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CARAVAN: How the Arts can be a Peacebuilder between the creeds and cultures of the East and West.



A personal note from the Publisher:  It has been my original goal to co-create a collaborative media infrastructure that could help people overcome misunderstandings and work better together.  In organizing this platform, I am personally honored to meet amazing people such as  Rev. Paul Gordon Chandler who is the Founding President of a wonderful initiative that is building bridges between communities.  As we continue this path of overcoming misunderstandings and working better together, we are always seeking stories and editorial contributors from around the world whose words and music, art and media, ideas into action can bring us closer together instead of further apart from one another.  Please join the Movement for Better together when you register for Mobilized here.

Some of our biggest problems and social issues have their origin in misunderstandings. For a society cannot function when it is in a constant state of ignorance; we need to find better ways to overcome misunderstandings and build bridges between us all. 

Mobilized intends to be a platform to enable bridges to be built.

Inventor Nikola Tesla said: “Fights between individuals, as well as governments and nations, invariably result from misunderstandings in the broadest interpretation of this term. Misunderstandings are always caused by the inability of appreciating one another’s point of view. This again is due to the ignorance of those concerned, not so much in their own, as in their mutual fields. The peril of a clash is aggravated by a more or less predominant sense of combativeness, posed by every human being. To resist this inherent fighting tendency the best way is to dispel ignorance of the doings of others by a systematic spread of general knowledge. With this object in view, it is most important to aid exchange of thought and intercourse.”

Mobilized plans to feature weekly dialogues with individuals and organizations who are helping us all by bringing people together to overcome misunderstandings and finding better ways of co-existing peacefully and harmoniously.

“Religion and politics have their own languages but the language of art is universal.”

“The real weapon of mass destruction is ignorance.”

Mobilized spent a little quality time interviewing  Rev. Paul Gordon Chandler, the Founding President of CARAVAN.   CARAVAN develops creative initiatives that use the arts as a catalyst to bring people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs closer together toward building sustainable peace.  They develop, organize, curate and host numerous artistic programs; exhibitions, festivals, lectures, concerts, artist exchanges, collaborations, seminars, symposiums, forums/panels, film screenings, etc.

Their primary program initiatives are their peacebuilding art exhibitions that bring together many of the Middle East’s and West’s premier and emerging contemporary artists around a bridge-building theme.  CARAVAN’s exhibitions are strategically “nomadic” (hence the “caravan” theme) and they are held in a variety of locations in the Middle East, Europe and North America, rather than in a consistently fixed setting, allowing flexibility to respond to world events, arising invitations, opportunities and need.  These exhibitions result in unprecedented gatherings of renowned Middle Eastern and Western artists coming together to use art for intercultural and interreligious dialogue and exchange, and garner attention from the international press, media and art world, attracting many thousands of visitors.

“The Border Song” features the only lyrical passage written by Elton John; found in the third verse, he wrote:

“Holy Moses I have been deceived
Holy Moses let us live in peace
Let us strive to find a way to make all hatred cease
There’s a man over there
What’s his colour I don’t care
He’s my brother let us live in peace
He’s my brother let us live in peace
He’s my brother let us live in peace”

How do you see art and media empowering a healthier society?

Well, I am reminded of that profound statement by Kahlil Gibran, the early 20th century Arab-American poet-artist and author best-selling book The Prophet: “We have forgotten—or have we?—that there is but one universal language and that its voice is art.”

During a time of escalating misunderstanding, stereotypes and violence between religions and cultures in our world today, our experience at CARAVAN has shown that arts can be one of the most effective mediums to build bridges… to enhance understanding, bring about respect, enable sharing, as well as developing and deepening friendships between those of different faiths and cultures…changing negative perceptions and creating lasting change in the quest for justice and peace.

Art is a universal language that has the ability to dissolve the differences that divide us…whether through visual art, film, music, literature, theater, drama, design or animation. For as long as conflict has torn the human family, art has allowed us to see similarity within difference, offering a mode of reconciliation. And it is here that I think that artists can lead the way. With their embrace of greater tolerance, artists provide new pathways of understanding that transcends borders and how we see the “other”. The power of creativity counteracts the demonization of the “other.”

And we see the transformational power of art both here in the West through our various CARAVAN initiatives and in the Middle East and North Africa. As the dynamic former Tunisian Minister of Culture, Latifa Lakhdar, said: “Creativity is the greatest way to [approach] our battle against those people who would destroy even the most elementary principles of life.”
Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian novelist sums it up profoundly: “The task of art in enormous… Art should cause violence to be set aside. And it is only art that can accomplish this.’”

In your experience, what are some of the most effective bridge building solutions that help people work better together and overcome misunderstandings?

Well, certainly, in the midst of the all too often widening divides of discord and misapprehension, our day calls for a whole new kind of movement: not of belief, or of cultural or religious unity, but one that quite simply builds on what we hold in common. Hence now more than ever, creative demonstrations of dialogue and peacebuilding are needed.

At CARAVAN, our mission is to build bridges through the arts between the peoples, faiths and cultures of the Middle East and West. Our artistic initiatives profoundly embody a fundamental message of intercultural and interreligious harmony, seeking to serve as a common starting point on which to build, toward seeing the development of societies that inherently respect and honor cultural and religious diversity, living and working peacefully together. We see the arts as offering strategic resources for everything from facilitating discussion, dialogue and education, promoting further understanding, to nonviolently reducing conflicts, transforming relationships in the aftermath of violence and building the capacities required for peace.

For us, the aim of art is always higher than art…as we believe art can help us see someone different than ourselves for whom they really are…that they are actually like us. As Kahlil Gibran so powerfully wrote: “Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down.” In this sense the arts for us aren’t only about encouraging intercultural or interreligious dialogue and exchange, but about something much deeper…they are about facilitating intercultural or interfaith friendships — establishing sincere human relationships that cannot be broken by the words or actions of others.

And one of the most transformative aspects for us, is that our artistic initiatives become “Encounter Points,” bringing people together that would normally never come together, to gain insights into the “other,” listen to and learn from the “other” and alleviate fears that exist. We are all changed by experiences we have. So, our goal is to give someone an experience of the “other” through the transcendent nature of the arts. This is essential to our mission, because it is through directly encountering people of other faiths and backgrounds that long-held incorrect views and stereotypes are challenged, as new friendships are formed.

One of the secrets of using the medium of the arts in peacebuilding, especially in the intercultural and interreligious arena, is that art is “indirect” in its approach to addressing very difficult and challenging issues. And as a result, the all too often defensive walls are not raised. As an indirect catalyst, art creates a safe and equalizing space in which to begin real dialogue, and sensitively addresses negative stereotypes of the “other,” as well as even healing old rifts.

At CARAVAN, we strongly believe that it could not be timelier for the arts to play a central role in promoting peacebuilding and a sectarian-free world.

What is it about your project or initiatives that separate you from others in the same field or sector?
Well, first of all, CARAVAN one of the few non-profits involved in peacebuilding through the arts between the Middle East and West. However, what makes us even more distinctive is how we go about this.

Our flagship initiatives are our CARAVAN art exhibitions which are focused on facilitating East-West dialogue and furthering understanding, toward building bridges. These strategic exhibitions have resulted in unprecedented gatherings of premier and emerging Middle Eastern and Western artists coming together around peacebuilding themes, using art as a bridge for intercultural and interreligious dialogue. And these exhibitions have garnered attention from the international press, media and art world, attracting many thousands of visitors.

There are three distinguishing features of these CARAVAN exhibitions:
1 -First, they are nomadic. They “caravan” from the Middle East to the West. So, they originate in the Middle East, and then are showcased in varying locations in Europe and North America, rather than in a consistently fixed setting, allowing flexibility to respond to world events, arising invitations, opportunities and need.

2- Secondly, our exhibitions are most often held in heavily trafficked “sacred spaces” or public spaces, as opposed to traditional art spaces, in order to maximize viewership from the widest possible demographic. For example, they are often held in cathedrals. We have held exhibitions in cathedrals like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., that receive thousands of visitors daily. Or in renowned public spaces, like at Ground Zero in New York. Additionally, within “sacred spaces” there is already a contemplative nature to the atmosphere which facilitates the deeper message of the art exhibition.

3 – Thirdly, the visual art serves as a catalyst for the development of a wide range of programs and events around the exhibition to stimulate discussion, dialogue and education, promoting further understanding (such as talks, forums, lectures, concerts, symposiums, literary readings, film screenings, panels, field trips, etc.).

What are some of the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?
Well, there are always logistical challenges, while organizing and hosting these major artistic initiatives internationally. But those are the normal challenges. However, without a doubt our greatest challenge remains finding the needed funding. We continually receive requests, invitations, from throughout the Middle East, Europe and North America, to come and assist them strategically through our artistic peacebuilding initiatives. However, as we are not a foundation or an endowed entity, we are constantly limited as to what we can do. The need is tremendous, the potential is unlimited, and the doors of opportunity wide open. But finding the adequate resourcing is a major obstacle. Our experience has shown that the individuals that support CARAVAN’s peacebuilding work are educated, world-traveled, have a passion for the arts and see the critical needs for building bridges between those of other cultures and creeds. We just need many more of them!

What are some of your new and upcoming projects that you could talk about?
We have a new exhibition coming up that is most timely. Titled “ABRAHAM: Out of One, Many” (playing off of “E pluribus unum”), the exhibition is a creative response to today’s climate of increasing prejudice and stereotyping, which has resulted in the rise of “tribalism,” populist nationalism, antisemitism and continuing anti-Muslim sentiment. It is an exhibition that reminds us that all Christians, Muslims and Jews have the same family heritage–their ancestor Abraham. Abraham is a spiritual figure of distinct significance within the three primary monotheistic faith traditions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, who has much to teach our world today about welcoming and embracing the “other,” and living together more harmoniously. For this exhibition, three globally acclaimed Middle Eastern contemporary visual artists from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faith traditions, have each created five paintings that interpret Abraham’s life journey for us today, serving as a guide toward creating cultures of peace, harmony, justice and healing. The exhibition will premiere in Rome, Italy the first weekend of May 2019, and will then be showcased in the United Kingdom over the summer of 2019, before touring the US through the end of 2020.

We  just launched an international online exhibition of contemporary art celebrating the rich diversity of our world called “Global Mosaic.” As a juried exhibition, it is an appeal to visual artists everywhere to join us in our belief that human diversity is our greatest strength. By embracing our differences and respecting each other, we enrich our own lives as well as build more compassionate communities and a better world. With this online exhibition we aim to illustrate artistically our fundamental human connectedness which supersedes creed, culture, gender, race and any other background. And by being part of the same human family, we need to resolve misunderstandings, treat each other with respect and embrace our differences, realizing it is our diversity and unity that enriches us. Each participating artist will submit one artwork reflecting their best representational or abstract interpretation of the theme, adding their voice to a celebration of our wondrous “Global Mosaic.”

How do you best overcome misunderstandings of your work and efforts?
We actually haven’t experienced many misunderstandings per se, as what we are and do is quite clear. This of course doesn’t mean people always agree with our mission. Some, quite frankly, just can’t bring themselves to join our peacebuilding “caravan,” to commit to journeying together with those different than themselves. There is a sense that some find security in having an “enemy.” And it becomes quite unsettling to them when they learn that this supposed “enemy” actually isn’t an enemy at all, but is rather someone just like themselves.

On a positive note, we often tour these peacebuilding exhibitions of Middle Eastern artists in areas in the US that are known to be the most prejudiced against Arabs, Persians and Muslims. And we have found that at the end of the day, most people, whenever they have a positive experience of the “other,” are gracious and hospitable, and are able to increasingly look more kindly upon them.

How do you stay inspired?
The greatest inspiration is seeing the transformational aspect of the work we do. There are numerous inspiring stories that come out of CARAVAN’s peacebuilding artistic initiatives. One example, in the interreligious arena, is how one of our exhibitions led to a pioneering initiative that involved Muslim imams and Christian priests and pastors visiting each other in their own faith communities (i.e. staying with each other and their families over the weekend, attend their worship services, etc.). The whole focus is on seeing them becoming ambassadors of peace in their local communities. The program has been immensely successful…with hundreds of imams and priests having gone through it. And you should hear the stories and see the depth of friendships that have developed between them. All because of a CARAVAN art exhibition that first brought them together and expanded their worlds.

There are many inspirational stories like this of both personal and societal transformation. Personally, I am also deeply inspired by the artists we work with – most of whom are from the Middle East – who use their creative gifts to challenge the status quo, calling us all to live on a higher plane.

If ever you thought of handing in the towel and giving up, what did you do or who did you turn to, to get your focus back?
Even though I am an American, I grew up in Senegal, West Africa, which is a majority Muslim country. So, I have always been passionate about finding ways to creatively build bridges between peoples of different religions, cultures, ethnicities and nationalities. It is part of my DNA so to speak. It really has become a calling for me…a “raison d’etre.” So that deeper dimension to all this helps me persevere in the midst of all the challenges that do exist, whether they be from the peacebuilding work itself or in finding the resources to enable it.

What words of advice would you offer others who have some sort of dream different than those of their peers?
Well, first of I would make sure that the dream, whatever it is, really is an integral part of who that person is. It has to be something that flows naturally out of them…almost as if they have no choice but to work toward realizing that dream. Secondly, I would make sure that dream corresponds to a genuinely felt need in our world. This is important, as it is hard enough seeing a dream realized when most believe it is needed. Thirdly, I would encourage them to seek out others with similar dreams and learn from them. I love the words by the Italian writer Luciano de Cresanzo: “We are all angels with one wing; we can only fly by embracing one another.” Working together with others towards a common goal is more impactful and much more fulfilling.

Paul-Gordon Chandler is an author, art curator, Episcopal priest, social entrepreneur and authority on the Middle East and Christian-Muslim relations, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and North Africa for many years. He grew up in Senegal, West Africa. From 2003-2013 he was the Rector of the international Episcopal church in Cairo, Egypt. He is the Founding President of CARAVAN, an international peacebuilding non-profit that uses the arts to build bridges between the creeds and cultures of the Middle East and the West. He is the author of four books, with his most recent book titled IN SEARCH OF A PROPHET: A Spiritual Journey with Kahlil Gibran (Rowman and Littlefield), in which he explores the all-embracing spirituality of Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet.
For more information on CARAVAN, see: Further information on Paul-Gordon Chandler can be found on his author website:

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