Art and peacebuilding – the perfect match?

The power of art to inspire change within people and communities makes it a valuable peacebuilding tool.

This was the focus of discussions held by the Swiss Platform for Peacebuilding (KOFF), where International Alert’s Head of Training and Learning Vesna Matovic joined Director of artsasfoundation Dagmar Reichert and Swiss dancer Meret Schlegel on the panel to reflect on how art initiatives can support people in conflict areas.

Speakers drew on their diverse backgrounds to explore opportunities and challenges for integrating art into peacebuilding, with key points from the discussions being summarised here.

One main area of discussion was how art can lead to new ways of thinking and express difficult emotions. It can be therapeutic and play an important role in trauma healing, helping people recover from ongoing conflict and violence in their lives.

As the summary states, art also has a “strong binding capacity”. It is a new way of communicating, connecting people across divides and transforming relationships. For example, artists involved in International Alert’s Create Syria project used a range of mediums to build trust and understanding between Lebanese communities and Syrian refugees – from painting classes to filmmaking to theatre workshops (pictured above).

For Meret Schlegel, this ability of art to inspire a different way of being with the ‘other’ is also clearly on show when she teaches dance.

“It is an entrance door to get into contact with people. Once I met a group of kids, they were fighting. I reacted to them with rhythmical movements. They copied the movements. Then they started to add their movements. When I met them later in a different place in town, they immediately started to communicate with me through their movements and dancing, as we did not have another common language.”

Art is also linked to social change – the ultimate goal of many peacebuilding projects.

“Art can raise awareness about new conflicts but it can also help communities moving on from violence to express themselves and develop a new culture of peace”, says Vesna Matovic.

“It is a way of expressing and transforming narratives of violence into new creative peaceful narratives – narratives of hope that allow for coexistence.”

As the KOFF meeting stressed, more conversations are needed between peacebuilders, artists and experts from related fields to further untap this exciting potential of using art to support peace efforts around the world.