Cross-Links is a creative workshop focusing on the development of useful IT skills, applicable specifically within creative industries, that will be employed to build leadership and social cohesion amongst Protestant and Catholic youth in Belfast. In order to develop transferable skills, such as computer literacy, songwriting, peer leadership and dispute resolution tools, participants will use low-cost hardware and open-source software to engage with the original interactive visual art imaging (GIMP) and music audio production (e.g. Audacity, Pure Data). We will assume that participants will have no background or training in IT, music or art. Once orientation is complete, we will tailor specific assignments to the ability levels of each participant, so that they can each produce original electronic music and accompanying interactive visual art. Over the course of the week-long workshop, participants will work toward a final display of their original work to their peers and selected public figures, community members, media and industry personnel and community groups.
Why Northern Ireland?
Due to a combination of factors, including living in economically deprived neighborhoods where paramilitary activity is still prevalent, marginalized youth in Northern Ireland are more susceptible to becoming involved in violent conflict than their middle class counterparts. Since 1998, the creative arts have provided a platform for promoting cross-community peacebuilding between Protestant and Catholic youth in Northern Ireland. Community groups have utilized EU PEACE funding to facilitate traditional music and arts programs for young people on a cross-community basis with the aim of improving individuals’ self-confidence, skills and talents, as well as improving community relations. Though many of these cross-community music programs have increased trust and cooperation amongst pre-teen youth, bridging social capital amongst older youth remains a challenge, in part because traditional music and art programs are less appealing to older youth, or because such projects appeal only on a single-identity basis – e.g. Ulster Scots versus Irish Traditional Music. Although older youth express interest in contemporary music, it is difficult to facilitate music workshops for teens from economically deprived neighborhoods because of the cost of obtaining musical instruments and technology. Such a dilemma reinforces the attitude expressed by many in these neighborhoods that although they have paid the highest cost in terms of violence during the “Troubles,” they have yet to benefit from the “peace dividends” brokered in the 15 years since the Good Friday Agreement. This project aims to extend the capacity for peacebuilding through music to marginalized youth in Northern Ireland.
Who are we?
Dr. Laura Graham will be the principal investigator for the project and will facilitate the peer leadership training. She has expertise in Northern Irish civil society, conflict resolution, grassroots peacebuilding, social capital and organizational leadership. She will handle the organizational dimensions of the project, including identifying groups to work with, finding a space for the workshop, arranging travel, accommodation and catering, as well as other logistical tasks. She will also facilitate the peer leadership and dispute resolution exercises, as well as the field trips to academic institutions. As the principal investigator for the project, she will conduct research that will evaluate the efficacy of the workshop’s principle aims and objectives, reporting those findings in academic journals.
Dr. Richard Graham will be the workshop facilitator. He is a music technology professor in the greater New York City metropolitan area. He is also an accomplished electronic music producer, computer programmer, and performing electric guitar instructor. His responsibilities in the workshop are to facilitate the music and visual art projects with participants, ensuring a basic understanding of musical structure, digital audio and visual art tools, and basic IT skills.
What do we hope to achieve?
By encouraging young people to engage with creative technology, we hope to ensure the development of multi-disciplinary skill sets that may be utilized to create original interactive art forms, music compositions, computer programs, et cetera, that allow participants to create and innovate within a neutral creative environment that nurtures collaborative engagement with adolescents from contrasting ethno-religious backgrounds. Such an approach to peacebuilding, we argue, assists young people in identifying similarities and bridges cultural differences through creative practice.