Building peace in the minds of men and women

Art Lab for Human Rights and Dialogue

UNESCO, as forum for dialogue and intercultural exchanges, strives to restore dignity to those who have been left behind and who have left everything behind; to facilitate national reconciliation and bring together fragmented societies; and to prevent violence in post-conflict contexts and against excluded communities.


Art Lab in brief

Art Lab is a laboratory of artistic interventions, which highlights the social role of artists in processes of memory and reconciliation, and, hence, in promoting human rights, dignity and artistic freedom.

Some key work streams were identified at a UNESCO-OHCHR-UNHCR Design Thinking Jam held in Geneva on 26 February 2020, involving cultural operators, committed artists and foundations, to promote the power of the arts among humanitarian and development operators.

This initiative has global scope, involving the sensitization of UN instances on the transformative power of the Arts among those who have left everything behind and those who have been left behind.

Art Lab will also conduct pilot-activities with the support of UN Field Offices, to sensitize and train cultural, development and humanitarian operators on how to plan and implement artistic interventions within post-conflict contexts, camps or urban settings (refugees), and amongst excluded communities. Art Lab will also collect good practices with relevant indicators to showcase the concrete impact of the Arts in the field.


The gaps to be filled

The Art Lab for Human Rights and Dialogue is designed to fill the following societal gaps: 

  • A holistic approach that addresses the ‘softer’ aspects of human needs still does not exist. Putting such an approach at the core of humanitarian welfare programmes must be prioritised in order to better release the creative forces of individuals.
  • There remains a lack of systematic evidence on the impact of the arts in recovering human dignity and strengthening social cohesion.
  • Good practice benchmarks in this domain have not been identified.
  • There are limited guidance and advocacy tools on how to maximize the contribution of art to human rights and dialogue.


Our objectives

This project aims to achieve: 

  • A portfolio of good practices mapped
  • Training tools for cultural and humanitarian operators produced
  • Cultural, humanitarian and development operators trained in more than 100 countries
  • A multi-stakeholders platform set up, committed to promoting the Arts for human rights and dignity, including UNESCO Chairs and international experts, art activists and development operators
  • Over 100,000 people living in places of hardship enrolled in artistic initiatives!


The power of art

The arts have proven to be a powerful tool in supporting reconciliation, rehabilitation, and reintegration. For instance, in the Central African Republic, SGBV (sexual and gender-based violence) decreased from 76% to 16% in the Mole refugee camp after four months of dance workshops with the Refugees on the Move programme (African Artists for Development) in 2016.

Many narrative reports highlight the transformative power of art when working with populations living under continuous stress. The use of arts in humanitarian and development work should, therefore, be more consistent and systematic.

Artistic activities are a powerful means of social integration, connecting people beyond differences. They can help individuals to envisage a new life and a better future.



Some facts

70.8 million people have been forced from their homes around the world. This includes nearly 25.9 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18 (UNHCR, 2019).

Today when a person sets foot in a refugee camp in Africa, it is estimated that they will stay there for 17 years of their life. Providing shelter and food is not enough to guarantee peaceful societies. Underlying injustices must be addressed. Processes involving artistic creativity can contribute to reconciliation, the restauration of human dignity, and the building of peaceful societies.


The role of UNESCO

UNESCO is mandated within its constitution to contribute to the promotion of all human rights. This includes the right to participate in cultural life and the right to freedom of artistic expression. The Organization also has an important role in the promotion and protection of cultural diversity. With its 193 Member States, and among its networks in the fields of human rights, social inclusion, artistic freedom, education, and cultural diversity, UNESCO has a unique and transversal perspective on the welfare of human beings and its importance for ‘building peace in the minds of women and men’.



Related Art-Lab events

  • 3 March 2020 (at 4 PM): Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights will present her report to the Human Rights Council. Webcast through this link.

For the 3rd year in a row, the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts team are organising a large international knowledge exchange festival for anybody working with integration through creative and/or linguistic methods. This is a free event, open to all. Download full programme here

  • 22 May 2020: “Art-Lab for Human Rights and Dialogue” special edition webinar in response to COVID-19 and beyond, co-organized by UNESCO and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the occasion of the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

Other events:

  • 17 February 2020 - 06 March 2020: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). International Conference Center Geneva (CICG)
  • 10-12 March 2020 (10:00-13:00, 15:00-18:00): UNHCR 70th Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme
  • 31 March 2020 (16:00 – 17:30): Launch of the updated Commentary on the Third Geneva Convention

    This event will examine how international humanitarian law protects prisoners of war taking into account existing practice and operational challenges. The panel discussion will provide insights on relevance and application of the law in practice.

  • 11-29 May 2020: Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

  • 9-11 June 2020: ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment (HAS), New York

    Since 1998, the ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment (HAS) has been an essential platform for discussing the activities and issues related to strengthening the coordination of the humanitarian assistance of the United Nations. The HAS provides a key opportunity for Member States, the United Nations system, development actors, the private sector and other humanitarian partners to discuss emerging and pressing humanitarian issues. More information

  • 28 September 2020 - 16 October 2020: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)


Partner with us

UNESCO invites intergovernmental organizations, international artists, UN humanitarian agencies and funds dealing with emergency situations, cultural structures, foundations supporting contemporary art, and governmental cooperation funds to join forces and contribute to building stronger communities and strengthening human rights systems around the world.

"By engaging people and encouraging their interaction through artistic and cultural expression, actions in the field of culture can open a space in which individuals and groups can (…) develop resilience after violent or traumatic experiences, including human rights violations, and imagine the future they want for themselves and how better to realize human rights in the society they live in." 

– Karima Bennoune, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, 4 January 2018



Associations, cultural structures and foundations:

MURMUZIEK was initiated by the Cultural Center Jacques Franck and the SLAJ-v (Service Laïque d'Aide aux Justiciables et aux Victimes), Murmuziek gives the floor to detainees in music:




UN Agencies:

  • Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Thematic report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Ms. Karima Bennoune, to the Human Rights Council. Focuses on the situation of cultural rights defenders

Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights (4 January 2018)


MADE51 is brought to life by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, a global organisation dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. MADE51 is crafted by refugees, bringing beautiful refugee-made products to a global market. More information


The Art-Lab Flyer and some information about our previous event on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration, the starting point of Art-Lab.

Freedom & creativity: defending art, defending diversity, special edition, by Laurence Cuny, UNESCO: 2020, also available in French and Spanish

Using culture and the imagination, a toolkit by the London School of Economics and Political Science and the UNESCO Office in Brasilia

Intercultural competences, conceptual and operational framework (2013)

The Seoul Agenda Goals for the Development of Arts Education (May 2010) and notably Goal 3: “Apply arts education principles and practices to contribute to resolving the social and cultural challenges facing today’s world” and Goal 3.b(i) “Encourage recognition of the social and cultural well-being dimensions of arts education including the restorative dimensions of arts education in post-conflict and post-disaster situations”.

Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies World Conference on Cultural Policies Mexico City, 26 July - 6 August 1982

2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions

UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001)



Research corner:

  • IMPACT is a values-driven collaboration of culturally and geographically diverse artists, peacebuilding scholars/practitioners, educators, funders, and policymakers who understand the critical roles that arts & other aspects of culture play in transforming violent conflict. IMPACT envisions a vibrant and visible arts, culture & conflict transformation ecosystem that is imaginative, constructive, impactful, and sustainable. IMPACT’s purpose is to create and sustain a robust and dynamic global infrastructure to nurture this ecosystem.

Imagine IMPACT: An Emerging Strategy to Strengthen the Arts, Culture and Conflict Transformation Ecosystem

Planning a Peacebuilding Performance Initiative: a worksheet

Trailer for the documentary Acting Together on the World Stage (Video: Feature Documentary Preview)