On September 20, 2014, One World Dialogue, in collaboration with the Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum, present the exhibition Breaking Barriers. This exhibition is the second the two organizations have collaborated on to mark International Peace Day (September 21). While this is the fourth year One World Dialogue continues to build this exhibition around Peace Day and working with the arts community in Ottawa for peace dialogue, it is an exciting year with the Diefenbunker to explore an aspect of history and intriguing theme!
2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This exhibition explores through visual art, interpretations, expressions and lessons learned of breaking barriers and the symbolism of the Berlin Wall in its efforts for peace. For One World Dialogue, working with the Diefenbunker and connecting peace to the Cold War context has provided the opportunity to delve deeper into areas of peace dialogue that can connect generations and diverse sets of contexts. One World Dialogue aims to build a culture of peace. The organization is dedicated to re-thinking how social challenges are solved through art, design and the process of integrative thinking to build strong, integrated and vibrant communities.
Breaking Barriers is displayed within the Bank of Canada Vault in the Diefenbunker. For One World Dialogue, a major part of the organization’s work is to design and transform spaces to build dialogue and peace in communities. It is wonderful to see how the Vault can once again be transformed from what normally may feel like a cold, damp, empty place once built to store the gold reserves of Canada, into a colourful space for creativity and cultural innovation.
In early 2014, six artists were brought together to commission pieces for the exhibition: Sarah Barbary, Carol Howard Donati, Jaime Koebel (curating works by Howard Adler, Heather Campbell, Rebekah Elkerton, Peter Purdy, and Tim Yearington), Randolf McMillan, Marie-Paule Thorn, and Sandy Woods.
Each artist explored the theme of the exhibition from a different perspective. The purpose was to explore how, through visual art and the storytelling, various artists representing different ‘voices’ in our community can connect with the idea of breaking barriers for peace. Randolf McMillan has direct connections to the Berlin Wall as an artist who painted on the Wall before and after it was taken down. Sarah Barbary explores through animation how the next generation may explore this theme in today’s context and through a modern lens. Sandy Woods walks us through personal connections to peace and how to build peace through a series called Positive Peace. Carol Howard Donati takes a unique exploration of breaking barriers through historical research and personal stories from the Cold War to messages on food security as present day challenges to global peace – all presented via textile art using recycled plastics, fabrics and dying techniques. Marie-Paule Thorn takes visitors on a vibrant journey of interpreting images form the Berlin Wall and the playfulness of youth open to your own interpretations. Finally, local Aboriginal artists, curated by Jaime Koebel, share Canadian stories of connecting peace to our natural surroundings, the voice and protection of women in our communities, the challenges around identity and hope for Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
In addition to the amazing art and stories created by our artists, One World Dialogue and the Diefenbunker worked with youth in the Ottawa area over the summer of 2014 to engage in dialogue on breaking barriers to peace. The groups included: CHEO School, Manotik Public School, H’Art of Ottawa, Taggart Family YMCA, Odawa Native Friendship Centre and Miwaashin Lodge.
This journey brought us into a number of schools and community groups to lead a visual thinking workshop centered on dialogue. Using photos of graffiti art from the Berlin Wall, before and after the fall, we asked the question: If there was a wall between you and peace, what would you write or draw on it?
Visual thinking is a way to open up dialogue and create a safe space for learning and sharing, a space without barriers! Each group discussed the ideas of walls and barriers, from tangible barriers like the Berlin Wall that divided a country, to intangible barriers of ideology, perception, ability and culture. The workshops inspired a greater dialogue, demonstrating the power of alternative, creative learning as the mechanism to empower youth in the community.
These programs were inspiring and demonstrated how, when given an opportunity, young minds are ready and willing to delve deep and creatively into all subjects. Some moments that stand out in particular are, when a kid in grade 5 walked up and bluntly shared ‘peace is relative’, seeing how kids who normally do not speak up in class feel they have a voice worth sharing, the pride youth have in creating messages about peace through art to be displayed in the exhibition or hearing the messages that come out from groups with developmental disabilities expressing the need to more understanding, less bullying, respect and more – not only demonstrate that peace is relevant, but that there is more work to be done in providing power to more people to express their ideas and build a culture of peace.