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Peacebuilding and the Arts unites its participants

By Ariel Kay
On October 25, 2011

The second-annual Peacebuilding and the Arts Symposium, sponsored by the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, took place from Friday to Sunday this week in the Abraham Shapiro Academic Complex and the Slosberg Recital Hall. Multiple artists, writers, singers and storytellers came to Brandeis to share their work with students and community members, as well as to discuss how to create better and more creative communities through art.

The first event of the seminar, on Friday, featured storyteller and singer-songwriter Jane Sapp. She was the musical director of Voices of Today, an award-winning choir, for 11 years. A documentary, titled Someone Sang for Me, tells the story of her work in the Civil Rights struggle and her impact on the students she teaches at a public school in Springfield, Mass. Sapp has also performed many solo concerts, including a performance at Carnegie Hall with folk legend Pete Seeger.

At the Friday concert, Sapp sang several spirituals. Her work is heavily influenced by African-American culture and her own experiences in the American south. Sapp also shared stories about her experiences as an arts teacher.

According to Sapp's website, "One of [her] primary goals is to help young people grow into leaders, to help them gain the confidence they need to be spokespeople and advocates for their communities. [She has] consistently found that as young people start talking about their dreams, they discover their own strengths and move towards a more positive and hopeful future." Sapp's commitment to teaching arts to young people made her a particularly insightful lecturer and performer at the symposium.

On Saturday, the Peacebuilding and the Arts participants gathered in the atrium of the Abraham Shapiro Academic Complex. About 30 Brandeis students and faculty, as well as people from outside the Brandeis community, participated in the symposium. The morning began with a round of introductions through a story circle. In this exercise, each participant told the rest of the group a bit about themselves.

The rest of the day was filled with theater games and several talks about the intersection of art and society. The talks were led by three women: Dijana MiloševiÄc, co-founder and artistic director of DAH Theater in Belgrade, Serbia; Cynthia Cohen, the director of the symposium and the principal investigator in the "Acting Together" project; and Polly Walker, assistant professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Penn. Each talk seemed to expand upon the ideas of the previous discussion as the participants got to know one another better and got into the rhythm of the event.

At the end of the day everyone gathered together to share his or her thoughts on the presentations, as well as what they wanted to cover on the final day of the symposium. It was clear that, at this point, the participants had bonded quite a bit. The discussion ended with everyone singing another spiritual and two group hugs. This friendly, even loving atmosphere, was quite different from any academic conference that I had previously attended.

On the final day of Peacebuilding and the Arts, everyone gathered back in Slosberg. Arthur Kibbelaar, consul for press and cultural affairs at the Dutch consulate in New York City, and Hubert Sapp, former director of Oxfam America's America Program, both gave talks about culture in developing nations and communities. This subject was of particular interest to the group. More than just learning about the history of peace and the arts, they wanted to continue this legacy themselves.

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