Unification News for April 2003

Arts and Culture in Diplomacy

by Nadine Andre

A new, subtle addition to IIFWP Conferences has been the development and deliberate effort to weave within the evening entertainment, artistic and creative interpretations that use and incorporate key conference themes.

Traditionally, the evening dinners and opening and closing banquets have included some type of entertainment. Recent attempts however, have been made to build a greater synchronicity between conference themes and the choice and content of entertainment, providing a greater synergy and connection within the creative process.

As my background has been in the theater it has been a logical progression for me to move in this direction. I often see conferences as a type of theatrical event that takes participants on a journey of transformation from the beginning to the conclusion, with its high points, low points, climaxes and resolution, all ingredients of great drama.

Working with Mr. David Eaton, Director of the New York City Symphony, an accomplished composer, conductor and arranger and long-time colleague, the partnership has been natural and effortless. We have both waged throughout the years our subliminal and clandestine campaigns to bring the elements of art, harmony, beauty and grace to the sometimes vigorous and heady proceedings of conferences.

Working closely with many academics and PhD's, I imagine if I were to do a thesis it would be to study how to integrate the process of creativity in diplomacy. Many times in creating, whether collaboratively or alone, there is a process of brainstorming or putting out on the table all possibilities without censure, judgment or attachment. And then by a process of refinement and paring away, you wean away the unnecessary parts and are left with the best of the best.

There is a freedom and release in being fully self-expressed that is quite liberating. We can all think of a time where we have "let it all out," and it has felt good. Unfortunately, it is this same process that has also deemed many artists insane or have caused them to push the limits of decency and ethical behavior. But there is a thin line between insanity and genius and as we learn to perfect our characters we can master these elements and use the creative process for transformation and growth.

I like to equate the process with a painter facing a blank canvas. Sometimes you might know beforehand what you want to paint. Other times, you must mix all the colors and lay them out on your palette, then by seeing them laid out, you can choose which ones you will use, by seeing first all the possibilities in front of you. Also, there is the process of allowing yourself the freedom to change your idea or concept in midstream, if the need be or the vision changes.

There is often not very much lead-time in putting the conferences together, thus the entertainment as well. We have to use various creative brainstorming techniques. For the Middle East Peace Initiative, we sat around the evening before the Opening Night, not knowing what we would do, so we did a structured brainstorming where for about 1/2 hour the parties involved put all possibilities on the table. There were no rules except to not judge another's idea. Through this process we were able to come up with several possibilities and what emerged was a montage of bringing Jewish, Islamic and Christian oratory and song together, with the attempt to dramatize the IIFWP Founders words.

In a piece we put together for the Conference held in September 2002, "The Role of Religion in Peace and Security," prompted by the vision of Dr. Walsh, we put together, "The Hope Of All Ages," patterned after the IIFWP motto, "The Hope of all Ages is a Unified World of Peace." This is a piece still in development which seeks to trace through music, verse, drama and dance the fact that throughout history there has been a common thread woven throughout all great and noble traditions.

Recently, we brought a very unique dance company, "Silkroad," to work with us. The artistic director has spent the last 15 years of her career working on bringing Middle Eastern and Eastern European dances to a Western audience after spending many years in Uzbekistan. When she began, the dances were foreign and many of her colleagues tried to dissuade her because they were not familiar with these dances. Who was interested at that time in Kurdish folk dancing? However, who could have foreseen the recent turn of events, where now her company is in great demand and there is great interest in their work.

Often the proceedings and events of the day can be intense. During the recent Middle East Peace Initiative, there were some very heated moments, where emotions ran high. During the third evening after the first folkdance, there was a spontaneous joyful outburst by Jews, Christians and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians alike, coming onto the stage to sing in unison. It was quite beautiful and through that simple act you could feel that peace was indeed possible. There is a catharsis that comes about through singing, dancing, and being joyful. In modern times we have confined those activities to professionals, however the truth is everyone can sing, dance and be playful. These are all expressions of cultural joy. Each culture has its folk traditions of music and dancing. These are natural human inclinations to be encouraged in any culture. I remember in my youth, my mother and father would dance and teach me how to dance and it worries me when we lose these things in modern life.

I acknowledge and commend the IIFWP organizers for seeing the importance of this aspect of culture. Just as many of our colleagues argue the need for religion in political, economic and human affairs, I expand the case and urge the need for culture and art as well. The first known formal theater, as we know, were traveling minstrel groups that would portray the biblical stories called miracle plays.

One of the fascinations modern culture has, I believe, with popular music which oftentimes gives misguided messages, is because we've lost the music, dance and joy in our own lives, particularly young people. So we look to these other means. Young people walk around with headphones stuck in their ears in order to feel "something."

Perhaps by bringing these joyful elements back into our lives, we can all embrace the creative spirit that is imbued in all of us, young and old, and go beyond our often held self-imposed limitations, striving to push out the boundaries within ourselves. When we allow ourselves to live creatively, by our very doing, we give others the permission to do the same.

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