The Creative Community Model: Can it Help Conflict Resolution?
There are currently more than 30 acknowledged conflict zones around the globe, affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every year. Earlier this summer, non-profit and non-political organization Seeds of Peace organized a two week conference to explore ways that the arts can be used to break down barriers and unite fractured communities.
“We had about 35 educators and artists from conflict regions around the world,” said Aaron Shneyer, one of the staff members at the conference. “They consisted of a wide group of people from many different backgrounds. We had representatives from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Cyprus, Jordan, India, Pakistan and the United States.”
The aims of the conference were far reaching. “Part of the hope was to have the participants learn from each other,” says Aaron, “and to leave with concrete ideas and methods that they could take home to their respective areas.”
“PYE joined us at the beginning of the second week to hold a workshop around the Creative Community Model,” says Aaron. “By the time they arrived there was a desire to find some really concrete skills and activities that people could use themselves. Until that point we had done a lot of thinking and talking but people were thirsty for a more hands on approach. The workshop went above and beyond everyone’s expectations.”
PYE facilitator Nadia Chaney agrees that the workshop was a big success. “We were not directly attempting to create space for dialogues about political conflicts,” she says, “but many of the participants felt inspired to share their stories and talk openly. While we were providing structure and context, it seemed to be allowing people to form deeper trust and connections.”
“The response to the training content and to the PYE style of facilitation was very positive,” says PYE co-founder Charlie Murphy who led the training along with Nadia. “The whole experience was very powerful. We learned once again how feelings of distrust and anger diminish when people feel safe enough to take creative risks.”
During the conference, Aaron was able to watch this remarkable phenomenon first-hand. “A young female teacher from Gaza was present at the workshop. She had seen her school be completely destroyed by a bomb not long ago. During PYE’s workshop there was one activity where she was partnered with a man from Israel for a theatre exercise. The idea behind the exercise was that they would spend some time mirroring each others’ movements.”
“As the experience came to a close she was quite emotional. When she was asked to share her thoughts with the group she admitted that she had felt some fear and discomfort when she realized who her partner was. Once the activity started she said she very quickly saw the level of consideration and kindness which her partner was putting into the task. There was no talking during the task so they needed to concentrate on thinking about the experience of the other person. That was quite powerful for her.”
Charlie also recalls this incredible encounter. “At the end of the exercise they both reported how they were able to see past the difficulty separating them to seeing each other’s humanity,” he says. “They even seemed to find a place of playful humor in their interaction.”
“I believe that the arts have a critical role to play in regions of conflict around the world,” says Aaron. “Too often the only voices that people hear from the opposing side are voices of violence with very little room for empathy or compassion. Giving an empathetic portrayal of the experience of people on the other side of the conflict is really important. The arts open people up in a way that talking never could.”
After such a promising first encounter, PYE and Seeds of Peace plan to continue building links and working together in the future. “Nadia and I left the training feeling like we learned so much about the real issues of conflict regions,” says Charlie. “We feel very called to stay in contact with this group. Many of the people in the training expressed a desire for PYE to offer further trainings in the region. We are very grateful to have had this opportunity to work with such courageous and creative people.”