Upsala Circus • упсала чирк • Russia

Initiative that teaches circus skills to children and youth from vulnerable groups to enrich their opportunities.
Saint Petersburg, Russia  
Source: Upsala Website

Initiative that teaches circus skills to children and youth from vulnerable groups to enrich their opportunities.

Nochlezhka’s Proposal

Upsala Circus provides opportunities for children in marginalized conditions or with special needs to prepare themselves in the art of circus by developing communication, social and physical skills such as aerobatics, hip hop and break dance. In addition to being great tools for channeling concerns and confusion, these skills help them find future employment as circusers, trainers, choreographers, professional artists, show directors, etc.

The project also supports the families of the children (dealing with procedures, providing them with clothing, basic necessities, medical exams, etc.) and offers them specialized consultancies. These consultancies work with them on problems such as the health of their children, school performance, behavioral problems, moments of crisis, care of children with special needs, etc.

Photo by: Emilia Szekely

Circus Upsala started in 2000 with a Russian and a German friends who started working with street children in Saint Petersburg. Soon the State began to create shelters and the alternative circus shifted to target young people in general marginality.

Since then it has formed 5 Programs:

The Circus of Rebels

In this program, Upsala reaches out to schools that serve marginalized families to identify, together with the authorities and parents, which young people could benefit from their project. The Circus of Rebeldes offers young people to professionalize them in the area they choose: circuses, choreographers, professional artists, teachers, trainers or show directors.

The Pakitain

It is a creative center for children and young people with special needs (especially with down syndrome and sometimes autism), which has been operating since 2016 as an integrated complement to the Circus of Rebels Program, teaching choreography, break dance, skills, etc.

The Professional Artists Program

Photo by: Emilia Szekely

It incorporates graduates of the Circus of Rebels Program (who have to pass demanding tests) into a professional circus team that performs both in St. Petersburg and abroad. In other words, it is a source of employment for the rebels who graduated from their training program when they become adults and decide to opt for the circus as a way of life.

Street art festivals

Once a year Upsala organizes open-air festivals for free and invites artists from other street circuses (which also helps promote and give visibility to their project).

Circus Pedagogy School

Upsala offers short courses 1 or 2 times a year to underground circus teachers and trainers.


The Upsala team intends to scale its project by consolidating the program of the Circus Pedagogy School in a kind of Center for the New Circus that allows to recover and promote their philosophy of the new circus in Russia. A pedagogy that develops skills closely linked to values such as the desire to improve, acceptance of oneself and others, the ability to act, health and safety. In fact, it is the impact of these values on the behavior of children and young people that Upsala uses as a criterion to self-evaluate the effectiveness of its programs.

Source: Upsala 2018 Report

In 2018, for example, Upsala participated in an event in which for 3 weeks adolescent circuses from Syria, Afghanistan, Russia and Germany met to talk about their lives and how they face the world’s problems despite any racial or socioeconomic difference. For this, documentary theater, circus activities, art laboratories, etc. were organized.


Upsala offers opportunities for circus training and professionalization to children in vulnerable conditions for free. To achieve this, it integrates support from different sources, excluding government sources, which seem to be accompanied by too many rules and restrictions.

Today the Upsala Circus is registered in Russia as a Non-profit Charity Organization that congregates 25 workers (designers, trainers, administrators, etc.).

Source: Upsala 2018 Report

The initiative gets some funds from the sale of its circus performances and the fees for the courses of the Circus Pedagogy School. Another part of the monetary and in-kind income that allows the financial sustainability of the Upsala Circus comes from donations from foundations and businesses. Some support them in exchange for advertising videos with circus. In addition, Upsala receives funds from sponsors and business partners. And very importantly, it subsists thanks to the contributions through its website, through text messages (SMSs) that people can send to donate, and through public fundraising (crowdfunding) that various companies help it to do through social networks and the media (Facebook, Instagram, on Youtube) — these companies help them write texts for fundraising and transfer what they collect without charge. To ensure transparency to its collaborators and maintain their support, Upsala publishes a monthly diagram of the expenses of donations (payments to professionals and administrative staff, support for circus children and their families, maintenance of operations, festivals and trips, preparation of shows, etc).

Upsala frequently organizes extraordinary fundraising activities. An example is the second-hand market with outdoor activities that Upsala puts together with local children so that they become aware of the importance of supporting the less fortunate by selling used items, food or artistic creations made by themselves, and donating 50% to the Circus Upsala project. In addition to this, it uses other strategies both to raise funds and to sensitize the population about the problem it is attending and to publicize its project, such as organizing concerts and festivals and creating promotional videos and publications.

Source: Upsala Website

Two other important sources of support allow the permanence and management of this project: that of the volunteers who participate in its programs, and the generous loan of the land where the circus is located, made by a businessman since 2002 — when thanks to a very successful crowdfunding campaign Upsala got the funds it needed to build the tent and the facilities that would help it to scale its ambitious integration and social justice initiative.