Special Culture & Conflict

July 2008 -

Culture, conflict and art. These are three broad and all-encompassing terms, tossed around daily to connote any wide number of meanings. But what is the relationship between these three concepts and how does it differ across, between, or even within various communities? This is the focus of the Culture and Conflict special - a study that profiles four organizations and one individual in Macedonia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Colombia, and Lebanon to investigate how art is practically helping in times of war, conflict, and violence.

The case studies were selected according to five basic criteria, including type of conflict, targeted demographic, artistic genre, specific strategies facilitated by this artistic genre, and overall sustainability. The special focuses primarily on the visual arts- as art generally privileges the visual- but it also includes Romani music, since it is integral to their cultural identity.

The five studies rely on interviews with individual participants and organizers, as well as background research to examine how and why particular artistic endeavors can implicate in the conflict resolution, conflict prevention, and peace-building processes.
As Art for Refugees (A.R.T) director and founder Sara Green candidly explained, “When people are forced to repeal their own culture, the result is a hopeless person forced to be opportunist and violent, with no moral limits and bounds.”

Arts and culture projects can help (re)instill a sense of both individual and community pride. The case studies investigate how art allows individuals to express themselves beyond words and beyond violence. Art can be about communicating without confrontation, questioning without conflict, and debating without war.

Art is a value, and like culture, it holds tremendous benefits. These benefits are not only for the artists and individual communities themselves, but as the case studies show it can also generate a better understanding for those on the outside looking in.

Amanda Fortier is editor of the special Culture & Conflict for The Power of Culture.