UN Arts Ambassador Visits Cairn

On September 9th, 2013, Cairn students engaged in a “peace-building” activity often employed among international politicians, courtesy of the Embassy of Nigeria.   The host of this workshop, Ibiyinka Alao, is a Nigerian artist serving as Arts Ambassador to the United Nations.  Although formally trained as an architect, Alao took first place in the United Nations International Art Competition in 2007—chosen among hundreds of artists from 61 nations.  Although this award launched his career in international politics, Alao has seen his art as integral to his role as a “peace builder” for over 20 years.
Each of Alao’s roles as architect, painter, and ambassador came into play during his visit to campus.  Starting the day with a classroom lecture on the role of faith and beauty in architecture, Alao then connected one-on-one over a meal with faculty and students from a diversity of programs: social work, music, honors, and Mu Kappa (a student organization connecting “missionary kids” and other “third culture kids” at Cairn).  In the largest event of the visit, Alao delivered a lecture inspiring the Cairn community to explore the rich connections among writing, visual art, language, geography, music, culture, architecture, and Christian mission work.  Far from a mere monologue, the presentation engaged volunteers in African drumming and the entire audience in creative movement.  Insightful anecdotes reinforced key themes.
This integration took on a hands-on dynamic in an afternoon conflict resolution workshop held for students in the Social Work and First Year Arts and Culture programs. Demonstrating the power of art to break down barriers and invite conversation, Alao led students through an art exercise commonly used in his work in conflict mediation.  After the demonstration, students formed small groups and tried their own hand at painting an iconic African landscape.  When international political figures experience the shift of perspective and community brought about by engaging in art, Alao says, “they forget that they are not supposed to be friends.”  In his experience, art’s ability to bring people together makes it a powerful tool for evangelism and conflict mediation in various cultural and cross-cultural contexts.
The UN Ambassador of Arts residency was hosted by the Cairn Arts Initiative, an ongoing campus initiative that integrates the creative arts into the experience of every Cairn student.  In addition to events such as this, the Initiative also sponsors a curated integrated art gallery that exhibits fine art in every major building on campus.

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