Slifka Director Speaks at UN on Arts and Reconciliation

May 7, 2009

Cynthia Cohen, executive director of the Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence, spoke yesterday at the United Nations headquarters in New York on “Creative Approaches to Coexistence and Reconciliation.”

Hosted by the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery at the United Nations Development Programme, the event highlighted experiences from artists and cultural leaders working in conflict or post-conflict regions around the world.

“In such challenging environments, arts offer creative and life-enhancing forms of resistance and provide platforms where otherwise unspeakable truths can be acknowledged for sustainable social cohesion and reconciliation,” Cohen says. “Artistic processes amplify underrepresented voices and build bridges across differences.”

In her talk, Cohen discussed the Brandeis International Fellowship Program on Recasting Reconciliation through Culture and the Arts, whose work the Slifka Program has catalogued in a virtual collection. Among her recommendations, she called for efforts that would engage artists in violence-prevention initiatives, promote the connection between the arts and peacebuilding, and support artists in documenting and sharing their work.

Following her presentation, discussion focused on the challenges of assessing the impact of the arts, how arts activities could best contribute to conflict prevention, and the benefits of investing in arts and cultural work in places with limited resources.

In addition, Cohen showed a trailer for the upcoming documentary Acting Together on the World Stage. The film follows a conference at Brandeis in October 2007 that featured two-dozen international theatre artists, coexistence practitioners, and scholars exploring the potential contributions of the arts to building peace and coexistence.

For more information on the arts and peacebuilding, the Slifka Program has established a Virtual Resource Center that includes creative works generated by the program.