About the Arts for Reconciliation Research

It is claimed that Art for Reconciliation produces work that reflects, represents, or responds to multiple forms of political conflict in ways that encourage conflict transformation. This claim is reflected in international political and financial support for the growth in AfR.

University of Liverpool, Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast have received a research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to explore Arts for Reconciliation (AfR), specifically asking:

  • Whether AfR is achieving conflict transformation
  • The distinctive strategies and practices of AfR
  • How we can improve practice and promote the values of AfR

Why do communities use art as a response to conflict?

Communities frequently use art as a means for driving relational change between people involved in conflict and mobilizing the voices of those harmed by conflict. The starting point for the research is to question the validity of this claim, not because it is untrue, but because as noted in the AHRC Cultural Value report, "long-term evaluations of arts and cultural initiatives in post-conflict transformation have rarely if ever been attempted".

Why is the research important?

The various outcomes of AfR are not be adequately understood. How do we know, for example, whether AfR can enable processes of healing, witness testimony and inter-community engagement? Or whether it can be transformational and stimulate positive relational change between communities in conflict? What if AfR simply replicates the divisions of conflict? If we do not look for answers to these questions, then AfR will not possess the definitional robustness required to adequately understand how positive reconciliatory outcomes can be realized.

We do not possess proper evaluative forms which measure how AfR achieves a shift out of and away from conflict. For example, evaluations are often tied to audience numbers as opposed to more in-depth and grounded techniques that measure positive relational change between communities in conflict.

We do not know how funding practice, community response and the management and production of art affect the landscape of AfR.

Without robust techniques and grounded research the value of AfR cannot be adequately disseminated.

Finally, when we locate art as conflict transformation it is generally non-transferrable. Better knowledge production concerning AfR will aid wider dissemination.

What is our research methodology?

A core element of our research methodology is to work in partnership with a Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on aspects of the design, data collection, analysis and presentation of research activity.

This approach serves to challenge the viewpoint that academia is the sole or key site for the production and dissemination of knowledge around the impact of AfR work. Instead, a central tenet of our approach is the valuing of the ‘experiential expertise’ of those who engage in funding, designing, delivering, participating in and experiencing AfR work. In essence, we all have equally valid perspectives and forms of knowledge on AfR, which when joined together, can better contribute to the development of our understanding of its impact.

Who is the RAC?

A group of approximately 20 artists, arts managers, funders, policymakers, and community support professionals together with non-artist participants such as conflict transformation NGOs, victims groups, communities engaged in AfR and audience participants, as well as academics engaged in the study of AfR.

We recognise that people’s commitments will vary over the course of the research project and so the individuals involved may change over time.

Why is the RAC important?

RAC members will act as critical friends and collaborators and provide a system of ‘checks and balances’ between communities of interest and researchers, which will help ensure that neither is privileging certain data or perspectives over others. RAC meetings will provide a reflexive forum in which both the academic research team and the RAC can consider the research findings and help ensure a common vision for developing learning, policymaking and value from the research.

What does the RAC do?

Members will meet 2 times per year for the three years of the project (2018 - 2021) and read any outputs in advance of meetings in order to ensure a robust, critically engaged research project that not only addresses gaps in existing academic research on AfR but also serves the research needs of those in the relevant groups and organisations.

RAC members will also:

Assist in data gathering and analysis - providing access to material held by funders regarding decision-making processes and the complexities of policymaking

Assist in data gathering and analysis - providing access to material held by funding recipients regarding evaluation reports and impact studies on AfR work.

Discuss and participate in interpreting the emergent findings.

Assist in the identification, design and analysis of AfR case studies.

Aid research dissemination and knowledge transfer between participants and researchers – taking part in public seminars, Exchange Forums, and through sharing research findings held on the project’s website via their own networks both on- and off-line.

Participate, as appropriate in sharing reflections on AfR work and the research process on the project website.

What does the research aim to achieve?

This is a co-produced research project that grounds its methods in interaction with funders, policy makers, arts managers, artists and communities engaging in AfR. Through a focused study of funded AfR our research project aims to:

Determine if AfR initiatives do, or possibly could, affect meaningful conflict transformation Share evidence regarding art as conflict response beyond the arts community and communicate its value to those who are currently unaware Develop ways in which transformative AfR can be achieved through better evaluation, auditing and articulation Create an evaluation mechanism that promotes deeper understanding of what is actually taking place within AfR to all sectors involved in designing and delivering this work Develop a dissemination strategy to share information about creative arts engagements and interactions which respond to conflict and aim for meaningful reconciliation Contribute to effective knowledge that highlights the value of art as a facilitator of conflict transformation.

Who will benefit?

Knowledge transfer is important not only to develop social science and arts/humanities engagement, but to develop and show how art may play a role in broader conflict transformation processes. Current frameworks, typologies and methodologies, both in academia and amongst communities of practice (i.e. funders, policymakers, artists and arts managers, and community support professionals) do not always reflect or adequately evaluate transformative outcomes. Ultimately, we seek to address these aims in ways that can have direct, meaningful and purposeful impact on the work of funders, communities of practice and the public. The project will speak to how communities respond to conflict and work to better explain, understand and appreciate how their lived experiences of harm and injustice, inform that response. The dissemination strategy will be used by groups involved in different types of reconciliation projects to sustain and develop conflict transformation activity.

Planned Impacts

This research project will have impact across a range of sectors and communities engaging directly and indirectly with the project, and this engagement will be at local, national and international levels. Outside of academic outputs, impact is linked to a critical learning process with multiple participants and partners who will aid the determination, design, forms and relevance of impact strategies. The project's outcomes will be co-produced through its Research Advisory Committee whose members will be embedded in knowledge exchange and the design of impact strategies throughout. The audit of funded post-conflict arts projects aims to benefit funding organisations and bodies such as the NI Executive (Ministry of Communities), EU Special Programmes Body, local authorities, Arts Councils, foundations that fund Art for Reconciliation (AfR) (e.g. UNESCO, the Big Lottery Fund, the Clive Richards Charity Ltd, Arts NSW, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Art for Amnesty (Amnesty International), Kellogg Foundation, the William Cadbury Charitable Trust and Fellowship of Reconciliation), and reconciliation work in the devolved Parliament, Assemblies and Westminster. This will be achieved by examining the efficacy of present and future funding strategies. Assessment of funding and evaluation strategies will aid impact in terms of developing a more effective dialogue between these groups and the production of new and enhanced ways to determine, evaluate and disseminate the potential transformative capacities of AfR. Additionally, communities and professionals who respond to conflict through art (i.e. Youth Action; NICVA; Healing through Remembering; Community Dialogue Arts, Kabosh Theatre Company; The MAC; Community Arts Partnership, Voluntary Arts Network; Culture + Conflict; The Acting Together Project) will also learn more about the processes of designing, auditing, achieving and presenting the value of AfR.

Exchange Forums

Three Exchange Forums will provide voice, networking and learning opportunities, and foster development of critical learning by asking pertinent questions that are relevant to policy-design, the methods of evaluation and experiential learning. The forums address the following issues: Forum 1: 'What are our intentions? Interpreting the goals of AfR' Forum 2: 'What's happening? Understanding AfR in practice' Forum 3: 'What are we learning and what's next? An international perspective.'

Research Findings

The project's findings and methodological approaches, hosted on a dedicated website, will include a typology of AfR outcomes and facilitate shared understanding of how peace-building and reconciliatory goals may be achieved through the arts in light of the differing needs, resources and capacities of individuals and organisations involved in AfR, and lay the groundwork for potential international impact.

Arts and Humanities Research Council

The Arts and Humanities investigate the values and beliefs which underpin both who we are as individuals and how we undertake our responsibilities to our society and to humanity globally. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training, in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe.

Visit the AHRC website at: ahrc.ukri.org, on Twitter at @ahrcpress, and on Facebook search for the Arts and Humanities Research Council, or Instagram at @ahrcpress.