Art as a Gateway to Inclusion: Insights from an Unconventional Conference Hosted by GC Caucasus in Yerevan

From March 6-8, the Global Campus Caucasus hub, coordinated by Yerevan State University and its Centre for European Studies, orchestrated a transformative international conference titled "Inclusion through Art". This dynamic event, featuring panel discussions, keynote speeches, interactive sessions, and performances, convened civil society members, policymakers, and cultural organisations to explore the intricate nexus of art, human rights, children’s rights, disability rights, and inclusion. Delving into the intersection of children’s rights and the arts, attendees examined case studies from various countries, shedding light on inclusive practices within performing arts.

The event was a collaboration with Swedish ShareMusic & Performing Arts, Henrik Igityan National Centre for Aesthetics (GAC), and Right Livelihood. It brought together distinguished international guests, academics, representatives from educational, disability, and child development authorities in Armenia, Global Campus faculty and experts, as well as prominent local figures committed to advancing children's rights and fostering inclusive societies.

(Global Campus representatives along with partner organisations representatives, credits: @sicreativeforce instagram account)

Day 1 Highlights

The first day kicked off with a keynote address by Cameroonian activist and Right Livelihood Laureate Marthe Wandou, centering on the intersection of disability and human rights. Wandou's insights paved the way for engaging discussions moderated by experts like Kristine Gevorgyan, GC Caucasus Programme Coordinator. Panel discussions explored various themes including children's rights and the arts, with ShareMusic's Chief Executive and artistic director Sophia Alexandersson showcasing the My Convention project focused on the CRC. Additionally, a debate among GC experts examined child participation, emphasising the shift from tokenism to meaningful engagement.

An artistic performance titled "Discipline Room" by Alessandro Lenzi, produced by Raizes Teatro, offered a compelling interlude, highlighting the potency of performance art in conveying societal messages.

(“Discipline Room” performance by Alessandro Lenzi, credits: @sicreativeforce instagram account)

Day 2 Highlights

On the second day of the conference, the focus shifted to examining case studies in the practice of performing arts and inclusion globally. Composer, aid worker, and human rights activist Nigel Osborne shared insightful perspectives drawn from his experiences spanning various countries including Sweden, the United Kingdom, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lebanon, South India, North Uganda, and Ukraine.

Panel discussions explored diverse themes, with one moderated by Zaruhi Batoyan, a journalist and expert on the rights of persons with disabilities. Lilit Mnatsakanyan, Director of the Republican Pedagogical-Psychological Center (RPPC), discussed inclusion as policy, referencing the Armenian education policy, reforms in inclusive education, and the potential introduction of institutional mechanisms to ensure accessibility and inclusivity.

The day concluded with an impressive child-led panel discussing the rights of children with disabilities and the impact of conflict and displacement on their mental wellbeing. Comprising members of the Armenian Children Leadership Team (a GC initiative) and the Consultative Body to the Ombudsman Office, this panel also provided a very moving moment.

Day 3 Highlights

On the final day of the conference, the focus shifted to practical applications and toolkits for promoting inclusion through art. Mariam Muradyan, alumna and child rights expert from GC Caucasus, along with two co-authors, introduced the "Inclusion Through Arts" toolkit. This new resource equips art teachers with practical activities infused with child rights content, aiming for significant outcomes.

Attendees actively participated in discussions revolving around achievements, challenges, and recommendations, with a specific emphasis on the right to education for individuals with disabilities. The day concluded with a workshop training session led by Vahan Badalyan, providing participants with valuable insights into teaching approaches and tools applicable in an inclusive art environment.

Closing Reflections

Jihad Nammour, Academic Coordinator of the GC Arab World and the conference's wrap-up speaker, highlighted the diverse perspectives brought by international panellists, offering a comparative outlook spanning the globe. Meanwhile, the array of Armenian speakers delved deeply into Armenia's specific context regarding inclusion and access to services.

Though disability was a primary focus, the varied viewpoints shared during the conference emphasised the universal challenges faced by marginalised communities. They underscored the necessity for collective action to tackle systemic inequalities, as emphasised by one of the panellists who noted that the absence of complaints doesn't equate to issue resolution.

In summary, the international conference on "Inclusion through Art" served as a catalyst for transformative change, reigniting a sense of purpose in the global pursuit of a more just and equitable world. The Global Campus of Human Rights, along with its partners, remains steadfast in its commitment to protecting children's rights and nurturing inclusive societies.

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