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Arts and Peacebuilding

Summary and Keywords

The arts have long been associated with social transformation and peacebuilding. In conflict-affected settings, the arts can serve to raise awareness of the impacts of violence, enable distinctive expressions of culture, offer opportunities for intercultural collaboration, and embody affective and aesthetic means of engaging with trauma and healing. Conversely, the arts also have the potential to harm, when they are used in the name of propaganda, for example, or result in re-traumatizing victims of conflict in an aestheticization of experience. An emerging interdisciplinary field of arts and peacebuilding is researching the arts’ potential to restore capacities that might have been eclipsed by violence and long-standing oppression—that is, arts practice at the nexus of reconciliation, community development, and social justice. As the field grows, scholarship in peace studies, applied arts, conflict resolution, and peace education is contributing to a productive troubling of definitions of peace and is drawing attention to the role of affect, cultural diversity, and coloniality in such work. Future scholarship in which the arts are conceptualized beyond the instrumental benefits to their multiple legitimate purposes as a “way of knowing” will more appropriately capture the complexities, uncertainties, and paradoxes of imagining and building peace through the arts in diverse contexts. Key international projects continue to decolonize universalizing definitions and practices of the arts by documenting and investigating a range of aesthetic practices in peacebuilding. This work is being generated and disseminated broadly across disciplinary scholarly communities, government and nongovernment agencies, and professional networks of educators and artists. The nexus of arts and peacebuilding theory has much to offer the mobilization of new directions in peacebuilding practice and an integration of arts-based peace education.

Keywords: arts, arts education, peacebuilding, peace education, cultural diversity

The Many Ways of Peace: Peacebuilding and the Arts

The benefits of the arts in peacebuilding are well known, particularly as evidenced in research and evaluation of arts-based work in conflict-affected communities since the early 2000s (Arai, 2009; Barnes & Coetzee, 2014; Cohen, Gutiérrez Varea, & Walker, 2011; Thompson, 2014; Thompson, Hughes, & Balfour, 2009; Urbain, 2008). The field of practice is expansive and includes visual arts, music, theater, film, literature, spoken word, digital arts, public art, ritual, and dance in diverse cultural and social contexts. A wide range of intentions and purposes can motivate the inclusion of the arts in peacebuilding initiatives, as proponents balance aesthetic and sociopolitical imperatives in different ways. Examples of this diversity of arts practice include using art as a communication tool to convey messages about peace (Tawfilis, 2014), an aesthetic approach to raise awareness of the impacts of violence (Ensler, 2001), a participatory process of finding common ground for intercultural dialogue (Hunter, 2005) and visioning a more peaceful future (Bernardi, 2017), and as ritual for collective healing and reconciliation (Ly, 2004; Palihapitiya, 2011; Walker, 2011). What brings this diversity of arts practice together under the name of peacebuilding is an aspiration to transform conflict by nonviolent means. The term transformation in this field relates to sustainable changes in the underlying conflict dynamics. It is does not refer to the kinds of agendas that lead to a superficial absence of physical violence only, nor to the imposition of outsiders’ cultural or other expectations for the communities involved. Arts-based peacebuilding is therefore inclusive of (a) community-based activities that create the conditions for exploration of new ideas and relationships via direct engagement in art making (e.g., The Netherlands: Community Theater Challenging Gender-Based Violence); (b) artist-based works that create conditions for new awareness and affective engagement with conflict issues primarily for those who witness or experience them (e.g., Uganda: Theatre in the Context of Oppression, by playwright Charles Mulekwa); and (c) collective forms such as rituals that are generally participatory and focus on “affirmation or transformation at the level of community” (Cohen, 2015; e.g., the work of Yuyachkani in Peru, Peru: Reconciliation Ritual, Augusto Casafranca & Ana Correa). As further evidenced in the work of theater artists John O’Neal, cofounder of the Free Southern Theater in the United States (New Orleans, USA: Performance and Social Change, John O'Neal) and Dijana Milošević of Serbia’s Dah Theatre, experiences of the arts have been found to offer safe opportunities to encounter or rehumanize oneself and the other, enable collective processes of justice seeking and responding to trauma, and offer a symbolic means for envisioning future peace.

Yet it is often much easier to define what peace isn’t than what it is. Many tensions in the fields of peacebuilding and peace education stem from this conundrum, because peace can be variously a goal to aspire to, a process to implement, or a condition to create. As Richmond (2012) notes of the various inferences and dynamics of the term peace in the field of international relations, it is often deployed as an idealistic point of reference: “an achievable global objective, based on universal norms . . . [and] an objective truth associated with complete legitimacy” (p. 38). Rarely are the conceptual underpinnings of peace critiqued, argues Richmond, particularly because idealized modernist discourses of peace, mostly generated in the Global North, dominate in policy and practice.

The work of Johan Galtung (1969) initiated the scholarly work of bringing these universalizing definitions and dimensions of peace to account. In his oft-cited framework of positive and negative peace, Galtung describes negative peace as the absence of direct violence, as in, for example, peace attained through military ceasefires. In contrast, positive peace is defined not by absence but by presence: for instance, the presence of cooperation (as an antidote to direct violence) and of equity, equality, and cultures of dialogue. Galtung further refines these distinctions with reference to the different aims of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. As Cremin (2016) notes, peacebuilding is the most complex of these, because it attempts to achieve an integrated positive peace in all three dimensions of direct, structural, and cultural violence. It is within this definition of peacebuilding, and the associated tensions and openings around what is definable as peace, that most examples of arts-based work sit.

Many post-Galtung writings, including those of political scientist Wolfang Deitrich and mediator and negotiator John Paul Lederach, have further expanded the inquiry about peacebuilding with respect to its many contingencies and diversities of practice, raising the questions of whose peace, what kind of peace, and to what ends? The task of decolonizing notions of peace and interrogating “the good” of peacebuilding has brought into question the unconscious bias of certain frameworks and practices that may impose worldviews or values in ways that neglect specific dynamics of social, cultural, and gendered power. Peacebuilding requires practitioners to “complicate the roles of the knower and the known” so that inquiry and action can “manifest the qualities of reciprocity” (Cohen, 2014, p. 142) that peacebuilders on the ground may hope to engender. Research informed by feminist theory and Global South ontologies and perspectives (including Asante, 2003; Fontan, 2012; Jabri, 2013; Meintjes, Pillay, & Turshen, 2001; Olonisakin, Barnes, & Ikpe, 2011; Pankhurst, 2008; Robinson, 2011) center around attentiveness to cultural and gendered specificities of context and highlight the need not only for effective but affective approaches in peacebuilding to enable some kind of sustainable transformation.

Acknowledgment of the arts as a “way of knowing” and a knowledge-generating platform and process draws attention to their value both for and as peacebuilding. Although not all artistic expression can be considered peacebuilding, the capacity for the arts to create a space for expression, experience, and reflection on interdependence is important. Furthermore, arts and peacebuilding initiatives can function to enhance metacognitive awareness of conflict and peace and enable the exploration of their wider sociopolitical causes and impacts. This occurs “as participants and audience members witness themselves seeing, become aware of the quality of their listening, and interrogate the symbols and narratives through which they construct meaning” (Cohen, 2014, p. 142). The international field of arts-based peacebuilding is interdisciplinary and has been variously informed by the practices of artists, communities, and peacebuilders in conflict-affected regions; the growth of peace studies in and beyond the academy; social and political theories originating from both the Global North and the Global South; and indigenous ontologies and methodologies that foreground diverse cultural worldviews and aesthetic ways of knowing. It involves international networks of practitioners and researchers engaged in the nexus of the arts, peacebuilding, education, and social justice. A key reference for these growing practice and scholarly communities is Lederach’s (2005) The Moral Imagination.

Animating the Moral Imagination

Lederach’s concept of the “moral imagination” refers to the ability to be grounded in the real world, with its suffering and injustice, and simultaneously to imagine and work toward a better, more just, less violent world. Drawing on his career in global mediation and conflict negotiation, Lederach (2005) suggests that the moral imagination rises with

the capacity to imagine ourselves in relationship, the willingness to embrace complexity without reliance on dualistic polarity, the belief in the creative act, and acceptance of the inherent risk required to break violence and to venture on unknown paths that build constructive change. (p. 29)

Lederach proposes that the moral imagination requires practices of creativity, risk-taking, interdependence, and the embrace of a paradoxical curiosity—that is, a readiness to identify how multiple narratives that may seem mutually exclusive can coexist. As such, it has “the capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenges of the real world yet [is] capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist” (p. 29). Characteristics of hope and uncertainty are embedded in Lederach’s framework and resonate closely with the principles, practices, and productive tensions of making art. Indeed, the metaphor of peacebuilding as a creative act is foundational to Lederach’s work. Reflecting on his career experience, Lederach integrates arts metaphors, philosophies, and practices into his discussion of peacebuilding as he foregrounds the emergent, nonlinear, and not-always-rational ways in which peace is imagined and negotiated. Considering the role imagination plays in making and responding to art (Dryden, 2004; Fettes, 2013; Greene, 1995), this alignment is apt. But the significance of Lederach’s work is in yielding further support for the role of the arts as a peacebuilding practice, not just a platform for communicating peace (as valid as that may be). The qualities required of the creative act—of being present to and curious of contextual factors, ambiguities, formal qualities of expression, and the uncertainties of process and outcome—are arguably the same for building peace.

Theoretical frameworks, evaluative tools, and practical guides for arts-based peacebuilding that draw on these kinds of synergies continue to evolve. The multiyear Acting Together project, a collaboration between Brandeis University and Theater Without Borders, for example, documents the contributions of arts and peacebuilding practitioners across the globe, giving particular attention to the sociopolitical conditions, cultural frames, and aesthetic dimensions of arts practice. The approach is based on the idea that when the arts contribute to conflict transformation, the permeable membrane (the poet Adrienne Rich’s metaphor to conceptualize the work of the moral imagination) between art and society is animated by the moral imagination and its aesthetic and ethical sensibilities. Cohen et al. (2011), as editors of the Acting Together book anthologies, draw on this metaphor. They describe this work as comprising the aesthetic, ethical, and political sensibilities and commitments of artists and producers, animated by a vision of relations among equals that are devoid of harm or injustice. The moral imagination and the permeable membrane function as conceptual apparatus in understanding the capacity of arts-based peacebuilding to “invite witnesses into paradoxically paired qualities of presence” (p. 170), such as engaged detachment, alert calmness, or affective awareness. In doing so, arts practitioners keep the tensions, relations, and potential violence of wider social and cultural systems alive in their work, which can be simultaneously intimately and collectively affecting. This valuing of presence and curiosity refers to an awareness that this kind of arts-based work is replete with ethical risks and possibilities, particularly because it asks of participants and audiences an attentiveness to both past injustices and future aspirations.

From Instrument to Encounter

As a result of this early theorizing of the field, perceptions of the value of the arts in peacebuilding have broadened from its instrumentalist functions (in communicating visions of peace or creating common ground to communicate, for example), to a valuing of the arts’ diverse potential as a critical practice in and of itself—that is, as a way of culturally and aesthetically perceiving and making meaning in the world. This is a significant expansion in conceptual understanding: the arts have not only the capacity to rehumanize the Other but also to unveil and potentially transform the very processes by which “othering” occurs. This field of practice is thus not only diverse; it is complex in its renderings of affect and effect. For instance, James Thompson (2009, 2014) critiques the ethical tensions of the affective and effective dimensions of arts practice in conflict settings in the landmark In Place of War project, a University of Manchester research initiative. Questioning the very function of the arts in such settings of trauma, Thompson’s work with In Place of War collaborators Michael Balfour and Jenny Hughes (Thompson et al., 2009) counters simplistic perceptions of the arts as being “good to do” or a novel way to envision or enact peace. By drawing attention to the aesthetic and ethical sensibilities of local and visiting artists’ choices when working in conflict-affected communities, the research arising from In Place of War calls on arts practitioners and researchers to question their practice and the cultural sensitivities and values of justice they veil or embody in the process. This point is critical in acknowledging the tensions wrought by the interrelationship of effect and affect in such work and how this may trouble logistical tools required for its evaluation or measurement (Hunter & Page, 2014; Shank & Schirch, 2008).

The key conceptual apparatus of the moral imagination and the permeable membrane positions the arts more as a process and encounter with” than as a product or vehicle for” peace. In this way, arts traditions, practices, and disciplines have the capacity to hold complex and unsettling processes of decolonizing knowledge of what peace might look like. This can further challenge often deeply held binary constructions of conflict—as involving victims and victors, for example—to instead imagine what it may take to acknowledge the complex causes and impacts of violence, prevent future harm, and potentially rebuild and reconnect in responsive and responsible ways. The idea of the arts as a way of knowing gives aesthetic practices the capacity to dynamically trouble other binary constructions of mind and body, high art and folk art, colonizer and colonized, victim and perpetrator, and hard and soft approaches to peace, as constructed in hegemonic knowledge systems. Acknowledging the arts as a way of knowing is a generative way to enable social, political, indigenous, gender-based or age-based perspectives. The arts are thus valued for being relational and context specific—rather than instrumental or prescriptive—in engaging with the construct of peace.

Whether community-based, artist-based, or collective in form, arts-based peacebuilding that engages with the arts as a way of knowing provides opportunities for close affective engagement with broad systemic dimensions of social, political, and cultural practices and power. In this respect, it could be argued that most of the art conducted in the name of peacebuilding is educational to some extent in its generative invitation to reflect, express, encounter, and exchange. In these ways, contemporary practices and theorizations of arts-based peacebuilding are relevant to many of the key critical concerns of contemporary peace education (Cremin, 2016; Zembylas & Bekerman, 2013). With further research attention, the epistemological links between education, peacebuilding, and the arts offer new insights and opportunities for peacebuilding educational encounters in and beyond the school.

Peace Education

Peace education is conventionally categorized as being peacebuilding in intent. It can occur within formal school curricula or via informal means of community activism or community-based intergenerational learning. Peace education is defined by the United Nations as

the process of promoting the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring about behaviour change that will enable children, youth and adults to prevent conflict and violence, both overt and structural; to resolve conflict peacefully; and to create the conditions conducive to peace, whether at an interpersonal, intergroup, national or international level.

(UNICEF, 2011)

Although some of this language is contestable, given that conflict is an ongoing part of life and can sometimes be intractable, peacebuilders seek to frame conflict in ways that allow for constructive engagement. As an approach to peacebuilding, peace education is diverse in nature and therefore broader in intent than preventing or resolving conflict. Ian M. Harris (2004) discusses the interdisciplinary roots of peace education in theories of “international education, human rights education, development education, environmental education . . . [and] conflict resolution education” (p. 6), for example. Complexities and contingencies around how peace is defined are as important to the contemporary peace-education field as they are to peacebuilding more broadly, so that the term peace operates both as an explicit topic of teaching and learning and an experiential way of knowing (e.g., in the cultivation of inner peace). Pedagogical approaches to peace education can therefore be many and varied. They can involve traditional transmission-style teaching as well as inquiry-based and collaborative, project-based opportunities. Research on the needs of learners to develop 21st-century skills suggests that pedagogies of knowledge creation rather than knowledge transmission are key for students living in a digital age in which the future of work is unknown. Scott (2015), researching for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), claims that this presents a challenge for formal schooling systems, which are trying to catch up: “Learners are [still] taught that knowledge is static and complete, and they become experts at consuming knowledge rather than producing it” (p. 7). Citing McLoughlin and Lee (2008), Scott makes the case for a transformation of teaching and learning “to stimulate learners’ capacities to create and generate ideas, concepts and knowledge” (p. 7). Although this invites further inquiry about the value of the intergenerational transmission of specific indigenous or cultural knowledge systems, Scott’s call has been important in movements for school reform. As Gert Biesta (2017) argues, there is a need for teachers to counter the standardizing processes of contemporary institutionalized education, such as testing regimes and the resulting “teaching to the test” default pedagogies. He calls for curriculum and pedagogy that enable students to enact “grownupness.” whereby one is educated to be able to “live in the world, without occupying the centre of the world” (p. 9). Biesta (2018) notes that the role of the arts is critical in this: “Just as art is the dialogue of human beings with the world, art is the exploration and transformation of our desires so that they can become a positive force for the ways in which we seek to exist in the world in grown-up ways” (2018, p. 18, emphasis in the original). This encourages an ethical and agential approach to art and to education as relational engagement with self, other, and the human and more-than-human world.

Approaching peace education as a relational act of knowledge creation offers a dynamic synergy with the principles and practices of the arts and peacebuilding field. Valuing and sensing the arts as a way of knowing helps to address what Cremin (2016) has defined as a contemporary crisis of peace education and peace-education research. Cremin looks to theories of “aesthetic peace” (James Page, cited in Cremin, 2016, p. 13), particularly those that suggest that “education for peace is not so much a task to be implemented as a process of educating the body to be in dialogue with the senses” (p. 13). This will afford new possibilities and a renewed rationale for integrating the arts in and across the curriculum in the name of peacebuilding. In this endeavor, the applied research from the Acting Together project could contribute to how educators’ prepare for classroom practice. As background, the article will now describe the relevant agendas of peace education and approaches to arts education as they appear in formal schooling systems in the early 21st century. Peace education also occurs in informal and community-based settings; however, the focus here is on school-based contexts.

The Many “Peaces” of Peace Education

There are diverse ways to approach peace education, philosophically and in practice, across curricula and pedagogy. Three agendas for peace education relevant to the discussion here include the education and training of the peaceful citizen, transformative education, and postmodern approaches.

Education and Training for the Peaceful Citizen

One of the more implicit goals of schooling as it has been developed in public-education systems across the Global North and the Global South is to cultivate the “peaceful citizen.” Whereas neoliberal forces in education in postindustrialized countries prioritize the preparation of students for employment and as contributors to national productivity, school curricula also aim to foster good citizenship that upholds the dominant national and cultural values and practices. In its implicit goal to be conflict free, this approach to education and training could be described in Galtung’s terms as fostering a “negative peace”—that is, an absence of violence only. More complex “positive peace” agendas are evident in educational endeavors that attend as much to personal, social, and cultural learning as to job skills development or academic attainment. This approach can be found in the work of progressivist and constructivist educational theorists and proponents of whole-child education, such as Maria Montessori and John Dewey. The importance of child-centered approaches to education are reflected in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Lombardo & Polonko, 2015; UN General Assembly, 1989) and therefore provide the centerpiece of a universal human right to education that supports children’s need for social and emotional growth as well as cognitive development. In these ways, a peace education that educates for the peaceful citizen may encompass quite diverse approaches: from training students in national values of good citizenship, to attending to individuals’ need for social skills and emotional expression and regulation.

Transformative Education for Empowerment

Critical education proponents take education for citizenship a step further to consider the impact and power of the school system itself on the child valued as a current (not just future) citizen. How are students developing the capacity to be agents of their own learning and empowered contributors to the communities and society of which they are a part? From a peacebuilding perspective, the structural and cultural processes of institutionalized education (schooling) are questioned and peace education in this framework comes of a countering of broader agendas of student “normalization” and compliance within hegemonic social, cultural and political values. Following the critical tradition of Paulo Freire, for example, education is seen as transformative, accessible, and empowering—a kind of meta-education that enables students to build the capacity for participating in democratic processes for social change and the decolonization of values, practices, and ideals. Freire positions such questioning at the heart of the educational purpose, while many peace-education proponents of Freirean ideas and praxis advocate for peace education that is counterhegemonic and that can animate—and be animated by—students themselves (Bajaj, 2008; Bar-Tal & Rosen, 2009). Further, Zvi Bekerman and Michalinos Zembylas draw attention to a need to de-essentialize, de-binarize, and de-romanticize the processes involved in practices of critical peace education and research (Bekerman & Zembylas, 2010, 2012; Zembylas & Bekerman, 2013).

Beyond the Structural Violence of School Itself

Ilan Gur-Ze’ev (2011) brings a postmodernist lens to the questions of how and why we educate for peace and considers the need for a transformational change of educational paradigms themselves. He suggests that the universalizing and unquestioned underpinnings of peace and of “good” transformational education can contribute to rather than challenge the kinds of structural violence that is endemic in contemporary schooling systems. How can peace education operate within school environments that are themselves complicit as systems of structural violence? Drawing on Gur-Ze’ev’s provocation, Cremin (2016) draws further attention to the neoliberal intent behind peace education that seeks to individualize peace attainment by teaching microskills of conflict resolution and the achievement of inner peace. It is argued these approaches do little to address the complexities of power, people, and politics in the educational process, returning to the key questions that lie at the heart of a 21st-century crisis of peace-education research: whose peace, whose education, and for what ends? (Cremin, 2016, p. 2).

The affordances of the arts in progressing these agendas in peace education are evident. There are scholarly accounts of the harmonizing effects of peace-related arts projects in schools and of projects that offer students opportunities for empowerment through engaging in arts-based work in which they may express themselves. Yet, while accounts of beneficial outcomes are provided as evidence for their need, an integration of the arts with peace education is yet to be sufficiently theorized or practiced with respect to the diverse array of arts pedagogies that are available and the potential that the arts as “a way of knowing” has in addressing the complexities and challenges of forging new directions for contemporary peace education.

Arts Pedagogies in Education

There are many ways to approach and incorporate the arts in education contexts: from the curriculum-mandated teaching of skills and discipline to the implementation of the arts as creative play and tools of inquiry. The “multiple legitimate purposes” (Seidel, Tishman, Hetland, Winner, & Palmer, 2009, p. 17) of the arts in education are ably distilled by Elizabeth Hallmark (2012) in making the case for the arts as a mode of inquiry in and across the curriculum.

Arts as Craftsmanship

In Hallmark’s (2012) schema, arts as craftsmanship in education focuses on learning the traditions, skills, and disciplinary forms of the arts. This may include some background understanding of historical developments and contexts in which the arts have flourished, challenged, or been embedded in social and cultural communities. However, the pedagogical focus for arts as craftsmanship is on iteration, practice, and the goal of developing virtuosic skill in established and recognized arts practices, whatever the cultural context or disciplinary frame may be. It is often a transmission-focused pedagogy in which the expertise resides in the teacher, who imparts and assesses knowledge and skill.

Arts as Play

This is a pedagogical approach (prominent in early-learning and primary-school contexts) in which the arts feature as a process of student-centered exploration. Through the expression of new and random discoveries engendered by unstructured play, students engage in a kind of informal learning pedagogy that promotes learner autonomy and creativity. Learning about themselves, others, and the world around them is central to the idea of art making as a playful process that enables students to fully engage in creating that which does not yet exist. It is pedagogy focused firmly on child-centered learning, and the benefits of making meaning through the arts as a means of both the expression and the exploration of ideas.

Arts as Inquiry

Hallmark advocates, in formal schooling contexts, for a third approach of arts as inquiry, one in which both craftsmanship and play are integrated in an interdisciplinary agenda for teaching and learning. The integration of the arts in such an approach is not entirely instrumentalist (i.e., in the service of learning in another subject area), but does provide a mode and platform for arts-led and the co-constructed generation of ideas and new knowledge among peers and with teachers. It offers scope for personalized learning strategies that may both meet the needs of individual learners and cultivate the creative, critical, and collaborative skills that are advocated as requirements of 21st-century education. It is a pedagogy focused on inquiry-based and problem-based learning that can be both personalized and collaborative yet also offers the opportunity for disciplinary skill development.

Arts as a Generative Way of Knowing

This article adds to Hallmark’s schema of arts approaches in education, a fourth dimension—arts as a generative way of knowing. This makes explicit that the arts impact and are impacted by broader societal agendas, and that culture, ethics, and power are embedded in the participatory ways of knowing that operate in making or responding to the arts. The permeable membrane between the arts and society becomes key to employing the arts in peacebuilding, beyond any perception of the arts as a value-neutral communication tool for inquiry or a platform for the imagination at play. This introduces an element of critical pedagogy that has the capacity to decenter Western paradigms of the arts and challenge the cognitive- and achievement-centric frameworks for learning in formal schooling contexts. This approach aligns well with the calls for the “future-proofing” of schools as places for knowledge generation and is also responsive to critical postmodernist questions, such as whose peace, in peace education. Integrating the arts as a way of knowing foregrounds the affective and experiential dimensions of learning, as well as the relational qualities of the arts beyond their representational and formal qualities. Rather than being viewed as a bounded set of competencies, traditions, skills or achievements to be reached or attained, the epistemological dimensions of art making offer opportunities for interrupting dominant power dynamics in the production and consumption of knowledge.

As co-constructors of meaning in an educational encounter with the arts, teachers and students “intra-act” (Barad, 2003, p. 815) with each other, with ideas, and with the material world around them, challenging modernist and heavily bounded ideas of what constitutes expertise. This is not to suggest that teachers do not plan or facilitate lessons: they still take a careful curatorial role in developing resources, cultivating the physical and social conditions, and guiding the activities of making and responding to the arts. However, their attention is different, in that it turns to the potential of the encounter. Like an artist, the teacher brings presence and curiosity to the learning encounter to skillfully attend to the learning journey as much as the destination, as unsettling and uncomfortable as that might be. This approach lends itself to generating new knowledge and connections via the arts, as distinct from solely focusing on predetermined goals of standard accomplishment.

Experiential arts-based peace education—as a peacebuilding practice—can take the creative frameworks and processes of artists as a model to enable different kinds of “knowings” about peace. The arts therefore both scaffold (through form) and initiate (through imagination and play) different perspectives on historical, contemporary, and future constructions of peace.

Many aspects of human experience cannot be contained by, or expressed in, language or rational discourse. Students cannot be educated into peace, but they can be afforded experiences that allow them to develop new critical and affective understandings. The creative processes of making and responding to the arts call for constantly shifting renegotiations of knowledge, skills, values, and understandings. Arts education is therefore particularly well-suited to enabling, critiquing, and making relational the affective and cultural dimensions of peace. Art-making, in its processual “messiness,” can be integrated in ways that value the expression of diverse and contingent meanings. In an otherwise overwhelming multiplicity of available directives on how to resolve conflict, the arts as a way of knowing may offer the pedagogical and curricular potential to work more comprehensively with the diversity and paradoxes inherent in imagining, critiquing, and qualifying peace while engaging with difficult topic matter, such as human injustices and the ethics of coexistence.

The next important question of arts and peace education research is, What does this approach ask of teachers?

Teacher as Artist, Teacher as Peacebuilder

To educationally attune to the potential of the arts means reframing the role of the teacher. The teacher becomes someone capable of leading and facilitating the processes of creating “that which does not yet exist” (invoking the moral imagination) while being mindful of the sociopolitical influences and implications of the work (through the social elements that relate and may collide in the art making). This gives rise to a set of useful questions adapted from the field of arts-based peacebuilding that can enable teachers to plan encounters that integrate the arts and peace education in critical and creative ways. The following questions are adapted to a school context from Cohen and Walker’s (2011) practice framework for artists and community workers in peacebuilding settings:

  • Context—what are the relevant historical, socioeconomic, political, and cultural backgrounds of the students involved?

  • Available resources and sources of resilience—what arts skills and cultural knowledges and practices already exist among the body of students and their extended families or communities?

  • Risks of doing harm—what is the intention of the peacebuilding learning encounter? What is the viability of the arts practices chosen to fulfill that intention and what capacity do those practices have to cause harm, however unintentionally, structurally or culturally?

  • Balancing imperatives—what are the tensions that confront the students’ communities and what direct or indirect violence or oppression may be occurring within the school setting?

  • Potential tensions—what personal, professional, creative or cultural conflicts exist among participants and how will these be managed within the arts activities?

  • Project reach—what is the knowledge-generating component of the encounter? How can its investigations and outcomes filter to the wider school community and beyond?

Approaching peace education with these critical questions in mind invites the teacher to investigate her own cultural understandings and biases.

Conclusion: Changing Paradigms

Approaches to the arts, peacebuilding, and peace education are varied and complex. The paradigms and definitions are in constant flux because of the emerging nature of these interdisciplinary fields and in keeping with the diverse contexts and intentions of practice. Many of those who work in fields related to peacebuilding—such as international development, community development, humanitarian assistance, refugee resettlement, and health education—may perceive art as being instrumental or in the service of peace. Valuing the arts as a way of knowing, however, opens up new conceptual insights that bring together the concerns of contemporary peacebuilding and educational research and practice in dynamic and generative ways. The conceptual apparatus of the moral imagination and the permeable membrane are applied here to suggest how teachers may be encouraged to embrace uncertainty, paradox, and ambiguity in the peace-education encounter. Pedagogically, the arts afford experiences that build capacities for relational being in the classroom and beyond. Arts-based peace education therefore has the potential to enable educators in diverse cultural contexts and conflict settings to increase students’ awareness of complexity and difference, and to enhance agency in a purposeful integration of peacebuilding principles and practice.


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