As 2016 comes to a close and the holiday season is in full steam, one cannot help but reflect on a year that has us on a path of global uncertainty. Terrorism and religious conflict preoccupies us, and waves of nationalism follow in its wake. Globally, the election of Trump, vote for Brexit, and rise of anti-immigration movements seem to be dividing the world more than uniting it.
I had a fulfilling year giving keynotes to incredible audiences, mostly in education leadership. Cultural divides was a recurring theme which I centered around my most rewarding project of 2016: I created a twelve day songwriting camp in Jakarta, Indonesia for Millennial singer-songwriters from ASEAN nations (Cambodia, Indonesia, Phillipines, etc.). Sponsored by the US Department of State and in collaboration with American Voices YES Academy, I invited fifteen musically compatible participants who in some cases come from communities that are religiously and culturally incompatible. My goal was to prove that music truly could transcend such volatile barriers, and we certainly did. Using a combination of live workshops and my video course 1-2-3 Songwriting, we wrote twelve new songs, performed four high-profile concerts, and created sixteen new cross-cultural friendships that continue to this day to collaborate and compose new music together. I plan to launch more of these programs globally in 2017.
There is nothing like the arts as a means to teach and foster empathy, and the Millennials and Gen Z are naturally inclined to collaborate across cultural barriers (religious, racial, and sexual identity). Our job driven economy, fear driving politicians, and self-serving corporations continuously distract Baby Boomers and Silents from seeing what may very well be the true path to world peace. If we can recognize this as individuals and think globally, every one of us can act locally to establish artistic forums for talented local multicultural youth to create art and co-exist harmoniously. It can be once a week or once a month, and it can take place at a community center, private home, school, or any non-denominational facility. As American public education faces significant challenges from a new administration, we can assume that arts programs will become even less of a priority. An absence of arts is an absence of empathy. What will you do about it?
This holiday season, give the gift of empathy by creating an opportunity for people to come together in artistic ways.