Adelina Gavrila reports on “Arts and International Development”

Adelina Gavrila 440x440

The Arts and International Development Conference was organized in partnership with the British Council and AESOP, and brought together artists and developmental specialists aiming to discuss the gaps in bridging the two fields. As part of the Creativity and Society theme this conference assessed the impact of art projects in helping communities in difficult situations and allowed professionals from both disciplines to share best practice and to come up with action plans for the future.

Many powerful messages came out of the lively discussions. Firstly, art can be used as a tool for social justice, to protect human rights and to acknowledge and respect diversity. Also art can empower people and give them a voice, especially in areas of conflict.  On the other hand, people should have the right to exert their freedom of expression as well as have the right to silence. This very interesting point highlighted that art projects can also harm and brought a broader and more encompassing dimension to the debate.

The main issues highlighted during the discussion were related to research, growth and sustainability. One particular aspect that was recurrent was the difficulty of measuring the outcomes of creative projects. As part of this challenge, scalability of projects was also a major concern. The complexity of factors that can inhibit community development was acknowledged, with particular emphasis on the fact that every community has different needs. There was also the question of whether projects in general should target the community or the individuals themselves. Finally, a more subtle argument was finding the right ‘language’ between artists and funders for better understanding and cooperation.

Practical ideas were thrown into the discussion through case studies and various workshops which presented success stories as well as lessons to be learned. For example, an inspiring project aiming to revive historic areas in Afghanistan empowered people to use their own skills and trained them in indigenous craft industries, therefore achieving the sustainable development of the community. This example answered practically the questions of how art can both empower people and create a sustainable regeneration of the community, a bridge with international development.

Finally, the next steps for policy, research and practice were discussed and set in place. Firstly, there should be more support of innovative creative responses to development changes, a better understanding of the ‘mixed economy’ and better targeting of social engagement through artistic interventions. A more practical point was the creation of a database that would foster research in the field, which is currently lacking. Finally the language and the conversation between artists and funders should be improved, with more opportunities for interaction.

All in all this conference brought to light the present gaps in trying to bring together the fields of art and international development and it offered the participants the opportunity to fill these gaps with their own personal  and professional experiences. It reinstated the impact that art can make not only at a personal level but also at an international scale, through changing perspectives, empowering people and ultimately reviving communities.

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Kitty O’Lone reports on “The Refguee’s Gift” by Bill Knight

Kitty O'Lone Photo New

At the end of 2013 almost 60 million people were displaced due to conflict, the highest ever-recorded number by the UN refugee agency. Half of this number were children. Think about that figure for a moment; 60 million. That’s 60 million individuals, 60 million faces with 60 million stories. In the shadow of such epic misery it is hard to feel anything but despair. And indeed it’s hard to find photographs of these faces that show anything other than utter destitution.

Not so in Bill Knight’s recent collection “The Refugee’s Gift”, commissioned by the Refugee Council. He is a man who knows that a face speaks louder than any statistic. His exhibition, currently on display at the Lodge does something quite remarkable. It shows the success of refugees, it shows them smiling. We are used to seeing the plight of the refugee in pitiful and pathetic images. Usually of crowds and huddled masses, not individual faces and certainly not radiant ones. Knight’s exhibition certainly did not belittle the undoubted severity of the current refugee crisis, but it managed to give the sitters their dignity and that is something we don’t grant to most. He was commissioned by the Refugee Council to document the faces of refugees to Britain and highlight the contribution they make to our society and with a subject pool spanning every conceivable profession it was not hard to see how. A welcome change from the shifty and untrustworthy foreigners lurking in the pages of the Daily Mail hell-bent on destroying “British Values”, whatever these nebulous entities may be. One of these, the Refugee Council and myself would argue, is the long tradition of offering asylum. But what of the faces themselves?

As a species we are intuitively drawn to faces, psychological studies have shown that as little as nine minutes after birth infants demonstrate a preference for looking at moving schematic face-like patterns rather than scrambled ones that contain elements of faces but that are configured as non-face like (Goren et al, 1975).  A finding replicated in babies at both 12 hours and 5 days old (Maurer & Young, 1983). A face has profound effects on our pro-social behaviour too, a finding that hasn’t gone unnoticed by charity marketing execs. Show us a statistic and we are unmoved but show us an individual and put a face to that individual then we are moved. I call upon psychology once again to back me up here. People show greater willingness to help identified victims compared to non-identified ones, and the availability of individually identifying information, such as a picture of a face, increases this effect. The identifiable victim is significantly more likely to elicit greater donations than the non-identified individual. Moreover we express greater distress when the victim is single and identifiable, through their face for example (Kogut & Ritov, 2005). But what was so unique about Knight’s work was that these were not photographs of victims. They were anything but. They were successful lawyers, scientists, doctors, public figures and at the other end of the social scale they were people finding their way in a new society but very much characterised by hope and a resilience which beamed from their faces.

Knight came to give a talk at the Lodge, and took us on a fascinating journey of the stories behind the photographs. At the end one audience member asked him “Do you think you would do another exhibition showing refugees looking sad, showing their “negative face”?” one audience member asked. The answer to that was given by Fortunate Frizell a few minutes later, herself a refugee from Zimbabwe and featured with her brother in the collection, “why should he?” she responded “you just have to open a newspaper to see that”.

References:

Goren, C.C., Sarty, M., & Wu, P.Y. (1975) Visual following and pattern discrimination of face-like stimuli by newborn infants. Pediatrics, 56,4, 544-9.

Greenwald AG, McGhee DE, and Schwartz JLK. (1998) Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The implicit association test. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 74, 1464–1480.

Kogut, T. & Ritov, I. (2005) The ‘‘Identified Victim’’ Effect: An Identified Group, or Just a Single Individual? Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 18,157–167

Maurer, D., & Young, R. (1983). Newborns’ following of natural and distorted arrangements of facial features. Infant Behavior and Development,6, 127-131.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/18/us-un-refugees-idUSKBN0OY0HA20150618

 

 

 

Claire Agius reports on the Cumberland Colloquium “Moving Beyond ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ “

Photo_Claire Agius (smaller)

In many respects, our society strives to protect difference. We are protected against discrimination on the basis of our gender, sexual orientation, race and religion. At least on paper, it is acknowledged that difference contributes to a richness of community life.

However, legalised protection against discrimination on the basis of difference does not prevent ‘othering’ on the basis of difference. A recent colloquium at Cumberland Lodge considered religious othering and ways to move beyond the ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy. The colloquium brought together a great diversity of academics, practitioners and policy experts, contributing to a very rich discussion of a complex issue.

For me, the most difficult aspect of the discussion was recognising a way forward. A recurring theme was that it is counter productive to ‘manage the religion problem’ by pushing religion out of public discourse. This is because the promotion of secularisation of public life can in fact lead to the formation of ‘resistance’ identities, which further entrenches the ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy.

The exclusion of religion from public discourse troubles me. I have studied and worked in two disciplines that are avowedly secular: law and science. I have often found it disappointing to observe the readiness with which religious thought is dismissed as ‘ignorant’ by practitioners in both these disciplines.

While I see a role for religious viewpoints in public discourse, I found the discussion of the ‘problem’ of secularism concerning. There is a real need to define what is meant by secularism.

A clear separation of religion and state seems to be the necessary outcome of centuries of experimentation where entwinement of matters of faith with matters of public governance led to considerable societal discord. In particular, how does one envisage a non-secular state that sits comfortably with religious pluralism?

At the same time, a society that excludes religious views from public discourse promotes religious othering and fails to draw from a rich intellectual, moral and cultural perspective. Religious views should be part of the cacophony of viewpoints that are heard as matters of public interest are discussed. Religious views should not be seen as any more legitimate than any other viewpoint; neither should religious views be dismissed.

I do feel that religious groups themselves have an important role to play in moving beyond the ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy. Religion should not be seen as a problem to be managed. But it is also for religious communities to ensure that they engage openly with the broader public and do not end up being perceived as othering those that do not conform to their religious beliefs or practices.

Cathy Jamieson reports on “Thinking Faith: Ethics, Public Theology and the Church of England”

cathy jamieson

In recent decades, theology and religious belief have become simultaneously more public and more personal than ever before. People have the option to decide for themselves which faith, or none, they believe, while social media has allowed discussion on religious matters to take place between groups of people who previously would have never interacted.

At the recent Thinking Faith conference at Cumberland Lodge, members of the Church of England came together to discuss the role of public theology, and in particular the role of the Church, in modern, multi-faith British society. Two things stood out to me during the debate, both related to the idea of diversity.

Firstly, it struck me that represented in the room was a very diverse set of people, conversing with each other and sharing their opinions. Although all members of one Church, there were people from many different backgrounds and circumstances, who had different ideas and approaches to their faith. This is the case throughout the Anglican Church, which includes a wide range of traditions and people.

It is certainly true that the Church of England faces new challenges in existing within modern society. However, while listening to the various discussions at the Thinking Faith conference, I felt that already in the Church there are relationships built between people who approach their Christianity in diverse ways and hold differing opinions, and yet are united by the values that they hold in common. Taking this ability to unify through diversity, the Church can meet the challenges of modern society using the skills which it already possess, such as finding common ground and acting upon it. Peace, harmony, and social justice are values around which both religious and secular society can partner to create a better society for all.

Secondly, a strong theme of the discussion was the assertion that multi-faith sensitivity does not mean the eradication of self and the denial of one’s own beliefs. Multi-faith sensitivity is often understood as a feeble kind of religiosity, or that recognizing the validity and importance of other religious groups somehow decreases the value and legitimacy of one’s own. Yet I felt that the testimonies of several speakers during the conference showed that this is not the case. One person described a program in which faith leaders from Judaism, Islam and Christianity were meeting together. Although the initial stages of the program had been challenging, the rewards of building dialogue between the various groups had shown the importance of the project for all involved. Working across religions can both help to better understand one’s own faith and to engage meaningfully with those from other faiths. While listening to several presentations, I reflected that holding the tension between being distinctive and inclusive is a position which takes a lot of work; one must be well rooted in one’s own faith teaching while also taking the time to understand that of others.

I felt the discussion demonstrated that recognizing the commonalities of various faiths is not the same as declaring that all religions are inevitably identical. Rather, appreciation and discussion of differences and commonalities allows for an honest relationship in which commonalities are celebrated and built upon, and differences understood and respected. As one speaker put it, it is possible to be avowedly Christian – or of any other faith – without being triumphalist or exclusionary.  It is possible to be both outspoken, and respectful.