Building Tolerance on a Global Level

By: Carolyn Sloan
Lower School Music Teacher

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Zug, Switzerland to share my music with the the Ship of Tolerance project, an art installation designed by international artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The project is intended to promote peace, tolerance and hope among different people and nations around the world, specifically by educating youth from different continents, cultures and identities through the shared language of art.

Ships have so far been displayed in eight locations around the globe, including Brooklyn. The project begins when children discuss what tolerance means and the merits of cultures, races and ideas different from their own with local teaching artists. During this process, they draw pictures representing their ideas about peace, tolerance, acceptance, love, friendship and other similar themes, some of which are eventually stitched together to make up the ship’s sails. The children, and other local visitors, can observe the ship’s construction before it is launched.

Lower School Music Teacher Carolyn Sloan

Lower School Music Teacher Carolyn Sloan

In Zug, I conducted my song, “All We Wish is Peace,” as part of the ship’s installation. The song is comprised of mainly one word — peace — in 18 different languages, such as Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) and Hopi, a Native American language. It was performed by 600 Swiss children in the town square at the ship’s opening — I translated the opening of the song into German to encourage them to sing along. We also performed the piece at a special concert in Cham, Switzerland with a full chorus of Swiss children and musicians from around the world and a piano quintet. The ship is now on display in Lake Zug.

I witnessed children, mainly of elementary school age, talking about peace and tolerance and what that might mean in their own communities. What would it look like? How would it sound? Why is it important for us to get to know people who are different than ourselves? How are they different? How are we the same?

While in Zug, I learned that the community has a large population with Down syndrome and that the mayor felt the city had not been embracing this group as much as they could, or should, have been. He was particularly happy to welcome the Ship of Tolerance to Zug, along with the discussions and activities surrounding its construction, because he seemed to believe that it helped teach the city to be more accepting and loving, regardless of where someone is from, who they are or any perceived limitations they may have.

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Ms. Sloan conducted her song, “All We Wish is Peace,” for Swiss children, as part of the Ship of Tolerance’s installation in September.

In 2013, I traveled to Moscow to conduct “All We Wish is Peace” for a local children’s choir as part of the city’s Ship of Tolerance installation. That year, 50 Berkeley Carroll Lower School students also performed the song at The New York Historical Society, as part of the installation in Brooklyn.

It might sound clichéd to say that children are our future, but if we don’t stress the importance of inclusion, tolerance and peace to our young people, I fear that our world will become even more fractured than it already is.

This project speaks to a need for us all to not only acknowledge, but embrace, our similarities and our differences — the Ship of Tolerance is a monument to acceptance, love and friendship. I am humbled to have been a part of such an auspicious project and am glad I can do what I can to encourage friendship, hope and love through music.

Learn more about the Ship of Tolerance project.
See more photos from Ms. Sloan’s travels.