Readings in Nonviolence features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome).
From fragments to beauty: An interview with Carole Kane
Interviewer: Stefania Gualberti
Carole Kane is a freelance artist, facilitator, expressive arts facilitator (conflict transformation and peacebuilding) and project co-ordinator. Originally trained as a weaver, Carole’s work covers different approaches which intertwine around the expressive arts, creativity, community development, education and leadership.
Carole initiated and organised workshops during the immediate aftermath of the bomb in Omagh in 1998. This cross-community work involved 150+ people from Primary, Secondary and Grammar Schools together with volunteers from the public and was carried out for Omagh District Council. The result was a series of pictures created from hand-made paper including the flowers which were left in the town in the days after the bomb. Work formed an exhibition and a book called "Petals of Hope". Pictures were given to each of the families and large pieces made for each town affected.
In June 2017, she graduated with a Masters in Expressive Arts in Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding (cited with Honours for Practice) from the European Graduate School, Switzerland. Her thesis title is “In Relation to Traumatised Communities, does the Art Making Process and Accompaniment Lead to Transformation - If so, how?” and her wider work currently explores this context.
With 25+ years experience of delivering courses, initiating and facilitating projects mainly for adults in both community art and education settings across Northern Ireland, Carole has devised arts projects for those in trauma, used creative approaches to community development, delivered leadership training, access to the arts programmes and taught business and professional development skills to those in the creative industries.
Stefania - How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in art and peacebuilding?
Carole - I got into this work one step at a time. From a very young age: drawing pictures, playing with plasticine and wool. That continued throughout school and I went on to study further at Art College- In Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and then Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee where I did Constructed Textiles. I had no idea at that point that I would not have ending up working within arts and peacebuilding.
I made a conscious decision to study away from home following the Enniskillen bomb. I was a young teenager when that happened and I was impacted by what occurred at that time- the nuances of it- the hurt that was caused, such loss and subsequent messages of forgiveness from Gordon Wilson. That was a powerful and very moving time.
Studying away from Northern Ireland allowed me to see things differently. The Troubles were happening. I was aware that my study peers were not listening for the hourly news and were quite unaware of what was going on where I came from. Then I returned home after graduation and started tutoring in Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart. This got me into making paper… and doing some very experimental work using different flowers, fruit, leaves and all sorts of things.
So, further tutoring developed, and I built up a lot of skills delivering courses in a range of community settings for Further & Higher Education, including a few peace and reconciliation workshops.
Following the bomb in Omagh in 1998, I saw the flowers left in the town by the compassionate and empathetic community. It seemed that the natural thing to do would be to bring people together to make paper using these floral tributes. So, I approached Omagh District Council, one step led to another and that was literally how the facilitation of this creative response and this long relationship was initiated and developed.
It felt like a pathway of faith, as one thing lead to another- the response went from workshop, to exhibition and book. There was a sense of calling. Well for me, given the experimental work that I had done, what else could be done with these flowers? What else would I do but lead people through the process? It continues to be like that in some ways.
Stefania - What do you feel is special about art to facilitate conflict transformation?
Carole - Essentially, it is a creative act. There is a great potential, especially in a group setting, to be constructive in opposed to destructive. I'm particularly interested in what happens within the group context of people coming together to be led through a lived experience of co-creating a piece of artwork that is aesthetically pleasing and hopefully beautiful. The dynamics of starting, feeling a bit awkward, “not knowing”, working through challenges, struggles to find something that works. The created piece can then be celebrated by those who made it, and they invite their friends to come and see it- it’s just a great process to initiate, facilitate and witness.
Creating the piece allows people to see that they can achieve something that was originally beyond their original expectation and this is one way that this process links to conflict transformation and peacebuilding. So, in its simplest form, I say to groups that if they can work though a creative process in this way, that they can do what seems impossible in peacebuilding.
Participants don't have to be artists to take part. What helps them is to surrender to the process, relax their guard, be “present”, so that they can play and just have some fun.
A lot that happens within the actual making- how the material responds as it is being worked and shaped. It's not just the final piece, but the combination between the art-making, material and the group of people doing the work- like a “call and response” really between the art-making and the art. As the facilitator, I don’t have all the answers, but I recognise this relationship between the art-making, participant(s) and the art-work, and can nurture this to take on its own momentum.
Stefania - If ‘art’ is thought of as ‘high art’ is that ever a barrier for your work with groups, especially people who would not consider themselves as ‘artists’?
Carole - People can feel quite intimidated about entering an arts space, whether that is an art gallery, theatre, or a workshop space and sometimes they don’t know what to do in that place- which is natural. They sometimes have negative memories from school where they have tried to do something creative and their efforts have been diminished or they have been humiliated by someone in authority. This is a great shame as it can put people off even trying or appreciating others who practice in the arts. There will always be people who are highly skilled and better than most of us, but this is something quite different to what I’m describing in my workshop spaces and shouldn’t stop us from utilising our creativity as a resource. Our imaginations are powerhouses and muscles that we need to keep exercising. We can apply this as a resource to help us find new languages and frames for all aspects in our lives.
Stefania - How do you think the creative process can help healing trauma at both individual and collective levels?
Carole - When I have worked with specific communities who have experienced trauma, they have told me as they entered the workshop that they felt “frozen”. They have needed a place like this to come away from the realities of the circumstances that have caused them to feel overwhelmed. I often use a phrase, “when people come to the workshop space, they hang up their coats with their question marks in the way into the space” and this is a good description of what happens. Focusing on making something with their hands leads them to a sense of “otherness” and away from worries of the “real world”. They leave the workshop looking more relaxed and tell me that they are “starting to feel again”- this is quite something. When this practice is repeated, participants start looking forward to this slot in their week and that expectancy can create hope. Also, if this happens to the individual, it becomes a shared experience when it happens in a collective.
This links to what I was saying about finding “presence” in making art. The focus on doing something with your hands, your hand eye coordination is very important, as are the logistics of experiment and exploring. I am currently making a series of bowls and I absolutely love this process. I am very conscious in this space: finding out what to do when it goes wrong… What to do when the glaze surprises me or is better than expected? Etc. And so it is that sense of working on something, pounding, kneading the clay, putting my thumbprints into it, shaping it, knowing when to stop, knowing the dexterity of the material, process and limitations- these are all important skills that can be transferred to peacebuilding. For me, the increase of this sense of presence in the creative space, transfers to my role in peacebuilding. This is how we work in the Expressive Arts theory.
I think as well, there's something about the fragments that is significant to me particularly when I use papermaking within programs or projects. I'm always finding wee pieces of paper, imagining putting them in collages with a few sequins or something. This idea of finding something and letting it develop transfers to other parts of peacebuilding. I was teaching mediation recently and explaining the importance of listening. When there is a hint of possibility of solution of what is presented in that context, we hold on to that. It could be a very important gold thread in the process helping people find solutions. All you need is that tiny little glimmer of hope and the facilitator/artist or mediator can lead people to find so much beyond themselves. That’s what we really need in the world right now.
Stefania - You trained as a weaver and when working with groups you use visual art, photography, creative writing like haikus and poetry as well as movement, music and drama. Is there an art form most close to you heart? What, or what combination, is most effective with groups and with what groups?
Carole - Textiles in some form remains the “original” for me… fabric, textiles and strings and threads and stuff like that. Since my Masters, I've been working a lot more with mixed media, whether that's been drawing, writing haikus or making films. So, my work has changed quite a bit.
Within Expressive Arts, we use an intermodal methodology, which means moving from one modality (technique) to another so I combine techniques as you say. I am better at some of those techniques than others, but don’t forget, experimenting is important in this process. I’m always exploring and being curious.
Stefania - In your years of experience is there a particular project or engagement that you want to talk about in relation to this conversation on art and peacebuilding?
My work in Omagh still underlies a lot of my practice. It was unique in lots of ways- certainly in my life as an artist- such a privilege to be able to come alongside a community at such a difficult time. Although I facilitated Petals of Hope, the creative response was made by the local community impacted by the atrocity. This has not happened in any other situation during the Troubles. It was a longitudinal intergenerational process of 20 years, yes, very much of a privilege.
There are other situations, other pieces of work where I have met amazing and resilient people. Usually there are people as we start the creative process who say: “I don't know if I can do this” but before they know, they're in the middle of it and having a great time. They will be the ones at the unveiling or the showing, standing beside the art saying, “this is my work. I did this”. I watch for the change and to see that growth of pride.
When I worked for the Workers’ Education Association, I did many projects that I was proud of- MOMA Belfast, and Whispering Belfast, these projects are on my website. The participants made beautiful pieces of work that were displayed and projected in the Ulster Museum- that was a big deal.
I've worked with people who, within a few hours, said that they would like to see the peace walls in their area come down and then the projects coming to an end far too soon. That can be frustrating.
I’ve made a lot of friends, a lot of people who have built trust - with me and in a process and now, it’s lovely when we meet as we remember happy times.
Stefania - Can you talk about DARE to Connect Safely you developed during the Covid pandemic, what was special about it?
Carole - Well, it was a lovely part of the DARE to Lead Change, a PEACE IV programme that I am currently working on. The emphasis is looking at race and ethnicity.
I developed DARE to Connect Safely in reaction to the first lockdown of Covid. My crisis management training clicked in as soon as we stopped having face-to-face contact with groups - when those early days felt like a crisis. The immediate change in routines meant that we had to “reset”, and I knew this would create problems. So, using social media to host a group and platform for creativity and ways to be present at that time, all within the legal restrictions. It worked. Feedback showed that people found it to be helpful and constructive.
Stefania - What have been your biggest learnings during the years?
Carole - Every day is a school day! There is much to discover within the process. I'm still learning and want to keep being curious. It’s the only way.
The older I get, the less I seem to know. When we come to this work with an attitude of discovery- there is great reward. I am less interested in competition. By being resourceful and complementary- then, we find collective ways and go further. Loosening tension is important. Following the steps, one after the other and let the path find the way. Trusting the Spirit that is outside of me and any resources that I have gathered within me… that's what I have learned as an arts practitioner: the arts process enables that to happen.
This is highly sensitive, emotionally intelligent work, so therefore needs to be measured in different ways. It is soft, while very strong and courageous, and in my experience- the impact is incredibly powerful. I really liked what you said at the beginning as well Stefania, about how you had engaged in the process. I suppose that really touches me. A lot of practitioners, speak of the arts in this context from the outside and looking in. When invited to participate, they are reluctant to do that. There is a threshold right there and unless they experience it, they won’t get it.
Also, for me as a facilitator, I need to be well prepared, “present” and nourished for the work. It can be demanding, so if my resources are low, if I am “running on empty”, this will transfer to the groups. Self-care was a new concept for me when I learnt about on my Masters and relates to creating safe places for good practice. There are clear ethics around this and I'm not sure we are good at that in Northern Ireland, if I'm honest.
This is a slow and very rewarding process. I am proud of my work so far, and trust that these resources will help find a path through what lies ahead in these very challenging times.