Arts Education and Interculturalism

Arts education can help foster attitudes favouring intercultural openness. Arts education can also help to address issues such as ethnocentrism, relativity of tastes, bias, stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination and racism. My recent exploration into the workings of arts education in promoting peace opened up my understanding to the vista of opportunities around alternative education to interculturalism.

Since the education process that harnesses cultural diversity is a lifelong process, the development of intercultural competencies is not - and indeed cannot be - limited to the classroom but must extend to the 'university of life'. To this end, greater use could be made of cultural institutions - art galleries, museums, and archives, under the guidance of the curators and oral historians, who can help to re-contextualize the object exhibited.

Such institutions must, of course, guarantee an unbiased, pluralistic and participatory approach, providing concerned parties with information about cultural issues. Museums in this vein have been emerging as places for encountering cultural diversity through the social interaction of multiple voices and viewpoints of represented communities. In going beyond a purely folklore-based approach, these new means of representation have the potential to arouse the public's interest in the significance of the objects or form of cultural expressions set before them, giving equal value to all the cultural expressions presented.

Museums, cultural centres and other places of memory can also play a special role in reconciliation and in post-conflict situations. Reference to a common artistic or cultural heritage often helps to restore the cohesion of the national community after years of conflicts.

The humanities and the arts, generally speaking, provide the means for seeing cultural differences as equal and equally respectable, and provide powerful incentives to explore the rootedness and interrelatedness of all things, situations, concepts and values. In this way, they make a major contribution to critical thinking, since without becoming aware of the multiplicity of ways of living, ways of learning and the 'thickness' and complexity of life, assumptions that hinder intercultural awareness and dialogue cannot be swept aside.

Awareness of the positive value of cultural diversity goes hand in hand with intercultural education and awareness-building on intercultural education. Inclusiveness must be fostered not only in classrooms or school administration but in the educational system and the learning environment as a whole indeed. Inclusiveness can take hold only if parents and communities become involved in these processes in a participatory and empowering way, facilitated by a pluralistic approach to education.