A word from the roud table Art and Conflict of the European Meetings on intercultural dialogue.
The European Meetings gather political, artistic, intellectual and cultural personalities for two days in July and have the ambition to make art be an integral part of the European politics. They are co-organised by the International Lyric Art Festival of Aix-en-Provence and the Avignon Festival in partnership with le Relais Culture Europe with the support of European commission
This year, amongst many invitees I could see Agnieszka Holland, film director and European Ambassador of the Year of Intercultural Dialogue; Odile Quintin, Director General for Education and Culture at the European Commission; Petna Ndaliko Katondolo, film director and Director of Goma’s Cultural centre (Congo-Kinshasa); Robert Palmer, Head of the Directorate of Culture and Cultural and Natural Heritage at the Council of Europe; Fabrizio Cassol, composer; Nele Hertling, co-president of the French-German High Cultural Council; Keyvan Chemirani, musician; Frie Leysen, curator of the Meeting Points festival; Tzvetan Todorov, historian and philosopher; Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, choreographer.
The theme of one of the round table was art and conflict. After the presentation of Petna Ndaliko Katondolo, the director of the festival of Aix Mr Bernard Foccroulle asked the question of the efficiency of the use of the work curried by international non governmental organizations (INGOs) which integrate art in their program for healing or preventing community conflict. He also expressed the fear of the instrumentalization of art. The answer given by the film maker met the approval of many contributors and raised questions amongst the audience:
“As an artist living in a region marked by 25 years of interethnic conflicts, I have been invited several times by INGOS to bring my artistic expertise in these projects that use art to support child soldiers, victims of violence or refugees. Through creativity they intend to assist them to work on their traumas and to learn to leave again. After a few experiences, I am not really convinced by the approach adopted by some INGOs. Often, the programme is managed to the detriment of the healing of the beneficiary and to the creativity of the artist. INGOs must indeed focus on efficiency and on reporting and marketing and are not paying enough attention to the artistic and therapeutic component.
Once I was asked to run a workshop with child soldiers. The programme managers asked me to support and encourage children who had been gathered to paint and draw. At the end of the day, they were given marks. The children who were receiving the best marks were the one who had drawn bombed houses or soldiers with guns because it was what had the more impact among the donors and was the most likely to bring in money.”
I was questioned by this answer too. Indeed this way of doing so called “art therapy” or “psychosocial activities” is not helping the children. It is the result of organization and management policies which spend more time to monitor their activities and report about them than to work on the ground with the victims.
Through this approach, children are learning to be victims and not resilient. They are learning that it can be more rewarding to dwell on their past than to overcome the suffering and stand alone. They are learning that their sufferings and the violence they have lived are more valuable than their right to be a child as any other child in the world and to be free to draw a flower, the sun or the house he/she is actually leaving in. This way of working is not supporting the children to heal and learn to live with the ghosts of past traumas.
This way of working is also harmful for the artist. They become hostages of funding policies and public opinion that remains largely drawn by the tragedies and suffering. They creativity and talent is reduced to the level of mere drawing and social skills without power of decision on the workshop they are coordinating. Yet art and artists can support communities to heal from the violence they have lived in. They can support them to restore their hope and regain self-confidence.
Petna Nadliko also added“ An alternative must be found to the actual way of funding activities related to art therapy. The important amounts of money given to INGOs could be much more useful if they were given to more independent associations or persons. The administrative and financial capacities of these associations or persons should be trained and developed so that they meet the regulations of donors of managing money and be able to report efficiently on their activities. Instead of giving money to managers who will implement artistic activities, it should be the other way around: money is given to artists who will learn to manage their project that can leave the freedom of creativity to the artist and sustain the community, I think. The individual projects and associations should also be supported in creating a network where they can share experience and best practices.
Behind these thoughts there are key elements of the development of a region and its population. Because art and culture are an important tool to democratize and pacify a country or even the world. By bringing people together, by entertaining them sometimes, by raising debates and alternative opinions, art and culture can effectively fight against totalitarianism and teach people dialogue and mutual respect. As Petna Ndaliko said, art can be the last island of peace in an area torn by violence and if used properly has the power to raise in each individual the awareness that he/she is an actor of his/her life and of the society and has the right and duty to transform it for a better world.