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.