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A few short notes from the Cities in Transition conference, Derry-Londonderry

 

Of interest – The star of the show Star Men, about IRA bombers reminiscing and not quite finding glory (at the Playhouse in Derry the other night) was in fact an IRA bomber, who as a young man badly damaged the Guild Hall; that’s where this conference is held… I was on a panel featuring Niall McCaughan (Playhouse Gen Mgr; moderator), Alice McCartney (Arts and Regeneration Officer, Derry City Council), Declan McGonagle (Director of the National College of Art and Design, Dublin), and Mela Zuljevic (an activist with the Abrasevic Youth Centre, Mostar). Our topic – “Transforming Communities Through the Arts.”

 

AM: Artists with a point of view often operate against a background of defense/offense. “Agree with me, or say nothing.” Art can also break this down, creating open space. The follow through – the open space must then be entered into, mutually/hospitably. A work of art moves from being a boundary marker (the murals and painted curbs in Derry) to an invitation; from wall to door.

 

DM: Moving from a passive to an active art; where art isn’t simply owned, or force-fed, but is a tool of engagement, including audiences and spectators in a compact of citizenship. Transformation of public space to civil space. “Arts and culture maintain the conditions for that transformation.”

 

Where dialogue isn’t maintained, action is a matter of victory and defeat… As in militarism without politics, politics without culture, symbols without complexity.

 

A peace process must take cultural identity into account, searching for a “parity of esteem.” Empathy is not consensus, it is a space that finds mutual power in difference.

 

Our question – not how to remember, but why? An answer: so as not to repeat (or in other circumstances, so as to bear forward) the past. The answer guides form(s).

 

ML: Reconciliation is not erasure – it is critique. Her project – literally making maps of her (new, radically and externally fashioned) country; maps with narratives – the idea of a map as a memory or argument.

 

We are not looking (in art) for the right view, but for enhanced viewing – multiple perspectives.

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