Upsala Circus • упсала чирк • Russia

Upsala Circus teaches circus skills to children and vulnerable youths to enrich their opportunities.

Saint Petersburg, Russia  
Source: Upsala Website

Upsala Circus teaches circus skills to children and vulnerable youths to enrich their opportunities.

Upsala’s Proposal

Upsala Circus allows marginalized and special needs children to learn circus arts. These include communication, social and physical skills such as aerobatics, hip-hop and break dancing. In addition to being great tools for channeling concerns and confusion, these skills will help them to find future employment in the circus and as trainers, choreographers, professional artists and show directors.

The project also supports the families of the children by dealing with administrative procedures, providing clothing and basic necessities such as medical exams, and offering specialized consultations. Through these consultations, project staff work with families 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

Upsala Circus was started in 2000 by a pair of Russian and German friends working with street children in Saint Petersburg. After the state created shelters for street children, the alternative circus shifted its focus to marginalized youths.

It has five programs:

The Circus of Rebels

Upsala reaches out to schools that serve marginalized families to identify, together with the authorities and parents,  young people who could benefit from the project. The Circus of Rebels is able to professionally train young people in an area they choose: circus work, choreography, art, teaching, training or show directing.

The Pakitain

This is a creative center for children and young people with special needs such as Down’s Syndrome and Autism. It was established in 2016 as an integrated complement to the Circus of Rebels Program, teaching choreography, break dancing, circus skills, etc.

The Professional Artists Program

Photo by: Emilia Szekely

This 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

Upsala organizes annual free open-air festivals. It invites artists from other street circuses to help promote and give visibility to their project.

Circus Pedagogy School

Upsala offers short courses to underground circus teachers and trainers.


The Upsala team intends to scale its project by establishing a Center for the New Circus that consolidates its Circus Pedagogy School program and promotes the organization’s work and philosophy in Russia. It will develop skills closely linked to its values, such as the desire to improve, acceptance of oneself and others, the ability to act, and health and safety. In fact, Upsala observes the impact these values have on the behavior of young people, and uses this 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 three weeks, youth circuses from Syria, Afghanistan, Russia and Germany met to talk about their lives. They discussed how they face the world’s problems in spite of any racial or socioeconomic differences. For this, documentary theater, circus activities, art laboratories, etc. were organized.


Upsala offers free circus training and professional skills to children in vulnerable situations. To achieve this, it integrates support from different sources. However, it does not use government support as it is usually accompanied by too many rules and restrictions.

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

Source: Upsala 2018 Report

Upsala has many sources of funding:

  • Paid performances
  • Circus Pedagogy School’s student course fees
  • Donations from foundations and businesses (some support it in exchange for advertising videos with circus)
  • Sponsors and business partners
  • Website donations
  • Text message (SMS) donations
  • Crowdfunding through social networks and the media, organized by professional crowdfunding companies that help them with content writing, networking, etc.
  • Fundraising activities such as
    • Second-hand markets with outdoor activities for children — these encourage children to support the less fortunate by selling used items, food and art, as well as donating 50% of the gains to the Circus Upsala project.
    • Concerts, festivals, and promotional videos and publications– which also help Upsala to sensitize the population about the problem it is attending and to publicize its project.

Two other important sources of support allow the permanence and management of this project:

  • volunteers
  • the loan of the land where the circus is located, made by a businessman in 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.

Source: Upsala Website

To ensure transparency to its collaborators and maintain their support, Upsala publishes a monthly review of how donations are spent — payments to professionals and administrative staff, support for circus children and their families, maintenance of operations, festivals and trips, preparation of shows, etc.