Original publication: November 2017
Author: Prof Alison Phipps, University of Glasgow, UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2zW7FcE
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Why cultural work with refugees

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This briefing provides useful, authoritative and timely information to Members of the CULT Committee on the effectiveness of cultural work with refugees to inform the CULT Committee’s deliberation on EU support for cultural work with refugees.

In this document, cultural work with refugees is broadly defined as including all arts activities and creative/cultural expression that is done by or in collaboration with refugees. “Refugees” are understood broadly as those granted status but also those referred to in the popular imagination who may be awaiting decisions, or different migrant status from countries in turmoil, or with humanitarian protection visas. “Culture” has been taken to broadly indicate arts work as well as the production of culture, but not as ‘national culture.’ Iconic examples of historical records, narratives and artefacts, demonstrate how cultural work with refugees has been a task over millennia. Since the advent of writing, the historical and archaeological record represents artistic or symbolic depictions of those thrown on the mercy of others in war time, revealing much about the concerns of the age in which the interpretation is carried out.

The theoretical basis of this briefing lies in the arts and humanities, especially in creative and performing arts and in social and cultural anthropology, security studies and global mental health, as these are the disciplines where the majority of literature has been published.

Leading examples of cultural work with refugees are drawn from reputable international NGOs, artists, academic literature, as well as with known examples of community arts work with refugees. It is challenging to give a global overview of cultural work with refugees, given the thousands of cases to draw on. Criteria for identifying best practice are not readily available: nuanced differences exist between organisations and projects. Though cases may work with the same community doesn’t mean they work in the same way.

Why cultural work with refugees

Melanie Lemahieu / Shutterstock

The briefing identifies the base tenet of the RISE manifesto for work with refugees and artists as an important ethical foundation for good practice: nothing about us without us. RISE are a refugee-led advocacy group in Australia, engaged in the development of just and ethical responses to cultural work with refugees. Public surveys of attitudinal change as a sole indicator of integration are potentially problematic, and their use in this briefing are heavily qualified. Improved well-being in target groups has been evidenced by evaluations of such creative arts activities, especially for those suffering effects of trauma.

The briefing asks the question as to what cultural work with refugees is to be effective for, and for whom? There is much evidence of effective use of cultural work with refugees, in the form of propaganda, which promotes xenophobia.

It is the recommendation of this briefing that cultural work with refugees prioritises the ethical and aesthetic aspects of any proposed activities for the promotion of effective intercultural and societal wellbeing.

Key messages
  1. Cultural policy to be drafted which works from the basis that “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.” i.e. no cultural work undertaken about refugees, which does not involve refugees throughout its inception, design, creation and production, has their wellbeing at heart and therefore cannot be part of fostering good intercultural relations or integration.
  2. Consider referring to refugees as ‘new Europeans’ in some contexts to destigmatise terminology.
  3. By making new creative artefacts and productions with new Europeans we build our own capacity to work with all marginalised groups, which already exist in our own societies.
  4. The making of cultural work together creates a climate of care for society and has key therapeutic benefits for wellbeing and overcoming mental distress.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/602-004

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Further reading:


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