The Art of Reconciliation: Do reconciliation-funded arts projects transform conflict?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Irish Studies

Abstract

It is claimed that Art for Reconciliation (AfR) produces work that reflects, represents, or responds to multiple forms of political conflict in ways that encourage conflict transformation. This claim is reflected in international political and financial support for the growth in AfR. We question the validity of this claim - not because it is untrue, but because as noted in the AHRC Cultural Value report, "long-term evaluations of arts and cultural initiatives in post-conflict transformation have rarely if ever been attempted".

Without such an 'attempt' we face a series of problems. Firstly, the various outcomes of AfR are not adequately understood. AfR can potentially replicate the divisions of conflict. Or, it can enable processes of healing, witness testimony and inter-community engagement. It can be transformational and stimulate positive relational change between communities in conflict. If we do not research these differing forms and outcomes then AfR will not possess the definitional robustness required to adequately understand how positive reconciliatory outcomes can be realized. Secondly, we do not possess proper evaluative forms which measure how AfR achieves a shift out of and away from conflict. Evaluations are often tied to audience reaction as opposed to more in-depth and grounded techniques that measure positive relational change between communities in conflict. Thirdly, we do not know how funding practice, community response and the management and production of art affect the landscape of AfR. Fourthly, without robust techniques and grounded research the value of AfR cannot be adequately disseminated. Finally, when we locate art as conflict transformation it is generally non-transferrable. Better knowledge production concerning AfR will aid wider dissemination.

In solving these problems we will develop a co-produced research project that grounds its methods in interaction with funders, policy makers, arts managers, artists and communities engaging in AfR. Through a focused study of funded AfR our research project aims to:

1. Determine if AfR initiatives do, or possibly could, affect meaningful conflict transformation;
2. Share evidence regarding art as conflict response beyond the arts community and communicate its value to those who are currently unaware;
3. Develop ways in which transformative AfR can be achieved through better evaluation, auditing and articulation;
4. Create an evaluation mechanism that promotes deeper understanding of what is actually taking place within AfR to all sectors involved in designing and delivering this work;
5. Develop a dissemination strategy to share information about creative arts engagements and interactions which respond to conflict and aim for meaningful reconciliation;
6. Contribute to effective knowledge that highlights the value of art as a facilitator of conflict transformation.

Knowledge transfer is important not only to develop social science and arts/humanities engagement, but to develop and show how art may play a role in broader conflict transformation processes. Current frameworks, typologies and methodologies, both in academia and amongst communities of practice (i.e. funders, policymakers, artists and arts managers, and community support professionals) do not always reflect or adequately evaluate transformative outcomes. Ultimately, we seek to address these aims in ways that can have direct, meaningful and purposeful impact on the work of funders, communities of practice and the public. The project will speak to how communities respond to conflict and work to better explain, understand and appreciate how their lived experiences of harm and injustice, inform that response. The dissemination strategy will be used by groups involved in different types of reconciliation projects to sustain and develop conflict transformation activity.

Planned Impact

This research project will have impact across a range of sectors and communities engaging directly and indirectly with the project, and this engagement will be at local, national and international levels. Outside of academic outputs, impact is linked to a critical learning process with multiple participants and partners who will aid the determination, design, forms and relevance of impact strategies. The project's outcomes will be co-produced through its Research Advisory Committee whose members will be embedded in knowledge exchange and the design of impact strategies throughout.

The audit of funded post-conflict arts projects aims to benefit funding organisations and bodies such as the NI Executive (Ministry of Communities), EU Special Programmes Body, local authorities, Arts Councils, foundations that fund Art for Reconcilation (AfR) (e.g. UNESCO, the Big Lottery Fund, the Clive Richards Charity Ltd, Arts NSW, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Art for Amnesty (Amnesty International), Kellogg Foundation, the William Cadbury Charitable Trust and Fellowship of Reconciliation), and reconciliation work in the devolved Parliament, Assemblies and Westminster. This will be achieved by examining the efficacy of present and future funding strategies.

Assessment of funding and evaluation strategies will aid impact in terms of developing a more effective dialogue between these groups and the production of new and enhanced ways to determine, evaluate and disseminate the potential transformative capacities of AfR. Additionally, communities and professionals who respond to conflict through art (i.e. Youth Action; NICVA; Healing through Remembering; Community Dialogue Arts, Kabosh Theatre Company; The MAC; Community Arts Partnership, Voluntary Arts Network; Culture + Conflict; The Acting Together Project) will also learn more about the processes of designing, auditing, achieving and presenting the value of AfR.

Three Exchange Forums will provide voice, networking and learning opportunities, and foster development of critical learning by asking pertinent questions that are relevant to policy-design, the methods of evaluation and experiential learning. The forums address the following issues:

Forum 1: 'What are our intentions? Interpreting the goals of AfR'
Forum 2: 'What's happening? Understanding AfR in practice'
Forum 3: 'What are we learning and what's next? An international perspective.'

The project's findings and methodological approached, hosted on a dedicated website, will include a typology of AfR outcomes and facilitate shared understanding of how peace-building and reconciliatory goals may be achieved through the arts in light of the differing needs, resources and capacities of individuals and organisations involved in AfR, and lay the groundwork for potential international impact.

Case studies, insights from the Exchange Forums, the AfR database, and regular project updates will be available online via the project website and dedicated Twitter account. To drive traffic to the project website and ensure wider dissemination, the research team will make contributions to a wider network of websites for arts and cultural management practice, policy and research. Content on the website entitled i) What is AfR ? ii) Why do communities use art as a response to conflict? iii) What are the experiences of AfR (co) production? iv) Does AfR achieve reconciliation/conflict transformation? and v) How do we place AfR into wider academic and policy-making responses to conflict? will be co-produced with the research partners to develop impact upon funding strategies to aid more precise evaluation processes, promote art as a means for relational change between communities in conflict, and the mobilization of voice of those harmed by conflict.

Publications


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