Circus: Culture for the Millions

The first circus, as we know it today, took place in 1768 when a crowd gathered around a ring formed of stakes and rope in London. Its roots, however, touch upon many cultures. Whether presented on a stage or in a ring in the classical style, in the words of Ernest Hemingway, the circus is an 'ageless delight.' Young or old, rich or poor, east or west, north or south, Circus reaches all of us.

Circus has long been part of human culture in many parts of the world. As noted by Mr. Ján Fígel, European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture, and Youth in a speech to the circus community in 2009, the importance of Circus in society can be seen in the works of artists and intellectuals who also have been allured by its poetry. A copy of Commissioner Figel’s speech can be downloaded here.

Official recognition of Circus as culture is increasing. Some important examples include:

  • The European Parliament, Resolution, October 2005.  EN  FR  IT  DE  ES  NL
  • In Italy, a law was introduced on 24 May 1968 to preserve the art of Circus and recognize its social function. The law also declares local municipalities must provide appropriate areas for circuses. Read an excerpt here.
  • UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (“2003 Convention”) The 2003 Convention created a Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage comprising exemplary elements from countries and cultures around the world. Only elements that are recognized at the national level are eligible for inclusion on this list.
  • In October 2013 the Dutch Centre for Folk-art and Intangible Cultural Heritage (VIE) added circus culture to its National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The VIE issued a letter and certificate proclaiming the inclusion of circus culture. Read more on the circus page of the VIE’s National Inventory website.