Hyppolite, Drea and Chanel (Photo - Kyle Klein Perler Photography)

Hyppolite Ntigurirwa and fellow Artist Leaders Andrea Gordillo and Chanel Matsunami Govreau. Photo by Kyle Klein Perler and courtesy of Arts Connect International.

Building Peace Through Art

An Interview with J-1 Scholar Hyppolite Ntigurirwa

Hyppolite Ntigurirwa has a vision for peace. After witnessing the horrors of genocide, he turned to the transformative power of art to help spread his message of peace. He started a theater group at his school in Rwanda as a way to unite students from different ethnic groups. “We witnessed the power of performing arts to bring people together, challenging the status quo and starting the long process of social change,” he said of the experience. Since then, Hyppolite has continued to use theater as a tool for healing, reconciliation, and peacebuilding in post-conflict communities both in Rwanda and abroad.

This fall, Hyppolite is participating in International Art & Artists’ J-1 scholar program. He is completing an artist-in-residence program with Arts Connect International, an organization that cultivates and connects leaders in the arts field committed to cultural and social inclusion. The program has given Hyppolite the opportunity connect with other artists and social activists, acquire key arts management skills, and further develop his artistic body of work. “My experience with Arts Connect International has been a fantastic opportunity to grow as an entrepreneurial artist and leader,” Hyppolite told us.

We recently connected with Hyppolite to learn more about his time in Boston with Arts Connect International. Keep reading for more on his experience and learn more about Cultural Exchange Programs here.

Hyppolite and local artist Tory Bullock

Hyppolite Ntigurirwa with local artist Tory Bullock. Photo courtesy of Arts Connect International.

Can you tell us a bit about your unique perspective and background, and how it has helped you to become an arts leader?

A few months after surviving The Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda at a young age (seven), I was frustrated by not finding a means to tell the horror I have experienced and to transmit my message to the community. Sitting in class was like sitting in experimental memories. I was not able to tell my story and transmit my message of peace until I was helped by a teacher to create a theatre club. The club included children from both survivors’ families and perpetrators’ families, which wasn’t easy to start up an inclusive community just after the genocide. However, we experienced the power of performing arts when the whole community enjoyed our performances and everyone happened to support the club. I continued the same practices in high school, in university, and now I combine my genocide experiences with sociological theories (and practices) and theatre techniques to stop the inter-generational transmission of hatred.

Tell us more about your experience so far with Arts Connect International.

Working with Arts Connect International has been really useful to me in many ways a global change agent. First of all, having been the first international artist to be selected for their Artist-in-Residence program, it is a tremendous . . . to me in terms of accessing artistic and leadership skills, knowledge, experiences from all sorts of people in Boston. Arts Connect International not only provides this exposure but also provides professional and healthy guidance to making much more impact to the bigger community.

​Hyppolite and his American nephew, Robbie Brown, at Stephen Hamilton's opening of ISESE at Aeronaut Brewery (Photo - Kyle Klein Perler Photography)

Hyppolite Ntigurirwa with his American nephew Robbie. Photo by Kyle Klein Perler and courtesy of Arts Connect International.

What is your favorite cultural activity to do in Boston?

Boston is a hub of people with passion for social change and innovation. There is always a lot going on in the city! There are loads of historical traces (museums, freedom trails, educational institutions, etc.) My top amazing cultural activities in Boston include attending networking and discussion events about social change, visiting different sites (historical and newly-created), and finally in Boston it is where you organize an event and you get people come!

What have your learned during your J-1 program?

Within my residence with Arts Connect International in Boston, I have gained huge knowledge, skills and resources necessary to increase my professional work and my career as an artist leader. Among many other, I have covered experiences and learnt a lot about program management, arts project management, techniques of playwriting, sociometrics techniques through theatre, strategic planning, leadership skills, budget and project management skills, communication skills, fundraising skills, cross-cultural competency, monitoring and evaluation, arts education and pedagogy, creating theory of change model, digital marketing and promotion, as well as entrepreneurial and development models for individual and organizations.

What does cultural exchange mean to you?

As far as I look to what I wish the cultural exchange would be, I understand “cultural exchange” as sharing experiences, values, works, knowledge, skills and habits with the mission to make the world a much more inclusive and peaceful place.