How can the Arts be used to build peace?

Posted on: 5th November 2010

How do you perform this? How do you dance this? How do you sing this?

How can the Arts be used to build peace?


Genocide in Rwanda through the eyes of a ten year old, a monologue from the different voices of Gaza, and an interactive museum to memorialize the stories of displaced peoples in South Africa's District 6.


Speakers from countries most affected by conflict were invited by ICAN (International Culture Arts Network) to provide an insight into the Arts as a peace-building tool in the city last week.

Arts practitioners and artists from the world's most troubled areas, including Palestine, South Africa, Rwanda as well as Northern Ireland spoke at two International ICAN Conferences.

How the visual and performing Arts can be used to combat conflict and change attitudes, was the burning question providing the rationale for two separate two day conferences held at The Playhouse Derry/ Londonderry from Thursday October 21 to 26.

Innovative outside-the-box approaches were discussed at the conferences, as speakers offered alternative methodologies to dealing with divided societies.

ICAN is a new vibrant project designed by the Playhouse, in partnership with North 55, Co. Donegal. The first Conference examined Visual art & Culture, and the second explored the theme of Performing Arts.

Head of Participation Arts at the Arts Council of Ireland Orla Moloney chaired the visual arts conference.

"This is was great opportunity for me to connect with practitioners from across the world, and from other sectors including education, community development, as well as the Arts" she said.

"I was very impressed by the speakers who are so engaged in their practice, and their presentations reflect that. They are all coming from different areas and very different contexts, and yet there are a number of common experiences and concerns relating to their work."

Director of District 6 Museum in Cape Town Bonita Bennett highlighted how the arts have impacted upon displaced people in post apartheid South Africa.

She said the conference was an important means of learning how other arts practitioners' use the arts of facilitate conversation about human right in areas of conflict.

"I'm finding that I've been able to connect with people and learn how our situations are very different, but the issues that we're talking about are very similar" she said.

"I'm hoping what comes out of this conference is a continuance of this discussion. I'm getting the sense that we are going to keep this dialogue going. It's about informing and enriching each other's work."

Human rights champion Inez McCormick talked about how important it is to communicate through the Arts and said City of Culture 2013 should create the perfect platform to benefit the most disadvantaged and ignored.

Chicago Curator Mary Jane Jacob talked about how the artist can contribute to positive long lasting outcomes, and the importance of open thinking.

Other powerful speakers included the Nerve Centre's John Peto, award winning Producer/Director Margo Harkin, Filmmaker Ursula Biemann and Janna Graham of Serpentine Gallery, London.

The BBC's Marie Louise Muir chaired the performing arts conference. Speakers included Brandeis University's Cynthia Cohen, Theatre of Witness artistic director Teya Sepinuk, Mike Moloney of the Prison Arts Foundation and Tom Magill of the Educational Shakespeare Company.

American playwright Erik Ehn discussed the relationship between conflict and theatre as a means of testimony and analysis of war.

"Silence and darkness is the starting point of theatre" he said.

"Theatre and peace are siblings. Theatre must firm its footing in community, it must be self described."

Director of Rwanda theatre company Mashirika Hope Azeda discussed the Rwandan genocide and how children are the key to transforming the society let behind in the aftermath of the genocide.

"It is said dark subjects should not be taught to children- on the contrary" she said.

The children should be taught it first. There is a Rwandan proverb, ‘You cannot straighten an old tree'... What is tomorrow in a child's eye?"

For more information about the ICAN project, email or visit the ICAN website on


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