Sometimes something is so close to you, you’re unable to see it objectively. While preparing to launch my book Confessions of a Middle-Aged Hippie in late 2013, I had an opportunity to re-examine my personal biography, and revisit some of those significant pieces that have contributed to who I am, including the role art played.
Back in 2001, I was living with a somewhat undiagnosable physical illness that had me weighing in at 89 lbs, suffering from severe and crippling malnutrition. Those around me were divided on if I would survive. The consensus was, “this could go either way.” Synchronistically I found Arscura-School for Living Art and embarked on a journey back to health. A journey using “art” as a way to rediscover who I had been to now and who I could become in my future.
This is something I share candidly in my book—art contributed to saving my life. Literally. Through the art, I arrived at a place of inner knowing and peace, embodied so eloquently in the words of the Dalai Lama: “We can never obtain peace in the outer world, until we make peace with ourselves.”
While organizing an initiative around my book launch, I was introduced to some very important work being done in the world. Work that embodies the hippie values of peace and the arts. Two values that reminded me of my own journey and align perfectly with who I am and what I stand for in world.
Making Art, Creating Peace
First, I was led to the Children’s Peace Theatre, who have done inspiring work since 2000, creating a culture of peace among children and youth, using art, theatre and music. They instill in their participants a “peace is possible” sensibility and ask us all some interesting questions to reflect on.
“As artists, how do we inspire our children and youth to take up the practice of peace? If nothing else, we must remember that art is derived from the freeing up of all boundaries combined with the ability to imagine something new, and the ability to recognize the humanity of others. Who else, therefore, is better suited than the artist to inspire alternatives and alternative ways of thinking?“
This powerfully mirrors my personal experience. Art freed me to transform from the inside out, allowing me to reinvent an unexpected and beautiful future by unleashing my inner artist.
I questioned: Is it possible that creativity expressed through the arts, is a path to peace? It became very clear to me that I do see the arts as an important road to peace. I envisioned a simple idea, “paintbrushes for peace” and imagined what might happen if we offered children or adults a paintbrush and asked them to engage their creativity to ignite new possibilities for the world.
It seemed that if we could take the frustration and separation people experience in our current world, which often leads to isolation and violence, and invite them into a community to make art together, we’d foster a sense of belonging and connectedness. Through this, some magical new creation would become possible.
Next, I was synchronistically led to ArtHeart, who’s been working in the Regent Park community of Toronto for over 20 years, offering free year-round drop-in art programmes, art education and art materials for children, youth and adults. They also serve up free meals to all participants, true to their philosophy of “no starving artists”.
Art Heals Social Differences
Their programmes use art as a vehicle to address child poverty, homelessness, lack of employment and mental health issues, while helping to develop self-esteem, creativity, life-skills and learning. They continue to foster the arts in a community that can’t otherwise afford access to making art and being creative. ArtHeart remains unique, as it is the only visual arts organization in the community. Their successes are sincerely remarkable.
With more and more school arts’ budgets being cut, what ArtHeart offers is invaluable. I believe we need more funds for programmes that foster creativity, not less. How is it that we’ve allowed ourselves to create a world where the majority of people do not have access to expressing their creativity through making art? ArtHeart’s powerful work is featured in many ways, at many events, amazing people by showing the positive impact of bringing art to the community.
Creativity is the New Literacy
Photographer Chase Jarvis’ talk “Creativity is the new literacy” at the 2013 World Domination Summit in Portland, sparked me. He presented the idea that as human beings we’re all hardwired for both language and creativity. There have been many studies examining creativity, exploring if it is a natural inborn talent, or if we acquire it.
Like Chase, I believe that we are all creative and that it’s often stifled early on in many educational systems. Creativity is at the heart of what it means to be human. He elaborated that the world we live in is facing a “crisis of creativity” with the solutions to all our problems based on human creative potential.
Can Creativity Save the World?
So if creativity is innate to who we are as humans, and the solutions to our world problems can be found in creativity, then engaging our individual creative muscle through art and music could be a viable path to peace.
Then I stumbled upon an article by the brilliant Charles Eisenstein called “Bombs, Badguys and the Brink of Peace“, which speaks volumes, even more so with the world events we are witnessing today.
“We are experiencing today the emergence on a mass scale of ecological consciousness. No longer is the world an arena of struggle from which man emerges triumphant. We now see that the defeat of any species is the defeat of all; that the paving over of one habitat deadens something in all of us. The ecological crisis is teaching us that the good life does not come through winning the war against the Other.”
With the recent world reaction to the atrocities, Eisenstein went on to say,
“Translating this awareness into geopolitics, we become less prone to believe that the solution to the problem is to overthrow the bad guy. That, or some lesser version of it – to intimidate, warn, punish, deter, draw a “red line,” etc. – is a perception of a world populated by separate and competing Others. And we are weary of that. We are awakening to the reality that “bad guys” are created by their context, and that that context includes ourselves.”
The Power of Community
Like Eisenstein, many of us believe we are remembering the necessity of being part of community, reawakening to the value of connectedness, versus the breakdown brought about by separation. We’re entering a new era of understanding, transforming old beliefs to create new paradigms of possibility. If we continue to bring the past into the present, we’re limited to create the same future, denying ourselves the freedom to generate something totally new.
Perhaps this is what art and music can bring to the conversation. They are tools to paving a road to peace. They engage and include, rather than isolate and separate. Maybe we’re arriving at that magical tipping point of change. Albert Einstein said it so clearly “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
It feels perfect to end here with words from John Lennon’s timeless song Imagine. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” Here’s to creativity, peace and the arts! What kind of world are you committed to creating?
photo of Chase Jarvis: Armosa Studios