International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life

Peacebuilding and the Arts launches New Non-profit with Global Reach

IMPACT, Inc. will strengthen the field of arts, culture and conflict transformation

January, 2022

Around the world, individuals and organizations in the field of arts, culture and conflict transformation often work in isolation from one another. Opportunities to learn from each other, share best practices, and collaborate can be rare, especially in situations of particular precarity or danger. Yet it is networks of support that fortify efforts to safely and ethically engage in work that addresses and counters pressing local and global injustices, oppressions and violence.

"Petals of Hope," an image made from paper handcrafted from flowers, framed in yellow and red sheets surrounding the blue and orange middle piece
"Petals of Hope," an image made from paper handcrafted from flowers left at a memorial for victims of a 1998 bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland (1999).

Photo Credit: Carole Kane, Facilitating Artist

Towards an Arts, Culture and Conflict Transformation “Ecosystem”

In recognition of this, in 2017 the Ethics Center’s Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts (PBA), began the IMPACT initiative (Imagining Together: Platform for Arts, Culture and Conflict Transformation), in collaboration with the Baker Institute of Peace and Conflict at Juniata College, and Maseno University in Kenya.

Funded by an 18-month planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, IMPACT created a global network of practitioners, organizations, educators and policymakers to support the arts, culture and conflict transformation “ecosystem” and enable it to think, act, and advocate collectively to support efforts to creatively engage with intractable conflicts and with complex 21st century challenges.

Led by Cynthia Cohen, director of PBA at the Ethics Center and executive director of ReCAST, Inc, a nonprofit organization also engaging in this work, the project began in 2017 by interviewing 160 scholars, artists, and policymakers from six continents, and hosting three global online “learning exchanges” that engaged over 150 participants. In September 2018, a three-day “design lab” at Brandeis University convened 25 participants from 13 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Colombia, Cyprus, Israel, Kenya, and Pakistan to further develop the contours of this field. Since then, IMPACT has partnered with artists and cultural workers, policymakers and funders, as well as intergovernmental organizations around the globe.

People working in this field are now better networked. They are sharing ideas and resources. They are successfully advocating for stable funding at the levels needed to do critical long-term work. And some people are able to take on projects they otherwise could not. For example, award-winning theater director Dijana Milošević was able to undertake transformative work bringing Serbian voices to post-war Kosovo because she knew there were others around the globe supporting her as she entered that challenging context.

Taking the Next Step

The Ethics Center’s Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts (PBA), the executive committee of the IMPACT initiative and the board of directors of ReCAST, Inc., are thrilled to announce the next step in this work of strengthening the field of arts, culture and conflict transformation: the launch of IMPACT as an independent, global, non-profit organization. Recognizing that this work must be supported by a governance structure that reflects a global field, with distributed, globally diverse leadership, IMPACT will merge with ReCAST and function as an independent, global non-profit organization to advance the role of artists in society. “ReCAST, Inc. and the IMPACT initiative share a commitment to strengthening the field of arts, culture and conflict transformation, and to embodying commitments to diverse and distributed leadership and creative and decolonizing approaches to conflict transformation,” says Cohen. “The missions of both groups are aligned; the capacity of both entities to strengthen work at the nexus of arts, culture, justice and peace will be enhanced by their merger.”

In 2022, during IMPACT’s first year as an independent organization, a transitional board composed of practitioners and scholars from five continents will focus on issues of governance and resources. During that period, PBA will lead the implementation and coordination of IMPACT’s ongoing programs in Colombia, Cyprus, Senegal and elsewhere. (Read more about IMPACT’s programs.)

PBA will also advance IMPACT’s advocacy efforts, including its work with UNESCO’s Art Lab for Human Rights and Dialogue, and will disseminate the “Invite | Affirm | Evoke | Unleash: How artistic and cultural processes transform complex challenges” report commissioned by the Porticus Community Arts Network. (See article: Ethics Central Vol 24 No. 1 page 6.)

“It’s thrilling to see IMPACT emerge as an independent non-profit organization after being fledged here at Brandeis, nourished by the infrastructure, ideas, and energy that a university can provide, seeded with funds from private philanthropy,” said Michael Dettelbach, Brandeis University’s Assistant Vice President for Corporate and Foundation Relations. “This is exactly the role that a research university like Brandeis should play in enabling and informing social change. It’s a win for IMPACT, for Brandeis, and for the arts and cultural work globally, and is a critical step in the development of a robust infrastructure for the arts, culture and conflict transformation field and ecosystem.”