It’s an older project, and yet one germane to today’s fractious political and cultural polarities.
In 2010, I spent two weeks in Ramallah, Palestine, as a Cultural Envoy for the U.S. State Department, part of a program to encourage cross-cultural understanding and collaboration. During my time on the West Bank, I worked with youth, art students, and professional artists on a project called I Value All These Voices.
For the project I offered a prompt (“if you went to the moon for a year and could take any one thing of value with you, what would it be?”), and from that participants made art about their chosen valued thing. The results surprised me, most art-makers choosing emblems of their Palestinian identity: the Palestinian flag; their melancholy; an olive tree.
(I should not have been surprised; participant after participant had shared examples of being stripped of rights and agency under Israeli domination.)
My intention was to model celebrating each individual’s values and identity—to say in word and deed that their voices have value.
While little (if any) progress has been made in the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict since that project, I remain committed to the belief we can only make advances in bridging divides if we begin from a position of mutual respect, even with (or especially with) our divergent values.
Giving space to one another to speak aloud of what matters to us—here at home as much as abroad—is the sine qua non if we are ever to have harmony.