Creativity as consultation

I am for peace, but when I speak it comes out for war.

When he first walked in to the classroom, he had asked us what we wanted him to draw. We explained that we were running an open creative space where he could use the available materials to draw, write, make music or otherwise create anything he wanted. We were particularly interested in his experience and perspectives about peace and security, but everything and anything was allowed.

Consultation as a two-way process

In the course of our work in Bria, Bouar, Bégoua and Kaga Bandoro, we found that artistic practices and communication channels have been instrumentalized by national and international actors for sensitization around peace and social cohesion. Participatory methods are not familiar to implementers or community members. This ‘on-demand’ dynamic of typical UN / INGO / NGO community arts and communications activities poses a challenge to meaningful content-creation linked to any consultation: people can easily express standard messages of peace and coexistence, but they don’t feel authorised or compelled to go deeper into their own narratives and experiences.

Participation through creativity

In response to this request, we ran open creative spaces to provide an opportunity for people to bring out their perspectives and experience. The creative spaces offered opportunities for participants to write, draw, tell stories, film and direct videos, and more. This was a very simple approach; it wasn’t sophisticated! But it was implemented in a way we thought was important: participatory. We invited anybody to come, and invite themselves to art — really holding strongly to this approach. We were absolutely non-directive about what people created in the space, and therefore what “data” was collected. Careful facilitation of the spaces, with the support of local art instructors, helped to bring out diverse viewpoints.

Technology as a hook

Our experiences across multiple contexts, now including the Central African Republic, underscore the special draw that technology tools including video and photo cameras possess and that can be leveraged to reach out to and empower different groups. Young people respond particularly well to technology-enabled consultations or dialogue activities: the technology tool acts as a hook that elicits more enthusiastic and often genuine engagement than would otherwise be possible.

Closing the loop: the exhibitions

Later this week, the Alliance Française in Bangui will host an exhibition of visual media produced at the creative spaces.

One of the exhibition banners summarising content produced in the creative spaces.

The experience of peace

It’s much too early for us to assess what kind of impact these community-based arts activities might have had — whether the content will influence policy discussions on DDRR, whether participants will feel more empowered to speak to their leaders. We’re not sure we’ll ever be able to answer these questions.

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Build Up transforms conflict in the digital age. Our approach combines peacebuilding, participation and technology.

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Build Up

Build Up

Build Up transforms conflict in the digital age. Our approach combines peacebuilding, participation and technology.