Community arts as a tool for reconciliation in Northern Ireland
The thirty years of sectarian violence between the Catholic and Protestant communities (known as the Troubles), left the Northern Ireland society deeply suspicious of the 'other'. Since the sighing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Northern Ireland has moved through a tentative peace process. At the time of writing the issues that hold the peace process in stasis include the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and policing. Similarly the release of political prisoners as part of the Good Friday Agreement has been a difficult reality to face foa significant number of victims of sectarian violence. During the Troubles two approaches prevailed in attempting to reconcile tohe two main communities iand bring an end to the conflict. These were the structural approach and the cultural approach. The structural approach saw the roots of the Northern Ireland conflict as lying within its institutional frameworksand looked for ways to address this. Alternately, the cultural approach saw hat thte conflict was sustained through the belief systems of the two main communities, with the perpetuation of thnegative myths about the 'other'. Resolution of the conflict was seen to be possible by challenging these belief systems through either cross-community work, which brought together Cathoics and Protestants in face to face meetings, or community developemtn work, which focussed on single identity work, empowering the identites of each community so that the two main communities could come together as equals,. It was generally acknowledged that the structural and cultural approaches nneded to be used in tandem, in the effort to reconcile the two main communities. The thesis focuses particularly on the cultural approach, by examining what role, if any, community arts played in reconsiling the two main communities in Norther Ireland between 2001 and 2002, four years af the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The assumptions that informed this research were: i) reconciliation, the restoration of relationships, can be facilitated through the creation of a safe environment wherein people can express their stories of living through a period of violent conflict, to and with one another, in a non-threatening space; ii) community arts can assist in the creation of these safe spaces by producing opportunities for people to create and express these stories in different and less threatening ways. In examining the role of community arts, the thesis highlights three approaches community arts organisations adopted in their work: an arts for arts sake approach, a cross-community approach and a community development approach. By using these approaches, the thesis shows that whilst community arts has helped in a significant number of ways, a large number of people in Northern Ireland have not been ready to talk about reconciliation, and significant sections of the Protestnant community have been reluctant to engage in community arts activities, both within their own community and with members of the Catholic community.