International Alert’s Talking Peace Festival returned for its second year last September with a packed five-week programme of creative events, all designed to kick-start conversations about peace and celebrate the role of dialogue in resolving conflicts.
Running with a special theme of ‘peace in our cities’, the festival went global for the first time – with events running in eight countries around the world. Food, art, talks, hackathons and exhibitions again featured prominently in a schedule that also included some exciting new elements.
The biggest of these was Peace Tracks – a global collaborative music project aiming to bridge cultural divides, which launched last August. High-profile recording artists such as ABBA and A.R. Rahman contributed audio elements that were built upon by musicians from around the world, including at this recording studio in Sheffield.
A private view of our #ART4PEACE exhibition, ‘Peace from the street up!’, also took place ahead of the official festival launch. Over 20 established urban artists donated works for the exhibition in Brick Lane, London, which all aimed to stimulate curiosity about global peace and conflict issues – particularly in the context of cities.
Among the artworks on display were Italian-based Clet Abraham’s Il Poliziotto Innamorato/Policeman in Love (top) and Nepali street artist Shradda Shrestha’s Ani hami ek bhayau/And we were one (bottom). Shrestha, whose canvas was inspired by the earthquakes that struck her home city of Kathmandu earlier in the year, was one of a number of artists from conflict areas who took part.
The festival officially kicked off in the underground tunnels of House of Vans in Waterloo, London with a Peace Talks on 'Peace in our cities'. The discussion looked at some of the challenges facing cities around the world, including in Latin America and the Middle East, asking what can be done to make them safer.
LBC Radio’s James O’Brien (far right) chaired the debate, with (left to right) security and development expert Antonio Sampaio, environment editor at the Guardian John Vidal, reformed gang member Junior Smart and International Alert’s Rebecca Crozier on the panel.
Conflict Café (formerly Conflict Kitchen London) also returned for its second series, serving up authentic food and inspiring conversation from conflict areas around the world. The pop-up restaurant welcomed 600 diners across the month to House of Vans, raising £6,000 for our peacebuilding work.
The focus of the first week was Syria, with chef Haitham Yassin from Ayam Zaman restaurant serving up three delicious feasts. Honey & Co. founders Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer then kept the Middle Eastern theme going with a sell-out mouth-watering Sunday brunch (above).
The culinary focus then shifted to Nepal, with chef Rajiv KC introducing diners to the traditional flavours of his home country. Alert’s Charlotte Onslow (above) spoke about the challenges facing the country following the recent earthquakes and the end of the 10-year civil war.
Empanadas were in abundance for the third week of the series, where Colombian chef Esnayder Cuartas (top) prepared a banquet that brought strangers together on a grand communal table.
For the final week, Turkish chef Gulay Cay (top) teamed up with Armenian chef Natalie Griffith (bottom) to devise a unique menu that celebrated the shared culinary traditions of these divided countries.
Diners found out more about our 'Recipes for peace' project on the Turkey-Armenia border region, which uses food as a peacebuilding tool to bring communities together.
Meanwhile, our #ART4PEACE campaign was getting into full swing with a series of live paintings taking place in London around the UN's International Day of Peace, alongside the exhibition. Street artist Billy Colours painted a mural in Ely’s Yard inspired by her vision of peace in the city (top), whist Carolina Maggio and Morgan Ico joined forces to give Leake Street’s famous grafitti tunnel a peace-themed makeover (bottom).
We also teamed up with Jealous – a top print studio in London – with 12 of their artists turning House of VANS into a spectacular live #ART4PEACE studio.
And the live painting didn’t stop in London. Colombia also joined the #ART4PEACE campaign, with Spanish public art group Boa Mistura working with the local community to produce a 480 square metre mural for a social housing project in Bogotá.
Impressionist Alistair McGowan (top) was among the stars who provided some Peace Day cheer at our annual fundraiser Are You Taking the Peace? at The Comedy Store, London. The brilliant Andy Zaltzman and Stewart Francis also performed, and the night was compered by the ever funny Alistair Barrie (bottom).
We also marked Peace Day with a special Peace Talks on technology at Google Campus London, which asked, Can an app stop a bullet? The discussion was chaired by International Alert trustee and Build Up co-director Helena Puig Larrauri (above).
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales contributed a special video message for the discussion, which was led by panellists John Ridpath from Decoded and Nikki Philline de la Rosa from Alert’s Philippines office.
This set the stage for our global #peacehack series – peace hackathons aimed at developing groundbreaking ideas for building peace in cities. We returned to Google Campus for the London #peacehack, where the focus was on countering violent extremism.
Other hackathons took place simultaneously in Barcelona (top), Beirut (middle), Washington DC (bottom) and, a week earlier, in Colombo. Technologists, designers, developers and peace practitioners united to pitch a range of creative ideas. Judges picked winners in each city and some of their prototypes are now being developed.
Our photo exhibition, Crossroads: Building new paths to peace in our cities, ran for three weeks in Waterloo, London. This gave a glimpse into the challenges facing young people in four cities where we work: Beirut, Kampala, London and Tunis.
A number of passers-by stopped to hang up their own peace messages at the crossroads.
Another photo exhibition was launched at the Uganda National Museum in Kampala entitled 'Oil and water?', which looked at the impact of oil exploitation on livelihoods in the country. Kampala also played host to an art exhibition by school children, as well as a panel debate and workshop on technology and peacebuilding.
Poetry nights were another new feature of the 2015 programme. We partnered with The Poetry School in London for a special SLAMbassadors event – their national poetry youth slam compered by Joelle Taylor (above), which gives young people the chance to speak out about the conflicts in their lives.
The festival concluded with an #ART4PEACE auction at The Club at The Ivy, in London’s West End, led by Sotherby’s auctioneer Edward Rising. Artworks raised over £15,000, with this Peace Shield by War Boutique (bottom) fetching £2,500.
Photo credits: Sal Alexander, Katie Dervin, Chris Khoury, Philip Kirk, Ayan Kishore, Andy Kyriakides, Mark McKay.