Creative Peacebuilders, Nonviolence, Reflections
What do you imagine when you hear someone described as “creative”?
A painter, safe in a studio, studying a canvas, waiting for inspiration?
What about when we use the word peacebuilder? Does the word “creative” come to mind? Do you imagine a peacebuilder as someone waiting for a flash of inspiration?
“We get what artists do, to a certain extent,” says Billy Price, unRival’s Chief Creative Officer. “We think of them as visionary, mission-driven, and creative.”
Billy leans into these expectations in his film, Artisans of Peace. In the first minutes, we meet a painter working in her studio. On the street below, her community is in disarray. For a moment, we wonder if her creativity disconnects her from the outside world. She fits our preconceptions of what it means to be an artist.
But this artist is not ignorant of conflict. She has embedded herself alongside others in a tragedy. Even when alone, she works feverishly to bring meaning to a terrible situation, with the tools available to her. We see her try, fail, and ultimately find inspiration in the struggle to give back to her community.
“She doesn’t lean out of her own skill set,” Billy says. “She leans into it and offers it. Being an artisan means engaging your community artistically and creatively through your techniques and your mediums and your practice. It takes more than a mural to heal the wounds of conflict, but there’s a lot to be said for people who make those gestures to cover up hate, or to render loving kindness in a more permanent way. To not allow those who are suffering to be erased.”
Instruments of Peace
In his film, Billy challenges our expectations of artists by presenting us with an artisan: a skilled worker who has connected her abilities to her neighbors and their realities. Her habits of showing up and paying attention to her community generate the flash of inspiration we call “creative peacebuilding.”
The term Artisans of Peace comes from a book of the same name. The authors find the phrase in the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:
Moving gradually together and everywhere more conscious already of its unity, [humanity] cannot accomplish its task of constructing for all men everywhere a world more genuinely human unless each person devotes himself to the cause of peace with renewed vigor. Thus… the Gospel message… declares that the artisans of peace are blessed… securing among themselves a peace based on justice and love and in setting up the instruments of peace.”
One need not be religious to find inspiration in these words. They frame peace as “construction”, and human beings as “instruments.” They evoke images of carpenters, potters, blacksmiths, or other craftspeople, making things that are both beautiful and useful.
Grassroots artists, like the painter Billy depicts, prepare themselves for opportunities to meet people where they are, helping them heal and change for the better. They are intuitive readers of their times and places. They recognize opportunities for using rare skills and unconventional wisdom. In the same way, John Paul Lederach–one of the leading voices in peace studies–urges nonviolent peacebuilders to embrace the serendipity, spontaneity, and openness to unconventional solutions we associate with artistic practice.
These habits rarely attract institutional privilege or media limelight. The most visible peacemaking often focuses on descriptions and numbers, procedures and policies, and on getting the “right answers” through expensive frameworks. Artisans of peace are invisible by comparison. Rather than making policies for people to follow, they tell stories and create dialogues where people can find themselves anew. They don’t strive to get the peace process “right”, knowing perfection is impossible—and inhuman. Their goal is to spread life: real, messy, and joyful.
Cultivating Creative Peacebuilders
As part of our Artisans of Peace program, we’re gathering peacebuilders who demonstrate these artisanal characteristics in their leadership. They are activists, artists, and academics from diverse cultures, geographies, ethnicities, and religions, with history at the grassroots and with growing responsibilities.
In the trenches of peacebuilding work, their creativity is often undervalued or even held in suspicion. We want to unearth and amplify that creativity so they can make it a deeper part of their leadership.
Four values guide these leaders as they form one another as artisans of peace:
We live in a time of significant pressure to conform to strong identities that feed rivalry. Without laying aside those identities, we want to see them in the context of one another’s broader stories. We want to hear the moments and influences that have nurtured hope and pushed back on a sense of not being good enough.
Too few spaces allow us to step back and reflect expansively, hear from people who approach questions from a different angle, and let our curiosity grow. We envision each gathering framing around such a question.
So much of art involves imitating our inspirations! We dare to enter into a community of (always imperfect!) positive imitation where the grip of self-doubt, fear, retreat into strong identities, and destructive rivalry is loosened. We want this to be a community of positive, loving models.
In the spirit of inspiring collaboration, we want to be diligent in seeing dreams and opportunities and nurture these in a spirit of trust. While we acknowledge that limited resources are something we all face, we want to go forward in a spirit of abundance that causes everyone to recognize the assets at their fingertips and the richness that can emerge from interdependence.
If you resonate with these values, or if they remind you of someone you know, we’d love to hear their stories. The world needs us to recognize and support the artisans of peace working in our midst. We hope you’ll join us in doing so!
There is hope in these divided and difficult times.
The world's peace builders desperately need spaces of trust, curiosity, and collaboration. Meet the need by supporting gatherings that nurture hope and inspire creative solutions to the world's toughest problems.
Join us to transform communities plagued by violence and rivalry.