The Culture of Peace

The Culture of Peace

Healing Hearts Through Mural Art

Throughout the world great human suffering is often caused by conflict, wars and violence or from medical or mental illnesses that result in prolonged sickness and death; or from a deep depression that stemmed from trauma in one’s personal life.  Around the globe millions of malnourished hungry people find their lives drastically changed as displaced and homeless resulting from natural disasters and our declining environment.  One only has to look back on the earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and wild weather patterns to see how Mother Nature has unleashed her wrath upon entire countries and regions.  Most often we find it is women and children who are the helpless victims suffering from profound misery.  Based on such human suffering, it seems a culture of peace could hardly exist.

It has been said that “Everything that is needed to build a culture of peace already exists in each one of us and in the United Nations definition is states that a Culture of Peace is a set of values, attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that reject violence and prevents conflict by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation among individuals, groups and nations.”

The UN Program of Action adopted in 1999 and UN Resolution A/56/349 adopted on September 13, 2001 introduced the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non Violence Among Children of the World.  At the time, all living Nobel Laureates signed an appeal for all nations to support this resolution.

This visionary program and its eight domains for action (A/RES/53/243) became a driving force that attracted a global art project that recognized the power of art to move and educate people.  Based on the role of Civil Society, the Art Miles Mural Project which began in 1997, joined nearly a thousand other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) in their efforts to carry out an action plan to support the decade.  Unfortuantely the decade had begun and was consumed by a horrific escalation of war and conflict around the globe. Coupled with rising numbers of horrific environmental disasters, the world found itself amid massive scales of displacement with people thrust into refugee status that still exists to this day.

However, as with other NGOs and humanitarian aid organizations, there were people and groups that sought ways to facilitate peace building, mending hearts and initiating healing methods in support of a culture of peace.  The Art Miles Mural Project was one of those groups which has now sustained and maintains the belief “An Act of Peace Creates Peace”.

The project began with children painting a mural on a bullet riddled bed sheet in post conflict Bosnia, Herzegovina when former UN Executive, Joanne Tawfilis was assigned to lead an economic development and reconciliation project with the Widows of Srebrenica. Despite the overwhelming work involved with managing the project and with an art background, she found herself seeking a means to tend to the pain in her own heart caused by the incessant stories of genocide and as witness to the results of unimaginable brutality.  It was there the wounds of war felt by the widows, families, and orphans as well as her own impassioned heart, birthed the process became both her and husband Fouad’s now lifelong work.  It was clear to them how this process of creating murals could be applied under almost any circumstances in support of the eight domains of the UN Program of Action.  Together with a 100% all volunteer team on every continent, they have successfully facilitated the creation of more than 4,000 murals with over more than a half million people in over 100 plus countries.

Quantification and validation of how the process works and what specific impacts can be described as “A Visual Documentation of Modern History”. Through these magnificent canvas murals, children and adults alike have expressed their thoughts and feelings about personal and global social issues contained in the eight domains of the UN Program of Action.  These domains address fostering a culture of peace through education, sustainable economic and social development respect for human rights and equality between men and women.  The action areas also include fostering democratic participation, advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity, communication and free flow of information and knowledge and the promotion of international peace and security.

Mural painting—this hands-on experiential learning process has been done in a diversity of locations, including schools, clubs, museums, palaces, parks stadiums, public buildings and church and temple halls and on kitchen floors, World Heritage Sites and the great outdoors.  The massive inventory of murals depict what should have been a global effort to portray the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non Violence Among Children of the World, but instead became the Decade of increased conflict, violence and wars.  But painting these large five by twelve foot murals on canvas had a beneficial impact on people everywhere. Murals were created under the duress of war in venues such as refugee camps in Africa and the Middle East and Latin America, in war zones and in deserted buildings that were strafed and shattered by bombs and machine guns.  Murals sprung up in hospitals with children suffering from cancer and disease, and by local and national communities who wanted to express their own compassion and messages of comfort and healing to their fellow humans around the globe. Art Miles bore witness to the expressive views of people of all ages and all countries and worked to share those views with the broader world community to promote understanding and action.  The project focused on social change through the power of art and peace building—to process, conceptualize and form consensus, and building a foundation and cultural awareness through the their vision to create a “Pyramid of Peace or “Muramid” and the Exhibition of the Century”.

The Tawfilis’s goal was to bring 5,280 five by twelve foot acrylic painted murals (12 miles) utilizing multi-media technology and projection to Egypt near the site of the Great Pyramids of Giza in the form of a giant Muramid.  As history has recorded, what became known to the world as the “Arab Spring” has not ended this vision, but merely delayed it.  The vision to see the Muramid become a beacon of peace remains.

The Art Miles Mural Project promotes culture and education and then becomes the vehicle for amplifying and inspiring individuals and communities to take action.

In Pakistan, Art Miles Coordinator Fauzia Minallah, the first of many Art Miles “artivists” and founder of the Funkor Art Center where children from Pakistan and Afghanistan came together to create art, and in 2001 created a glorious mural exemplifying how children view the world together regardless of religious belief or geographic location.  The focus on girls  “right to read” depicted how education should be an equal right of both boys and girls.  Although they were poverty stricken and displaced, they came together to express their wishes for education and a culture of peace.  A video is available on line at (link to videos and films “Pakistan-Afghanistan”). This mural was used as a backdrop for the Concert of Hope in New York City during the first anniversary of the September 11 disaster.

Art Miles has comforted families who have lost their homes due to both human and natural disasters and elderly or displaced persons who have lost their livelihoods.  Each has been healed in some small measure through art and the acts of friendship and compassion that ensue.

The Art Miles Mural Project success proliferated in content and numbers by fostering a culture of peace through education with a model developed by Japan Art Mile coordinators, Atsuko and Yasu Shiwaku as the International Intercultural Mural Exchange (IIME).  Formalized curriculum guides students in a process where a single mural is created by two schools in two different countries and collaboration initiated through the use of the internet.  This innovative teaching method has resulted in the creation of nearly 300 IIME murals resulting in deepening cultural understanding and respect as well as building friendships. With regard to respect for all human rights, no message is clearer than what comes from the victimized women and children in refugee camps who paint their situations with passion and the thirst for the basic human needs, including shelter, food, clothing and education.

There are twelve themes of the murals with 440 murals per mile and one of them is the Women’s Mural Mile that embodies the quest for equality between women and men and like the Pakistani Murals, starting with the right to education for boys and girls to a women’s role in peace building and negotiations. Democratic participation for all can be seen in the murals painted by children and adults through the creation of murals normally seen in the “My Hero” Mural Mile with images of local, national heroes and Nobel Laureates like Dr. Jane Goodall or Dr. Wangari Maathai,  remarkable and memorable in content and technique.

Advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity is often shown in hundreds of murals illustrating multiculturalism by holding hands and includes passionate and delightful messages of hope touching the hearts of all.  Images predominantly express the commonalities versus the differences in cultures as a common theme among the murals.

Many of the murals are expressions that show the desire and willingness for participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge.  Testimony to this has been the increased number of video productions by the painters themselves that are accompanied by original music compositions and often poetry.  One school studied a mural created by Iraqi refugees and composed a beautiful classical music piece inspired by the mural.  Certainly this extension of creativity is yet another example of how the arts have a positive impact on a culture of peace.  The processes affecting many people involved whether they be teachers, students, parents, and extended families in communities throughout the globe is both phenomenal and tangible.

Most importantly of the eight action areas, is promoting international peace and security.  What better way to support this domain than through a medium that is free of restrictions and full of encouragement to render whatever is contained within the hearts of people who do not wish to live in fear and terror, deprived of their basic human rights.

From Syria, still steeped in unimaginable war, the Art Miles Mural Project Coordinator states that for her and her students “A vision without an action is a daydream, and an action without a vision is a nightmare” and despite the war ravaging her country she continues to paint murals with students.

Peace is possible in each of us as experienced by youth from a joyful famous little Italian town called “Narni”.  Art Miles Coordinator Giuseppe, works with those visions of children to explore, enjoy, rejoice and celebrate the infinite possibilities with filmmakers of the movie “Narnia” that rest within the soul of each individual be it a child or adult.

For Art Miles, the journey continues, winding its way around the world with mural painting events and exhibitions in famous museums to tiny villages in Mongolia, with expressions of their original actions in support of a Culture of Peace.

According to Fouad and Joanne, “We do this from our hearts and there is no feeling that can compare to looking at each looming and individual mural.  They are truly the greatest collection of children (and adult) voices.  Our reward is watching a blank piece canvas evolve into a masterpiece through the imagination and expression of ideas, comradery and sharing that happens to anyone who paints.  It is a delight that tingles our heartstrings and fills us with indescribable joy.  It is truly magically rewarding to see the transformation of the children and adult faces before they start painting and when the last brush stroke is painted, to them stand back and absorb the impact of the final product.  It is here when the founders, and the painters realize a testimonial that “peace begins with me when healing hearts with mural art”.

Joanne Tawfilis

February 18, 2014




“A Warm San Marcos Story”

“A Warm San Marcos Story”

“Out of the Shadows with Mountain Shadows Outreach”

As Marilyn Huerta, from the San Marcos Arts Council (SMAC) said, It’s wasn’t because of the weather, it was a magical collaboration between Mountain Shadows Outreach, The Art Miles Mural Project,  and California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) Tukwut Leadership Circle (TLC) and San Marcos Arts Council! Marilyn’s eyes were filled with tears as she watched interactions university students and developmentally disabled adults literally worked hand-in-hand in an intensive effort to create a forty eight (48) by twelve (12) foot wall mural on canvas.

At least two dozen CSUSM TLC students have been coming to the facility during the semester as a means of gaining leadership experience that has now offered more much more.  The client’s smiles and joyful sounds radiated throughout the facility as Santa Ana winds brought a summertime atmosphere during a California winter, that didn’t seem to cool down the warmth of meeting new friends.  Students became aware of how disabled and special needs people, many in wheelchairs, thoroughly enjoy creative community activities as they helped them add brushstrokes to the larger than life mural depicting clients activities with the help of an amazing and caring Mt. Shadows staff.

“Kenny”, a client at Mt. Shadows has taken on the role of Art Director from his wheelchair, sporting a cowboy hat pointing out the need to “paint more yellow” to fill in certain spots and waited all week for “Chris” to come from CSUSM to work with him.  Right next to him was “Andy” with paintbrush in his mouth attached to special head gear smiling broadly as CSUSM international student “Najib” helped him move the brush with red paint onto the heart shape on the canvas.  Further down the line of students “Johanna” worked with several college women painting purple and mauves as “Josh” worked his brush on the outlines around the sketch of the blue Mt. Shadows transport bus.  Throughout the afternoon, student’s enthusiasm was vivacious and energetic, excited to work one on one with clients who were lined up in their wheelchairs anxiously waiting their turn to add more color to the mural.  And 10 year old Art Miles Peace Paint Ambassador Alena Ruiz has been photographing and video-taping the entire process! It was that instant partnering and comradery that brought Marilyn to tears.

“After creating more than 4,000 murals like this, “It all begins with networking and it’s not about the mural, it’s about the process” says Joanne Tawfilis, Co-Founder of the Art Miles Mural Project.  She recruited teammate and talented artist/Peace Paint Ambassador Cecilia Linayo to lead the effort.  But it was Marilyn who connected with Professor Nolan who connected with Arlene Shannon, Mt Shadows Development Director, who connected with students, who now have connected with staff and more importantly, the clients of Mt. Shadows to bring the entire project together!

My husband, Fouad and I have dedicated the past 20 years with our UNA USA San Diego project working with over one-half million people from more than one-hundred countries, some of them disabled and residing in hospitals, refugee camps and institutions in their quest to create twelve miles of murals on canvas. We have seen murals painted by adults and children with their feet, or with no arms and legs with a brush in their mouth, or with the blind by adding the scent of the color to the paint and by painting on canvas, it made it possible for disabled clients to be enabled and offer them the opportunities to participate in wondrous activities like this. (And many thanks are attributed to Tara Art Materials who contributed the canvas to make it all happen).

The interactions of working with Mt Shadows staff, the artists, and the clients; some in wheelchairs, a few with paintbrushes in their mouth was indeed a heartwarming experience.   The client’s smiles and joy of meeting new friends and adding brushstrokes to a mural that depicts their lives and activities can only be described as special for all community members who have a “special need” to encourage understanding, collaboration and respect in our world that is filled with so much conflict, controversy and confusion.

Art Miles has worked closely over the past years with the San Marcos Arts Council, CSUSM programs, and communities throughout San Diego County creating scores of murals in response to natural and human disasters throughout the nation and the world ranging from hurricane and typhoon disasters to tragedies like Sandy Hook, the Prescott Fires, Ft Hood, the South Korea ferry boat sinking and most recently the Peshawar attacks in Pakistan.

By Joanne Tawfilis and published in SHARE Newspaper San Marcos

February 13, 2015

“Water Babies, Women & War”

“Water Babies, Women & War”

We’ve all seen the photos of the 3 year old child, whose 5 year old brother and their Mother from Syria drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach safety on the European shore.  This has become the image and poster of only one of the many “WATER BABIES” floating face down and washing ashore.

Somewhere amidst them are the women—the Mothers, sisters, aunties, grandmothers with their lifeless bodies drift along the waves that crest and fall, the surf making curling lines along the shore, sometimes seeming like dancing and floating the women to and fro.  Their silenced bodies and long dresses, shoeless feet bobbing and rising to the top of those waves, until they too wash ashore as the tide gently leaves them in muddy puddles along the shoreline in jagged lines of death.  They remain there until someone pulls them from that shore or until the tides return again that may or may not drag them back out to the darkened waters, often carrying them far away and never to be seen again.

Somewhere along the drylands, the highlands, the world turns their faces away from these images working hard to erase the thought of such gruesome and inhumane deaths caused by people who used the war machines that burst into cities, towns and villages while people sleep, and while soldiers and so called freedom fighters, burn, rape and pillage, terrorizing those who somehow manage to survive the continuous marauding evilness of violence and war.

And SOMEHOW it is the WOMEN who do survive these endless wars, violence and persecution that make them refugees, not migrants forcing them to flee on foot crossing incomprehensible dangers caused by those war machines through deserts, landmine fields, snipers, grenades and all without food or water, carrying their children on their backs and having to leave all their belongings behind again and again.  There are over 43 million “refugees” in the world today and according to “CARE” almost 50% of the world’s forcibly displaced people are CHILDREN.

It isn’t just WATER BABIES near oceans and the seas, from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and African Nations—it’s also WATER BABIES from Haiti, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nepal, Cuba and Latin America.  And it isn’t just the war machines that have resulted in WATER BABIES whose young lives have been lost; in the past two decades they have become victims of floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, and typhoons that are unparalleled in our history of lives lost to the rages of Mother Nature.  These situations are a different kind of war, one where human rampages of waste and maltreatment of our earth has begun to take its toll of those we love and treasure the most—our children.

And yes, it is the predominately the survivors, the WOMEN of WAR that was the genesis of how the Art Miles Mural Project has evolved, based on centuries of suffering children of war and the River Drina in Bosnia Hercegovina.  Books have been written spanning about four centuries starting with the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian rule and a socialist domination of the region riding herd on the lives, destinies and relations of the local populations of Muslims and Orthodox Christians living in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It was there that I learned the history of the River Drina and a famous story of how the children were  taken to the banks of the river and separated from their Mothers who were left crying and wailing on the shore.  Throughout the tumultuous history ruled by royalty and conflict, that I arrived on the scene following the July 1995 genocide of more than 7,000+ men that disappeared in two days.  To Fouad and my dismay, the world is now filled with these millions of REFUGEES and displaced persons.

The Art Miles Story will describe the heroic, heartbreaking and horrific–sometimes fatal experiences of women’s challenges of surviving these wars and conflicts around the world, beginning in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Nearly twenty years of interactions with women who have crossed these oceans, seas, rivers and lakes, seeking asylum and safety at such great risks will not be just another documentary, but a riveting true accounting of survival and the anguish of losing their “water babies” throughout the world and how stretches of simple canvas fabric painted by hands of children and people of all ages throughout the world, by people of all ages from over 100 countries has managed to bring communities together.  Murals painted by victims and survivors have been able to express themselves in a creative and healing method serving as a “catharsis” that soothed their aching souls.  And painting murals by community members throughout the world to send messages of hope and cheer, sharing their grief in some way, has given this project HOPE—a HOPE that humanity is still populated by good people who crave peace, who together through collaboration, team building and building consensus have tried to support a Culture of Peace versus a Culture of War.

This collection of more than 4,000 murals and the people who witnessed the loss of their children, family members and friends to WAR and survived have transported their pain and memories onto canvas and the world community has responded by painting images of hope and cheer from the hearts of humanity that still exists no matter how dismal it seems.  This visual documentation of modern history, and the expressions of human emotion represents a living hope that will carry humanity forward.

Joanne Tawfilis

September 4, 2015