An Experience at the 2016 World Social Forum
In September 2014 I was in New York City with several Canadian and American Sisters and staff of the Congregation of Notre Dame (CND). We were there for the People’s Climate March. This was a massive event where over one million people from around the world joined together with a message to world leaders that we wanted significant action on climate change.
One of the organizing themes was To Change Everything, We Need Everyone. March participants were organized into different groups. We were with the interfaith contingent. As I looked around, I saw representatives from just about every sector of society: students, scientists, families, the labour movement, women’s groups, political parties, and more.
One group that was noticeably missing was the arts community. Apart from a few select celebrities, there was a huge missing artistic presence. This was in great contrast to the 2012 Earth Day March in Montreal where dozens of artists took to social media to lead over 200,000 people who came out on a cold and rainy afternoon.
Since the New York march, our Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) ministry at the CND has been working to consider how we could invite artists to be part of the climate movement. We have been discovering important ways that the arts can invite us all to be more fully engaged in the transformative work that is needed to bring about the transition to a clean energy world.
In August 2016, Montreal hosted the World Social Forum (WSF), a large international gathering of civil society dedicated to finding solutions to the problems of our time. At JPIC we realized that this would be an excellent opportunity to premiere an arts program on the topic of climate action. We gathered a core planning group from the CND, the Canadian Religious Conference, and Development and Peace.
For our event at the WSF, we chose the arts of dance and storytelling. The special tone of the event was set from the beginning. The performance venue and lighting created what felt like a sacred space and invited everyone present to experience everything differently. We quickly went to a deep and vulnerable connection.
The opening dance touched our sensitivities and prepared us to be more engaged in the rest of the program. Our storytellers, though they came from different corners of the world, established a connection and affection between themselves. The storytellers were Alma Brooks, a Maliseet grandmother from St. Mary’s First Nation in New Brunswick; Mamadou Goita, the executive director of the Institute for Research and the Promotion of Alternatives in Development in Bamako, Mali; and Stephanie Boyd, a Canadian film maker and journalist who has been living and working in Peru for over 15 years. These three storytellers all kept the rapt attention of the audience.
The event was a success. We were scheduled for the last evening of the WSF, an excellent placement as many people commented that it was a wonderful way to end an intense week of “head work” by switching the focus to the heart and soul. About 90 people were present, more than any other WSF event held at the venue.
Several people said it was the most memorable part of the WSF for them. A Sister from Toronto said she loved every minute of it and wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Many people felt that it was the perfect way to end the WSF and were thankful that we had presented something so creative and unique.
For us as organizers, we appreciated the opportunity to bring a meaningful dimension to the climate movement. We especially felt that this experience with the arts was successful in energizing and inspiring tired hearts and minds and touching the most gentle and generous parts of ourselves. We are excited to repeat this event and are considering new opportunities and venues.