What Can We Learn from the Art of Resilience?




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Feb 12, 2017
by Oscar Tollast
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What Can We Learn from the Art of Resilience?

Fellows explore ways to move forward and use arts and culture sector to enhance individual and societal resilience Fellows from The Art of Resilience took part in a long table discussion to summarize some of their main talking points 

There is an untapped potential for the arts and cultural sector to enhance resilience of individuals, communities and societies. Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties and unexpected challenges. While other industries have previously been the first port of call, the arts and the cultural sector continues to have an influence. It can inspire, catalyze, and sustain projects which bring about positive change. 

During a five-day session, participants at Salzburg Global’s session The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal discussed art and resilience and how it links across several thematic areas. These areas included: refugees, migration and integration; climate change; indigenous communities; post-conflict settings; urban upheaval and social injustice; and cultural heritage. Listed below are a few of the participants’ summarized thoughts from the final day’s wrap-up session.

Art can help build the resilience that...

...Is required in post-conflict settings

There can be at least three groups within a conflict: the victims, perpetrators, and the people left in between. Each group - indeed each person - will have a different experience. When looking at a post-conflict setting, it is advisable to analyze the situation in a more diverse way and identify the needs of everyone. With this in mind, “renewal” is a term which deserves as much attention as resilience. For renewal to occur, it is important to create spaces where people can meet. Spaces have to be open where people can “breathe again.” People on opposing sides cannot live together unless there is recognition of what has occurred. Survivors of massacres might not even know what has happened. The topic, however traumatic, has to be explored; these challenging stories can be told through the arts - enabling individuals and communities to heal.

...Surrounds refugees, migration, and integration

Freedom of creative expression is a fundamental right for all displaced people. One way to address the needs of refugees, forced migrants, and displaced people through arts and culture is to create and design an arts-based policy framework. This structure can enhance opportunities and respect for migrants and refugees. The fundamental principles to address are artistic aesthetics and praxis, narratives of integration and impact, and deepening public discourse on identity and perceptions of display. The arts can create opportunities for displaced artists to curate and be curated across regional and international platforms, reaching new diverse audiences. Displaced artists aren’t merely subjects, but are both creators and collaborators. Fellows proposed a research and mapping exercise which may be achieved in collaboration with a global network of arts councils, a dedicated Salzburg Global Seminar session, and pilot projects emanating from the work.

...Comes from reinventing and reclaiming cultural heritage

It’s the icon we often think of when cultural heritage comes to mind. Heritage proves existence, identity, indigenousness and our connection to history. It can prove you have the right to belong to the world. Preservation is a Western construct, as are museums. Art can help us to re-establish ourselves. The more we don’t know of our past, the more others can tell us who we are in the present - rightly and wrongly. Action should be taken to protect cultural artefacts before it is too late. Cultural heritage remains alive through art. Heritage is a layering of times, periods, events and our responses to them. Resilience is choosing how to live. It can be wearing a mask, adopting a persona, and acting “strong enough.” Something can become heritage when an old dance format is revived with new costumes and new themes. Out of it comes a strengthened old form and becomes an example of resilience. 

...Is needed to face climate change

One of the biggest challenges we face on this planet is climate change, tackling its effects and preventing further damage from taking place. Culture-based solutions need to be scaled up and accelerated to respond to areas of concern. This action needs to take place at all levels of society. Salzburg Global Fellows suggested bringing greater visibility to the arts and cultural sector, while also creating a network of champions at a local level. The work of C40 Cities is a good example of an organization that is bringing cities to the forefront of positive change. Training programs could be constructed to relay and repeat the message. Later this year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will host a Climate Change Conference in Bonn. The UNFCCC will promote art and culture related to climate change ahead of the conference. Efforts should be made to alter the minds of people in management in cities. Good work by local residents has to be made more visible. 

...Tackles urban upheaval

In times of urban upheaval, alienation can come from dislocation, natural disasters, climate change, etc. Alienation is a form of injury. Artists can help by making the invisible visible. Artists can create beauty in environments previously destroyed. Spaces for creative collaboration across sectors should be promoted, creating a language for global wealth with an art lens. Social cultural agents and interactive areas can be strengthened to become change facilitators. Artistic tools should be identified to build social architecture that will be the foundation of urban infrastructure. Salzburg Global Fellows recommended that there should be a global platform for best practices and organizations that work on social cultural change transformation through the arts. We should promote public spaces that set the framework for action. 

...Shown by indigenous communities

During the focus group discussions at The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal, the discussion on climate change generated thoughts on indigenous people’s own narratives and traumas. The focus group reviewed how indigenous people fitted in these stories. “There is a better way to be human for all of us.” Change is coming, so how can we work together? Language can be used to find meaning. Indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage is found in community and self-determination. The cost of speed is panic and exclusion, and exclusion concerns the people affected first. Individuals who have been resilient through trauma can act as role models. Indigenous communities have stories which define values and help prepare them for the future - and these should be shared more widely.  

Moving forward

Conversations during the session repeatedly came back to what is personal. There is a need for broad-based coalitions to tackle some of the issues. Fellows will now consider what they will do when they go back to work, what knowledge they will take from the five-day program and how art can be at the center of what they do. It’s important to venture out and speak to different groups, they were reminded. It’s also significant to connect with other sectors and form cross-sector partnerships. For these partnerships to exist, participants need to look at how the arts can speak to donors and organizations unassociated with the arts. Can this cohort of 60 Fellows help people reconnect with their creativity? Good things take time. It is important to persist even if progress isn't achieved in a week. Success will be measured by how the Fellows continue to work together and secure their future.


The Salzburg Global program The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is being supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can read all the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.