Bringing Danubians together through art

This blog post by Susanne Brandstetter & Hélène Masliah-Gilkarov inaugurates a new series exploring how arts is being used to promote conversations and mutual understanding along international rivers. These experiences were presented at the 4th Water and Peace Seminar organised by IHE Delft on 9 and 10 March in The Hague.

The Danube (Credits ICPDR)

Danube is the most international River Basin in the world and an amazing river full of life, animals, plants and love. The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) which from its base in the Vienna International Centre, focuses on the coordination and management of the waters of the Danube River Basin – a vast area of 800 thousand square kilometers, covering 19 countries and home to 79 million people. The ICPDR is the Keeper of the Danube and has the common vision of shaping the Danube towards a CLEANER, HEALTHIER and SAFER basin for anybody to enjoy!

The main outreach activity of ICPDR activates the participation of youth: this is high and most important on our agenda! On this topic, many activities have already been in place for several years, such as Danube Day, Danube Box and Danube Art Master.

Since its inception, the Danube Art Master competition has brought the river to countless school pupils and young people throughout the Danube River Basin. Our river basin is the most international in the world, so this project has a special meaning, showing millions of young Europeans how important their shared waters, shared culture, and shared talents can be. Danube Art Master is the Danube region’s flagship international environmental arts competition for kids and young people. It is an opportunity for the children of the Danube River Basin to consider and discover the health of their local rivers, and a moment to decide how they wish to help preserve these waters for the future.

This competition has helped children to better understand the various ways in which the Danube River connects them to other children in countries as diverse as Ukraine, Bosnia, and Germany. Even in countries not directly on the main river, such as Czech Republic, it has provided bright young minds a space to focus on and learn about water issues and the Danube. The annual Danube Art Master competition provides all children with a context to experience the environment outside of the classroom, and to do more than just discuss these issues, but rather to get out and experience nature up close and in person – and all the while getting creative along the way! Winners are invited to present their work  in Vienna, at the ICPDR Annual Ordinary Meeting in December.

One of our favourites was the winner from the 2017 Danube Art Master, submitted to the competition by a group from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Comprising a bridge built across a stream in the basin, this artwork was made from plastic waste such as bottles and shopping bags. It symbolised the endless possibilities of both recycling and cooperation in the region, along with the ingenuity and innovation that we need to preserve the future of the Basin, in its purest and simplest form.

Students from Bosnia-Herzegovina scooped the 2017 International Danube Art Master prize for the artwork ‘Bridge – rivers connect people and bridges connect their riversides’(Credits ICPDR)

Young people aren’t only our future, they’re our present. It’s something that the social media era has taught us all too well. Our current generation of young people are clearly growing up in a more closely connected Danube River Basin than ever before, and they share far more in common with each other than their parents or my generation ever did. What we’ve always been inspired by during this competition is the way in which today’s children so thoroughly engage with environmental issues. They respect the science and understand the implications, but they also remain open to new solutions and fresh perspectives. In our opinion, it’s what makes them great artists in particular. They constantly look at this precious water resource with fresh eyes every single year. We as adults have a lot to learn from them.

Over the years it’s been necessary to change the variety of media in which competitors can submit their artwork. It’s been expanded to include photography, maps, and video for example, opening up the playing field to a massive variety of approaches to making art. This has also given the kids new possibilities to take on wider ranging issues when talking about the river, and helped the competition to stay relevant and up to date.

Over time, we have also worked to make the competition as inclusive as possible, receiving countless submission from children with disabilities, and from a range of backgrounds and schools. I can recommend, for example, checking out the 2017 Ukrainian video submission from the Tisza River area, submitted by a young artist with disabilities. Additionally, the age range of the kids allowed to participate has also grown over time. At the beginning it was really only little kids, but now it also includes older teenagers (we split them into separate groups by the way). With the inclusion of teenagers, we’ve even seen competitors aged 17 or 18 years old. It’s added more complexity to the messages – although we’re still consistently impressed by the maturity of our younger competitors too.

Finally, we’re privileged to have a very dynamic team behind this initiative. We all work closely to ensure that it’s fresh every single year, coming up with new changes and slogans to inspire the artists. We at the ICPDR, work on this with the central-eastern Europe branch of the Global Water Partnership, GWP, who provide overall management in conjunction with our own ICPDR team. Also important however, is the involvement of country coordinators, who tirelessly work every year to recruit new schools and again attract more attention to the organisation.

Everybody involved puts their heart into this competition, and the output is something that really goes a long way to demonstrating the cohesion, cooperation, and creativity that’s helping to get everybody in the Danube River Basin involved in improving this unique shared river basin.

We love Danube!


Susanne Brandstetter is the Chair-Person of the Public Participation Expert Group, International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR).

Hélène Masliah-Gilkarov is Technical Expert in Public Participation & Communication, International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR).

Cite this blog post
susannebrandstetter (2022, May 24). Bringing Danubians together through art. FLOWs. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from


Public Participation Expert in the Ministry for Agriculture and Regions, Dep. Water, and Chair Person of International Commission for Protection of River Danube (ICPDR)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search