Finding Art & Peace

Finding Art & Peace

I believe art has the power to save people. I believe this because it saved me.

I am an artist. I am a poet. I am a peacebuilder. I am recovering.

Funny enough, art was not always something I believed in. At least not this strongly. I was a musician in high school. I did some journaling. And I even tried my hand at poetry when the season for poetry submissions came along in English class. I never saw art as something that changed anybody, even though I loved music.

Finally, I found my home in writing and poetry with a hint of music when I have the right instrumentation. Let’s be honest, trombones just don’t play parties alone.

I’ve always found solace in words, but I remember a time when I couldn’t even find words. Every time I started writing I spent more time scratching words out and doodling over them than I did creating anything. In retrospect, I wasn’t ready to start talking about what I knew. That is what the best writing is about – what you know – and what I knew was way too complicated to start talking about out loud. Just a few years ago, though, when I ran out of excuses to not deal with it and all other means of ignoring everything, I came face to face with a type of broken I can honestly say I hadn’t yet seen. Right when I should have been permanently, irreparably broken, I found my words.

It was finding my words that started to change the way I look at the world, healing, and eventually peace.

I started to see that art has a unique role in understanding pain, struggle, and conflict. That I could really uncover the causes of my own pain and conflict by exploring my art, and ultimately that exploring my experience through art could also help other people explore theirs at their own pace, in their own way.

My journey to seriously consider the role of art in peace began here. How can we do peace if we don’t take the time to understand the underlying, innermost causes of conflict – inner and interpersonal? And how can we possibly understand the underlying causes of conflict in a community if the people in the community haven’t had the chance to understand them themselves?

I didn’t understand what I was struggling with for a long time. Art helped me figure it out in a way that was comfortable for me. Sometimes sitting down with a traditional counselor isn’t enough, and often it’s not even an option. We have to find a way to better understand and identify the causes of conflict in individuals and communities, so that we all know better how to address them.

Art let’s you explore your life and experiences both directly and indirectly, and, for those who don’t do art, seeing and discussing art can help you uncover your own struggles.

What better way to promote agency in your own understanding and healing than art? Art helped me realize I was an agent in my own life, that I had the power to deal with my problems, and that I could do it through art, when so much else had failed. This was a pivotal moment in becoming the person I am today.

 The Theory Behind the Journey

Peace is both the ending of violent conflict and the removal of structures that promote violence. It is creating structures that contribute to sustainable, lasting peace. There are many opinions about how that happens, but most agree it has political, social, economic, security, and legal dimensions. My degree program broke it down into conflict analysis and resolution, human rights, and development and human security.

If you look at peace theory, it’s so clear that art has a place amongst those dimensions. The basis of conflict analysis and resolution is that to end violent conflict and create peace we have to figure out the causes of conflict. Art has the ability to uncover and explain the causes of conflict in new and more holistic ways.

Art can revitalize local economies and promote not only short-term relief, but long term, sustainable development. It can build up local artists and artisans while bringing in art lovers, collectors, philanthropists, and business people – thus boosting local, small business to meet the increased demand for housing, food, and transportation.

It has also helped record and remember lives lost to terrible human rights abuses. It’s often helped promote reconciliation. Things like storytelling are often used as traditional forms of forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation. Art is so often used for social recovery that art therapy is now a widely used tool for helping children, youth, and adults overcome horrible traumas and abuses.

 The Missing Link – Why Nairobi?

Art has a role to play in each and every aspect of peacebuilding. Peace is often seen as a systemic goal, and art has a role to play in that too, but what art really does is make an intentional connection between the creation of inner, personal peace and systemic peace.

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The youth I met in Kariobangi and Mathare believed so intrinsically that their everyday actions could contribute to personal and community peace. That they could build peace by saving money from their car washing business to teach children about social issues through football. That they could build peace by doing free concerts for community events and schools, so they could use their art to contribute to individual and community development, while also pushing for deeper conversations through the subject matter their art explores. That a couple of djs could contribute to peace and social awareness by creating a mixtape that also talks about social issues during traffic jams.

The coolest thing about youth in Nairobi is they’re already on a journey to connect inner peace to systemic, and they want to do it in new, innovative ways. So in some ways, they taught me, at the end of the day, that art just makes sense. If we ever want to take youth seriously, and we should if we really take peace seriously, then we have to start speaking through mechanisms that youth speak through. Youth are not only the backbone of society, but also the backbone of peace. And I know from the youth I’ve met here that I would be completely lost to try to create peace with youth without including the very voice they speak through.

For me, the lesson at the end of the day is this:

For all those without the privilege, resources, and opportunity to be heard, art is the voice. For all those too broken, marginalized, and disenfranchised to speak, art is the platform.

Jessica Ciccarelli, the Recovery Poet

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About the author: Jessica Ciccarelli is a recent graduate of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies with a Masters degree in Peace and Justice. She is currently living in Nairobi, Kenya collaborating with local partners to begin a leadership program that trains disadvantaged youth with a focus on art, peace, and conflict transformation. She runs a blog at www.therecoverypoet.com, in which she focuses on the healing power of art to create peace.

Finding Peace with Faith as an LGBTQ Person

Leaving home and living on your own for the first time can be challenging. This event can be even more complicated if you are someone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or those who are just beginning to explore who they are in terms of their sexuality or gender identity. For some LGBTQ young people, being on their own might symbolize stepping into the freedom to finally explore and claim who they are. For others, it might mean leaving a place of safety and acceptance to enter new environment of unknown and unpredictable variables.

I want to just speak about one area where LGBTQ people, regardless of age, often find their lives conflicted and complicated…faith. Along with figuring out who you are as a person, college can be an opportunity to explore, adhere to, question, alter, or discard previous beliefs or find new ways of believing and being in the world. Just as in our relationships with our families, many LGBTQ people have been hurt by faith communities. Others have experienced an open and embracing community of faith. Additionally, many of our supportive straight allies don’t want to be part of a faith community that is alienating to us.

If you do desire to belong to a faith community or you wish to explore and learn more about a different faith tradition than you have previously known about or been a part of, that conjures up a whole other minefield of questions. Where should you go?   Where is safe? That brings us to the heart of what I truly want to provide you in this blog post. Below are a list of resources and congregations that you can use in finding a way of believing or worshipping that is right for you. I encourage you to use your time in college to truly allow yourself to explore who you are in all aspects, including spiritually!


Christian Resourceswww.gaychristian.net

United Methodist Resources: King Avenue United Methodist – www.kingave.org; Summit on 16th United Methodist – www.summitmuc.org; Broad Street United Methodist – www.broadstreetumc.net. The term for United Methodist Churches that are affirming of LGBTQ persons is “Reconciling”. You can find more churches inside and outside of Columbus at www.rmnetwork.org

Baptist Resources: University Baptist Church – www.ubccolumbus.org. You can find more “Welcoming and Affirming” Baptist Churches at www.awab.org

Episcopalian Resources: St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church – www.ststephens-columbus.org. Find more Episcopal “Welcoming” congregations at www.integrityusa.org

United Church of Christ Resources: St. John’s United Church of Christ – www.stjohnschurchcolumbus.org. The term for LGBTQ safe United Church of Christ churches is “Open and Affirming.” Find more safe congregations at www.openandaffirming.org

Mormon Resources: www.affirmation.org

Muslim Resources: www.mpvusa.org

Jewish Resources: www.worldcongressglbtjews.net; Congregation Beth Tikvah – www.bethtikvahcolumbus.org; Temple Beth Shalom – www.tbsohio.org

Unitarian Universalist Resources: www.uua.org/directory/staff/multiculturalgrowth/lgbtq-ministries; First Unitarian Universalist Church – firstuucolumbus.org

Mennonite Resources: Columbus Mennonite – www.columbusmennonite.org

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Source: Flickr/B Tal

Josh Culbertson is a student at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio where he is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He is a member of Broad Street United Methodist Church in downtown Columbus, and he is the chair of their Reconciling committee. He has also worked in the arena of inter-faith organizing with Equality Ohio to bring voices of faith to discussions around LGBTQ rights and protections. You can read more about his struggles of coming to terms with being both a gay man and a person of faith at www.authenticculbs.com