Category Archives: Peacebuilding and the Arts

Finding Art & Peace

This post originally appeared on the author’s personal blog, “The Recovery Poet”.

I believe art has the power to save people. I believe this because it saved me.

I am an artist.

I am a poet.

I am a peacebuilder.

I am recovering.

Funny enough, art was not always something I believed in. At least not this strongly. I was a musician in high school. I did some journaling. And I even tried my hand at poetry when the season for poetry submissions came along in English class. I never saw art as something that changed anybody, even though I loved music. Band was my favorite time of day. I connected with music in a way I connected with nothing else. And on my worst days, it was how I managed to understand the world.

I’ve played my hand at drawing, music, writing, and poetry. Finally, I found my home in writing and poetry with a hint of music when I have the right instrumentation. Let’s be honest, trombones just don’t play parties alone.

I’ve always found solace in words, but I remember a time when I couldn’t even find words. Every time I started writing I spent more time scratching words out and doodling over them than I did creating anything. In retrospect, I wasn’t ready to start talking about what I knew. That is what the best writing is about – what you know – and what I knew was way too complicated to start talking about out loud. Just a few years ago, though, when I ran out of excuses to not deal with it and all other means of ignoring everything, I came face to face with a type of broken I can honestly say I hadn’t yet seen. It’s one thing for the people you love to break you accidentally. Because they don’t know any better. Because they are broken too. It’s an entirely different thing to be broken by someone you love intentionally, knowingly, and oh so blatantly. That’s what should have broken me. If I’m really honest, I’m not sure I should have made it this far today. Right when I should have been permanently, irreparably broken, I found my words.

It was finding my words that started to change the way I look at the world, healing, and eventually peace.

I started to see that art has a unique role in understanding pain, struggle, and conflict. That I could really uncover the causes of my own pain and conflict by exploring my art, and ultimately that exploring my experience through art could also help other people explore theirs at their own pace, in their own way.

My journey to seriously consider the role of art in peace began here. How can we do peace if we don’t take the time to understand the underlying, innermost causes of conflict – inner and interpersonal? And how can we possibly understand the underlying causes of conflict in a community if the people in the community haven’t had the chance to understand them themselves?

I didn’t understand what I was struggling with for a long time. Art helped me figure it out in a way that was comfortable for me. Sometimes sitting down with a traditional counselor isn’t enough, and often it’s not even an option. We have to find a way to better understand and identify the causes of conflict in individuals and communities, so that we all know better how to address them.

Photo #2 for Jessica's Blog

Art let’s you explore your life and experiences both directly and indirectly, and, for those who don’t do art, seeing and discussing art can help you uncover your own struggles.

What better way to promote agency in your own understanding and healing than art? Art helped me realize I was an agent in my own life, that I had the power to deal with my problems, and that I could do it through art, when so much else had failed. This was a pivotal moment in becoming the person I am today.

The Theory Behind the Journey

Peace is both the ending of violent conflict and the removal of structures that promote violence. It is creating structures that contribute to sustainable, lasting peace. There are many opinions about how that happens, but most agree it has political, social, economic, security, and legal dimensions. My degree program broke it down into conflict analysis and resolution, human rights, and development and human security.

If you look at peace theory, it’s so clear that art has a place amongst those dimensions. The basis of conflict analysis and resolution is that to end violent conflict and create peace we have to figure out the causes of conflict. As you’ve probably seen, art has the ability to uncover and explain the causes of conflict in new and more holistic ways. It can help people realize what their own struggles are, and also help people better understand the struggles of others.

Art can revitalize local economies and promote not only short-term relief, but long term, sustainable development. It can build up local artists and artisans while bringing in art lovers, collectors, philanthropists, and business people – thus boosting local, small business to meet the increased demand for housing, food, and transportation.

It has also helped record and remember lives lost to terrible human rights abuses. It’s often helped promote reconciliation. Things like storytelling are often used as traditional forms of forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation. Art is so often used for social recovery that art therapy is now a widely used tool for helping children, youth, and adults overcome horrible traumas and abuses.

The Missing Link – Why Nairobi?

Art has a role to play in each and very aspect of peacebuilding. Peace is often seen as a systemic goal, and art has a role to play in that too, but what art really does is make an intentional connection between the creation of inner, personal peace and systemic peace.

The youth I met in Kariobangi and Mathare believed so intrinsically that their everyday actions could contribute to personal and community peace. That they could build peace by saving money from their car washing business to teach children about social issues through football. That they could build peace by doing free concerts for community events and schools, so they could use their art to contribute to individual and community development, while also pushing for deeper conversations through the subject matter their art explores. That a couple of djs could contribute to peace and social awareness by creating a mix-tape that also talks about social issues during traffic jams.

The coolest things about youth in Nairobi is they’re already on a journey to connect inner peace to systemic, and they want to do it in new, innovative ways. So in some ways, they taught me, at the end of the day, that art just makes sense. If we ever want to take youth seriously, and we should if we really take peace seriously, then we have to start speaking through mechanisms that youth speak through. Youth are not only the backbone of society, but also the backbone of peace. And I know from the youth I’ve met here that I would be completely lost to try to create peace with youth without including the very voice they speak through.

For me, the lesson at the end of the day is this:

For all those without the privilege, resources, and opportunity to be heard, art is the voice. For all those too broken, marginalized, and disenfranchised to speak, art is the platform.

I hope you’ll keep following as I begin interviewing Nairobi artists who use art for social awareness, change, and peace. Stay tuned next week as I tell you about my first meeting with artists in some of Nairobi’s informal communities who are using art for peace education. It’s already been an incredible journey, and I’m so excited to see where it goes next.

I hope you’re having a fun, fulfilled, purposeful week. Until next time!


Jessica Ciccarelli, the Recovery Poet

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the IPJ or of the University of San Diego.

WorldLink Youth Help Design Murals on Anti-Islamophobia

The mural to be donated to NCIF in Carlsbad

The mural to be donated to NCIF in Carlsbad

By WorldLink Intern Durana Saydee, Kearny High School

For the third consecutive year, WorldLink youth leaders are designing and overseeing its Spring Youth Initiative — a group of dedicated high school students, including myself, from San Diego and Baja Mexico who are making a conscious effort toward converting globally focused dialogues into service-based action projects.

Building on WorldLink’s 19th Annual Youth Town Meeting, “Youth’s Influence on the World: For Better or Worse,” the Spring Youth Initiative seeks to further the positive influences young people are having on today’s world.

With hopes of identifying and supporting a local youth-led organization and its mission, we reached out to Hands of Peace (HOP) San Diego, “an interfaith organization developing peacebuilding and leadership skills in Israeli, Palestinian and American teens through the power of dialogue and personal relationships.”

February 27 marked the Spring Youth Initiative’s first event! WorldLink students participated in HOP’s event at the Muramid Mural Museum and Art Center to create murals that embodied concepts of peacebuilding, understanding and anti-Islamophobia.

We arrived at 1 p.m. and introduced ourselves, providing us the opportunity to meet and connect with students from all over the San Diego region. The goal was to produce two murals that would later be donated to the North County Islamic Foundation (NCIF) in Carlsbad, Calif. and a refugee camp in Greece. Immediately, we began to brainstorm on potential ideas for what we would like represented.

The first mural, to be presented to NCIF, included an image of a person with a series of words either leaving or entering their mind. Harmful words, such as misunderstanding, hate, ignorance and stereotypes were depicted to be exiting the person’s mind. Juxtaposed were words such as compassion, tolerance and equality entering the mind. The idea behind this piece of art is that many people, of different ages, associate negative feelings to the mention of words such as “Islam” or “Muslim.” Instead, we as a society need to fill our minds with positive and compassionate narratives.

The second mural will be shared with a refugee camp in Greece. Participating youth designed a series of overlapping circles of different colors with youth’s hands drawn throughout the painting. This mural was based on the theme of unity, which was evident through the expression of intertwining hands. It solidified the idea that while we are different we are also similar, which was expressed through the circles and changing colors similar to that of a Venn diagram.

The mural on the right is headed to a refugee camp in Greece

The mural on the right is headed to a refugee camp in Greece

HOP students and staff were incredibly warm and inviting. We seamlessly came together as a collective, finishing both of our murals in one afternoon. This wonderful volunteer opportunity gave us a chance to express our feelings about pressing topics, such as ignorance and discrimination, and allowed our ideas to come to life through the form of artistic, peaceful expression.


Reflections on The Art of Peace

By Rachel La Due

For the past couple of months we have been throwing paint on a canvas.

There was some method to the madness, a few procedures to follow, several requirements that had to be met. These were more guiding points than stringent rules. We had a vision for the piece, as all artists do, but only a vague idea for how it would turn out.

For the past couple of months myself and my two intern supervisors, Kara Wong and Daniel Orth, have been planning a four-day long symposium on Peacebuilding and the Arts.

The Art of Peace took place November 11-14th and was hosted by the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. The symposium provided a space for local, national, and international artists to come together and share the ways in which they have used art as a tool in conflict transformation.

For the four days of The Art of Peace we put our brushes down and enjoyed the piece we had worked so hard to produce. We gathered alongside students, faculty, and members of the greater San Diego community to view the artwork by artists from Myanmar who have documented the struggles and triumphs of their country as it transitions from military dictatorship to emerging democracy through their art. We listened to musicians from Brazil, Morocco, Israel and Japan sing together in one beautiful melody. We sang protest songs from America’s history and the South African anti-apartheid movement along with choral scholars and Women PeaceMakers. We watched youth dance across the stage in an expression of themselves and their experiences. We listened to formerly incarcerated individuals speak from their hearts and from their pain in a powerful spoken word performance. We explored ways in which poetry, performance and movement can be used as a form of peaceful protest to respond to racial injustices and police brutality. We shared with each other, learned from one another, and collaborated together to create weapons that can be used for peaceful purposes.

During these past couple of months I have learned that the power of art does not come from the end product, but is found within the process. The splattering of paint. The planning and the preparing. The wandering of communities to tell strangers we encounter about the incredible upcoming event. The meeting of new people and revisiting of old friends. The revisions of written information and then re-revisions because we were still not satisfied with the first. The result turned out to be beautiful, but the process was transformative.

For the days following The Art of Peace we took a step back to reflect on the experience. We were surprised to find our work blank. We smiled as we realized we had not actually done any of the creating, we had only just provided the canvas.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the IPJ or of the University of San Diego.

Universal Love: Genesis at the Crossroads & Saffron Caravan

By Jessica Ciccarelli

There is something about music that when you get it just right, you can see the smiles capture a piece of the soul. It is not often the artists are having so much fun that not only the music, but the smiles become universal – touching giver and receiver alike. It was beautiful to see this true of the entire Saffron Caravan concert on November 11. I honestly cannot say who I had more fun watching, the artists or the audience, but, due to a mishap which left the lights on for the entire performance, I had the pleasure of watching the unique flavor of an audience having as much fun as the musicians.

They took us on a journey through ten compositions. We began alongside Haytham Safia on his travel home from Jerusalem in his song, “The Road,” inspired by his own homeward journey. Our musical voyage was also an emotional one as they brought us through joyous, mournful, spiritual, and prayerful pieces. Aaron Bensoussan’s made a reverent offering to God followed by Badi Assad’s own reverent offering to Mother Nature. They were exuberant performances, as each individual surrendered their ego and did the work of letting the story flow through them.

As they wound down their musical performance with the last two songs of the evening, “Pleasure” and “Longa,” I remember feeling so inspired. Their own passion and love for music and peace reminded me, and I think the audience, of how powerful this thing is that we are trying to do: Peace. It is no easy thing and they made the difficult journey so stunning to behold. Just before the last song I remember thinking, I feel like I am journeying down an old dirt road with them from Jerusalem, getting to know each of their distinct personalities, through the palate of their music. If that was not enough, they gave us one more incredible piece, so uplifting and inspiring that sitting to listen was not an option. One by one, audience members got up to dance until there were far more people dancing than sitting.

The next morning, the panel “Music as a Vehicle for Global Peacebuilding” gave the audience members the opportunity to learn, through words and stories, all the things we had glimpsed in their music. How they got into music and what brought them to Genesis at the Crossroads. From where their passion comes. Why Genesis at the Crossroads is so exceptionally different and important. So many incredible things came from this panel, but the most inspiring for me was seeing how transcendent music can be. Aaron referenced another musical event put together by Genesis at the Crossroads and said, “They spoke Hebrew and Arabic, and the only common language they had was music.” At another point Badi said, “We are all one… There is not another way. We are one.” Then adding, “I’m starting finally to see… The point in making music is not to make money… We are here in this world to fix it, to bring a little bit of light.”

We also learned how important it is for the group to feel close, connected, like family, with Haytham adding, “We fit musically, like a sister,” in reference to Badi. Each one reiterated that they felt like a family, they just fit musically. That, I think, is what made it so uniquely beautiful. When you love what you do and the people you do it with, there is no way it could be anything but inspiring.

Genesis at the Crossroads and Saffron Caravan was an overwhelming success. They touched each individual through their stirring compositions, then connected all through the emotional journey each one told. What a remarkable way to begin The Art of Peace and demonstrate that art truly has the ability to unite and the transcendent character necessary to foster peace.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the IPJ or of the University of San Diego.

An Evening of Transformative Arts

By Robert Valiente-Neighbours

An Evening of Transformative Arts at the IPJ’s The Art of Peace: Creative Approaches in Conflict Transformation proved to be a night of revelations. Members of transcenDANCE and Street Poets Inc. shared their stories of transformation and modeled the courageous vulnerability necessary for that transformation, necessary for being peacebuilders.

transcenDANCE, which uses dance performance to empower youth towards social change, hit the stage first. Empathy became the shape and voice of their dance as they moved in response to candid questions. They modeled the literal struggle of taking on the position of the other. We, the audience, were placed as the recipients of their gift. Our desires to participate in the conversation had to be checked. It was their space and their movements to share and teach us.

In turn, Street Poets Inc. reflected the same unsettling vulnerability. Their words, songs, and stories of wounds wounded our own facades. As they proclaimed, our greatest wounds are seamless with our greatest strengths. Through their art, they held their vulnerability and transformed it. And it unsettles in just the right ways, the ways that draw us closer to them and each other.

As Taylor Code of Street Poets Inc. said, “Art made me human again.” And we are left searching for our own art or ways of turning our work into art to find our humanity. They all pulled back the curtain on this process and showed us how it could be done. This is not a gift to repay but to replicate over and over.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the IPJ or of the University of San Diego.