Venesa Matram Symposium 2014

The Venesa Matram Symposium is a networking, skill building and collaboration supporting event for arts, cultural and community facilitators in Sri Lanka. 

The Symposium aims to create much needed spaces for dialogue, networking, cultural awareness and professional skill sharing to support more connected and effective community building by creative practitioners in Sri Lanka. 

The inaugural 2012 Symposium focused on these needs and incorporated them into the way the event was designed and produced. The event was highly successful and valued by participants, creating new collaborations, strengthening skills in facilitation and project management and generating discussions about broad, cultural issues that typically do not take place amongst professionals in Sri Lanka. We produced the first Symposium based on the findings of our engagement with arts, cultural and community facilitators in 2010 and 2011. 

One of the primary motivations for the Symposium is to create spaces and structures that allow participants to develop grass roots responses to needs that exist in the communities they work in, considering and sharing strategies that address social and cultural ‘norms’ entrenched through a long history of colonisation and civil war.

The Symposium is designed through the active participation of a network of grass roots community based organisations and delivered using ‘open space’ principles, to ensure participants remain, from concept to delivery, an integral part of the event.

Host organisation

Kaveri Kala Manram (KKM) is a drama group originally formed by young people from two villages near Chulipuram in Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka. Director, Reverend Joshua Sivanganam, represented the organisation and participated in the Symposium Management Committee. 

This community has been affected by leprosy and since 2004 has been part of a rehabilitation program supported by The Leprosy Mission International. Young people who have worked through KKM’s programs have emerged out of isolation and discrimination and are now in a position to use their knowledge and experiences to support others in similar situations. 

KKM has extended its social action into the Vanni region (north and north-east Sri Lanka), working not only in schools to support children dealing with the trauma of the recent war, but also working with returnees from Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. KKM works with these communities through the therapeutic use of drama, working closely with the local village leaders and the security forces, and through this cooperation, help the villagers rebuild their lives. KKM nominated as host organisation for this years Symposium based on previous attendance and an interest in building networks and capacity in the Jaffna region. 

Thanks to Reverend Joshua Sivanganam, Director of KKM, for supporting and actively working to build the Symposium event in 2014, including providing resources to support participants and organising venue, catering and accommodation logistics.

Outcomes from the 2014 Symposium

54 participants

from community, health, cultural, educational, tourism,  arts and ecology sectors including 26 women and 28 men aged 18 to 65 and 8 Young Producers from disadvantaged backgrounds who are working with local community organisations

a cultural program

a day tour of Jaffna historical, arts and cultural hotspots

encouraging dance, music and visual art workshops within the open space program

cultural exchange focus throughout programming including photo wall, icebreakers and nightly music and dance sessions

Venesa Matram Symposium participants traveled from around the island to Jaffna.

2 days of training

including 1 day for emerging young producers who formed the Young Producers Group (facilitation, events, multimedia) and 1 day facilitation training for all participants

25 workshops 

delivered by participants through including women’s empowerment, early warning systems, preserving traditional cultural practices, organic farming, arts and cultural practices for specific regions, creative problem solving, ethnic issues, social enterprise and energetic movement. 

Cultural exchange

Between practitioners from all around the island sharing cultural and arts practices with each other and the Jaffna community and representing all religious groups including Hindi, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim

The Management Committee

consisted of Rev Josha Sivanganam (Jaffna, SL), Steph Vajda (Brisbane, Australia), Trudy Juriansz (Belipola, SL), Sumit Panjwani (Brisbane, Australia) and Nilanjana Premaratne (Australia / Sri Lanka) and volunteered their time to design, organise and facilitate the 2014 Symposium in Jaffna.

The Young Producers Group

were sourced from the Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation’s Voice of Image program and through host organisation Kaveri Kala Manram. They assisted with event production, documentation and facilitator support. All photographs on this page are by YPG members.


This year’s theme

The Symposium Open Space program was guided by specific themes developed prior to the Symposium by the Production Team. The main theme for the program, developed through research and engagement, was: 

“Cultural empowerment and social change: building inclusive, enterprising and innovative communities in Sri Lanka.” 

To better communicate this theme, the Management Committee also developed sub themes intended to provide more specific concepts for workshop design. These included:

  • Approaches to building culturally relevant social enterprise in SL
  • Experiences of community empowerment approaches and outcomes
  • Creative engagement practices in Sri Lanka

The Open Space program

Open Space is based on the idea that, given the opportunity, people are capable of leading, following, initiating and joining the activities and discussions that will allow them to most effectively learn, teach and reflect. We use Open Space because it empowers participants to design the program themselves based on their requirements around learning, teaching and showcasing. The process means that not only are the discussions potentially transformational, so too is the process of designing, facilitating, documenting and evaluating the event. It’s social change in action. Open Space embodies the idea of real participation, not as a spectator, but as someone who can influence the agenda, and specifically engage with what’s relevant and meaningful to them and to others.

I have learnt ways to approach a person, to refine my expressions, talk clearly about the person, and the information of the area and his/her culture from the Symposium. As a community organiser I will put these (skills) into good use.

P. Daniel – Hatton

We all should take our skills to our community. We should give these skills to our Elders and children in our community.

S. Kathees – Jaffna

Through this Symposium we have learnt many things. We worked with different people at this event and we learnt the skills to handle the work easily and succeed.

M. Kugathas – Jaffna

First I take steps to share the knowledge I received at this workshop with other youth organisations and then with them I will involve myself in social activities, which eventually will develop a better interaction among different cultures to make people aware of the social value of developing good interaction between the two cultures of Sinhala and Tamil.

Saman Thilakasiri – Colombo

The cultural exchange was excellent, and I liked the discussion. We shall give our best to develop our community.

Daneial Uliyas – Hatton

Check out information about the 2015 Venesa Matram Symposium including the application to participate

Information and photographs from the inaugural 2013 Venesa Matram Symposium held in Hatton, Sri Lanka