang.
The show was also a preparatory exercise for the orchestra for its upcoming two-week visit to the United States, where they will perform in the world famous Kennedy Centre and Carnegie Hall alongside other important shows.
The ANIM orchestra also performed at a UNAMA ceremony organized to mark the International Day of Peace, in Kabul, in September 2012.
All arrangements have been finalized for 62 students of ANIM — boys and girls – to travel to the US with the aim to reflect positive changes in Afghanistan during the last ten years.
“A country where music was banned 10 years ago, now has biggest symphonic orchestra, which is going to perform in the prominent halls of the world such as Kennedy Centre and Carnegie Hall,” said Dr. Ahmed Naser Sarmast, the Founder and Director of ANIM.