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Arts and Ethnomusicology in SIL helps communities draw on their artistic forms of communication to create a better future.

Members of SIL’s Arts and Ethnomusicology group are motivated by three realities:

  • People communicate in nearly 7,000 languages around the world, but not just by spoken words. We also connect through artistically-rendered arts, such as song, drama, dance, sculpture and story.
  • All ethnolinguistic communities struggle with challenges brought on by a rapidly globalizing world. These include the breakdown of cultural transmission between generations and figuring out how to express their values and emotions. Challenges may also be more traumatic where there is war, disease and sexual violence.
  • Every community has unique gifts of artistic communication that can help them address these problems, but many of these gifts lie dormant, misused or dying.

In response to these realities, SIL arts personnel join community artists in working toward a better future: one of justice, peace, joy, physical safety, social continuity and spiritual wholeness. This participatory process draws on years of experience and insights from ethnomusicology, ethnography of communication, performance studies, participatory community development and other fields.

Like all communication systems, the arts are connected to particular times, places and social contexts. They have their own symbols, grammars and internal structures. There is no single artistic language that communicates completely across lines of time, place and culture. So to understand any art form, it is necessary to interact with its practitioners and study it. Getting to know local artists is the first step, which allows ethnoarts workers to enter respectfully and productively into a community’s creative life. Check out the stories of communities that are using arts to work toward better futures.