“Art should cause violence to be set aside and it is only art that can accomplish this.” — Leo Tolstoy
I remember staring up at the immense mural painting, at the figures in it towering above me. I could feel the agony and desperation on their faces, the chaos, the horror… it was chilling. It has been over fifteen years now, but the impression the painting left on me still lingers. I was at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, and this was Guernica by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso.
Picasso was in Paris when the massacre at Guernica took place. It was two years before the outbreak of WWII, and the Nazis were looking for sites to test their growing arsenal. The Spanish Civil War was raging, and soon-to-be dictator Francisco Franco arranged for the Nazi Condor Legion to bomb the small town of Guernica in the north of Spain. It was daytime, and the men Franco fought against were known to be away from town. The central market was filled mostly with women and children. There were hundreds of casualties. The message Franco wanted to send was loud and clear: “if you oppose me, I will murder your families.”
Images of the massacre in the newspaper the following day disturbed Picasso deeply. He began sketching his ideas, and in just six weeks the mural was complete. At over 11 ft. tall and 25 ft. wide, Picasso’s depiction of Guernica was larger than life. It was the centerpiece of the 1937 Paris International Exposition and would become one of the most profound anti-war statements of the 20th century. Looking back on it, I can see how, especially at the time, such a piece of art would give people pause, even those ardent supporters of the war, or any war.
This is the unique power and potential of art to build a more peaceful and just world.
Resources on art for peace
But with all the issues in the world today, how can one create a piece of art that could carry meaning and influence as did (and still does) Guernica by Picasso?
Well, art is art, so it’s not like there is a step-by-step guide on this or anything. It doesn’t work like that. But there are lots of great examples out there from which you can draw inspiration, and there are some great resource sites and networks that you can connect with. I’ve done a bit of research and compiled all these here. So to my artists out there, you dreamers and idealists like me, I hope that in these you can find some inspiration to create art to influence some issue that is dear to your heart.
I’ve organized these resources into three categories: 1) examples, 2) learning resources, and 3) networks and activities (as the networks tend to conduct activities). Some are explicitly art for peace or justice, while others may be indirect on a topic like community development or healing from trauma or something like that. A few are academic or non-government organization (NGO) oriented, but the ones I’ve chosen are reader-friendly. Some are downloads, some are online databases, and some are audio or video links. I’ve also focused on art broadly, but did not include links to sites explicitly dedicated to music, theater, dance, etc. for peace and justice, as I’ll cover those topics in later posts.
I hope you find these helpful. And please do add any other great resources that I’ve missed in the comments section below.
There are many specific, single examples of art for peace or justice, but didn’t include these as there are too many, and they tend to promote the work of only one artist anyhow. In this section, I’ve focused mostly on links with multiple examples that inspire.
This one is a short article featuring exemplary monuments to peace from around the world, from Hiroshima to Bethlehem, and from Iceland to Cambodia.
This is an online database documenting examples of artistic (and creative resistance). There are numerous categories covered, from justice, to poverty, to Palestine, to free speech, to prisons, to wealth inequality. On the topic of ‘war and peace,’ there are nearly 500 unique examples.
The Arts in Peacebuilding and Reconciliation: Mapping Practice (2017) | by Tiffany Fairey on Art and Reconciliation
This is a PDF download of a report that documents 14 examples of the use of arts in building peace and reconciliation. The report takes a more academic approach, but it is reader-friendly and has photos from each of the examples. The 14 case studies are from around the world. Some are justice-focused, others on conflict transformation, and others on healing.
This one is an article covering a number of examples of the use of art to build peace in the context of Nairobi, Kenya, from 2008–2013. It demonstrates various ways art was used to address conflict issues at different stages of violent conflict in Kenya (i.e. during and immediately after violent conflict, as violent conflict diminished, and as the potential for conflict rose again.
This is a series of audio and video files from a conference by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO). Files are topical conversations with artists, musicians, playwrights, filmmakers, etc. using their art to transform conflict and build peace. The setting is more academic as PRIO is a research association; however, the presentations by artists and the conversations that follow prove interesting. Search for which conversation aligns with your interest.
This is a TED talk video by French-Tunisian artist eL Seed. In the talk, eL Seed discusses how he spreads messages of peace through graffiti art of traditional poems in traditional Arabic calligraphy.
This is an extensive database of free resources to artists and activists using their creativity to make the world a better place. All materials are Creative Commons licensed and free to share. The database includes webinars on artistic activism, free online training courses, and a podcast mini-series. They also have an open-access, user-generated database of creative activism, research reports, and documented experiments on the efficacy of creative activism.
Supported by the New Zealand government, Creative NZ presents an article outlining a seven-step process for building strong community arts projects. Each step includes a downloadable tip sheet and a short video compilation of interviews with artists and community members to help you plan and execute your projects. It is very well organized and straightforward.
This is a resource database dedicated to helping others engage in creative placemaking, a unique approach to making creative spaces for community artists, and ultimately for revitalizing communities in the process. Artscape DIY started as a project over 30 years ago in Toronto, Canada, then began helping others apply their creative placemaking approach. The database is extensive and can be difficult to navigate, but there is a short video on the site that provides a brief overview of the tools and resources to help you navigate the database.
This is a downloadable PDF toolkit intended as a guide when planning a public art program or evaluating an existing one, and it contains resources for the management of public art projects. It includes details on all phases of completing a public art project, detailed case studies and links to examples from around the world, illustrative photos from public art projects, and a compilation of links to key web-based resources. CCNC is a national nonprofit organization in Canada.
This is a resource database hosted by Brandeis University’s program in Peacebuilding and the Arts. There is quite a lot in there, mainly focused on academic papers produced through Brandeis University, their collaborators, and networks. While mostly containing academic articles, the database covers many unique topics, and articles are very informational. So if you’re looking for something specific, you may find something unique that will support you in whatever art for peace activity you’re planning.
This includes a few downloadable articles and presentations outlining ICAF’s approach to building peace through art, focused on children and trauma healing for children affected by conflict. This is a resource page associated with their “Peace through Art Program,” one of their many programs.
This is a downloadable curriculum guide with numerous lesson plans and examples for turning war toys into peace art. It is designed for use in schools, community centers, and homes. It takes a whole community approach for engaging with teachers, parents, local artists, and others. And it includes classroom activities to engage students in conversations about peace as well as activities for making collaborative peace art projects, and inputs for planning exhibitions.
Creativity for Wellbeing (C4W) | by Richard K. Potter
This is a database of art activities that anyone can do to promote creativity, wellbeing, inclusion, and community involvement. The site aims to make it easier for people to start their own art activity group or art workshop in their community. It was created to be used by anyone — parents, educators, and groups.
Networks and activities
In my research, I found many networks that didn’t seem to be very active. I’ve included only those that seem quite active and useful for those seeking to make art for peace (or justice).
The International Committee of Artists for Peace (ICAP) is an organization founded to create a culture of peace and develop future peacemakers through the transformative power of the arts. ICAP sponsors concerts, exhibits, school programs, dialogues, and peacebuilding workshops to instill the ideals of humanism and nonviolence in today’s youth.
World Citizen Artists is a global movement of socially engaged artists, creatives and thinkers whose aim is to create effective and evolutionary change in the world through events, exchanges and other opportunities involving art to raise global awareness. They work to raise the voices of artists working for good causes, they connect artists and like-minded non-profits, and they have an awards program for artists, musicians, and creatives making a difference in the world.
The Craftivist Collective is an inclusive collective of people (termed ‘craftivists’) committed to using thoughtful, beautifully crafted works to help themselves and encourage others be the positive change they wish to see in the world. Founder Sarah Corbett develops tools and projects that collective members can undertake as individuals or in groups, and she also hosts sporadic events for the community. Check out A Craftivist’s Manifesto to learn how you can be a craftivist.
The Global Art Project for Peace is an international art exchange for peace that takes place every two years. The way it works is that participants (who have signed up) create a work of art in any medium, expressing their vision of global peace and goodwill. Participants are paired with others internationally, and the artworks are sent as a gift to each participants’ partner (or partner group). Participants are encouraged to organize activities and exhibitions associated with their involvement in the project. The project celebrates peace, diversity, and multi-culturalism.
Find more creative ways you can build peace and justice in the world around you. Download my free handout 198 Actions for Peace.