Peacebuilding getting a boost on campus and around the world

Brandeis programs focus on artists' efforts to heal and reconcile conflict

Photo/Fidel Melquiades

Ana Correa is featured in new peacebuilding anthology and documentary.

Jane Sapp in performance

From the schools and prisons of New Orleans to the community centers of Kabul, from theaters in Tel Aviv and Ramallah, Kampala and Phnom Penh, and from plazas in Belgrade and Buenos Aires, people have discovered that theater is an effective tool for peacebuilding, for rallying resistance to injustice and for remembering and healing in the aftermath of mass violence.

But the actors, artists and cultural workers doing this work often do not think of themselves as peacebuilders and frequently are unaware that counterparts in other regions are doing similar work and are animated by similar ethical principles.

Changing that reality is a goal of the Peacebuilding and the Arts Program in Brandeis’ International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, and of “Acting Together on the World Stage,” a collaboration of the peacebuilding program and Theatre Without Borders, a virtual network of theater artists committed to international exchange.

After six years’ work, these organizations have begun a major effort to disseminate experiences, information and educational materials to bolster peacebuilders around the world.

An intensive weekend on community cultural development is being held on campus the weekend of Oct. 21 to 23.

At 7 p.m. Friday in Slosberg Recital Hall, civil rights leader, folklorist and educator Jane Sapp will offer a concert and multimedia presentation incorporating songs, digital stories and her current thinking on the role of culture in development. The evening, which is free and open to the campus community and the public, also includes a panel discussion with Hubert Sapp, former director of Oxfam America’s America Program, and Kelley Ready, a Heller school anthropologist and human rights activist.

Saturday and Sunday feature presentations, videos, discussions and theater activities in programs led by Cynthia Cohen, director of the Peacebuilding and the Arts program; Dijana Milošević, director of DAH Teatar in Belgrade, and Polly Walker, an assistant professor of peacebuilding at Juniata College in Pennsylvania.

The Saturday and Sunday sessions at Brandeis are open to the campus community; registration is required [register online]. The weekend concludes with a screening of the feature-length documentary “Acting Together on the World Stage,” co-created by Cohen and filmmaker Allison Lund, at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. This screening is part of a global launch of Acting Together resources; it features performances by local cultural organizations and a panel discussion on cultural diplomacy. The panel consists of Acting Together artists in conversation with Dr. Cynthia Schneider, former ambassador to the Netherlands; and Arthur Kibbelaar, consul for press and cultural affairs at the Dutch consulate in New York City. [International screening schedule]

The film and a toolkit of videos and printed guides have been produced by the Brandeis-Theatre Without Borders partnership to aid educators, practitioners and policymakers. The first of two volumes of an anthology entitled “Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict” was published last summer; and a second volume is forthcoming. [To obtain copies of these materials, consult the “Acting Together” homepage.]

The film and print resources produced by the partnership are the results of focused conversations and case studies, and highlight artists, peacebuilders and community leaders from every continent whose rituals and plays speak truth to power and support communities mourning losses, seeking justice and building bridges across differences.

They array of voices is startling – from aboriginal elders in Australia to the president of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Peru, from teen rappers in refugee camps in Ghana to distinguished Tamil and Sinhalese theater artists in Sri Lanka. They include Israelis and Palestinians, Hindus and Muslims, Native American leaders of traditional rituals and cutting edge performers in the world’s cultural capitals.

As diverse as these voices are, and as particular as the violence which has afflicted their communities remains, a common thread is woven through their tales, according to Cohen.

“Through embodied creative acts, human beings are imaginatively resisting abuses of authority and rediscovering the humanity of those who have been cast as their enemies,” she says. “They are discovering ways to acknowledge even the worst of atrocities and to compose justice through performances that are meaningful to those who have survived.

“Though the peacebuilders express themselves in many different ways and languages,” Cohen says, “they share a common hope that human beings have the capacity to heal themselves from the violence of the centuries, and that meaningful reconciliation is not beyond reach.”

Categories: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs

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