Our speaker today, Nils-Eyk Zimmerman, doesn't speak very much – he wants us to work through our projects. Every one of the thirty-four of us was asked to prep a poster describing one of the ways you're engaging with the topic of peace. It could be artistic, academic or some kind of social project.
I put down something called Kitchen Talks
, a group I started in Saint Petersburg where we meet weekly to talk about controversial issues and give space for folks to share and listen to other opinions. There are a lot of other ones to read about: an exhibition in East Ukraine, helping engage South Korean youth with northern refugee issues, collecting stories from displaced people in Belgrade, giving a platform for Donbas women to share their lives and successes, collecting interviews, writing plays, documentary work.
"Now go around," he says, "and write comments. Not criticism. Just give your impressions."
This is the first of three stages – the second one involves asking clarifying questions and the third lets us give critical feedback. The order is good for me. When I put forward a project of mine I'm usually looking for critical feedback, so it's easy for that to be the first thing I offer in return. Putting on the breaks slow things down and prevents it from being a nitpickfest.
When we've gone through feedback from our projects, we grab some tea and sit in a circle while he describes what it means to do something 'cross-sectorally.' This is one of the big features of these two weeks – it brings folks from different backgrounds so that we can approach an issue from different sides. Also it might help us think of ways we can collaborate interdisciplinarily. And for our speaker that's something that helps lead to social change.
For him, social change (or at least the intent to produce it) is necessary ingredient in cross-sectoral work. This goes against the philosophies of some people in the room – they find it suspicious when there's a 'goal' in a piece, or an intention to make sure that the audience walks away with one thing in particular in mind. They like to engage with something while leaving room for a wide number of consequences rather than just one 'right' one. So obviously there's a lot of discussion.
And this tension is partially the point – we're reminded that different sectors have different approaches to similar projects, meaning that there are going to be these kinds of conflicts. But part of what we're challenged to do is identify those tensions and give them room to breathe instead of resolving them right away (or pretending to).