The art of exiting a reality

The arts possess immense potential as agents of change, capable of challenging people’s assumptions and worldviews. Artists can use the power of imagination to help us envision a future we want. Some art can even catalyze the behavioral changes needed to build that better future. It helps us let go of our egos and privileges, in favor of eco(logical) and societal needs.

Welcome to the symbiocene

In June 2023, I spent five days at the Oerol Festival on the Dutch island of Terschelling. The festival wants to offer new future perspectives and build a liveable future. It wants to be a tabula rasa for new ideas around important themes like nature conservation, awareness, diversity, inclusiveness, and social development. Many of the performances, staged in nature, churches, and other unique settings, touched on societal topics. Urging festival visitors to enter and embrace the symbiocene, a new era characterized by harmonious interactions between humans and all other living beings.

I was touched by:

  • A play centered around biodiversity loss, featuring huge woodlice that helped us mourn extinct animals and plants we never knew.
  • A performance about diversity and inclusion, deepening our understanding of the immense struggles many people face in being true to themselves and offering guidance on how to support them.
  • A captivating experience of humming and movement in a dark forest, learning how forests communicate from a scientist and a climate justice activist.
  • A theater maker’s endeavor to collect funds from the audience to save the world with a dome for collaboration.
  • An amazing performance underscoring the need for humane reintegration of former prisoners into society.

Arts inspire hope and despair

Similar to the corporate world, the festival’s vision and mission are inspiring and supportive of change. It made me hopeful that many artists and performances were fully aligned with the festival’s vision and mission. At the same time, a heated debate on the arts and climate justice at the festival showed that there is still a long way to go. Just like in the corporate world, there is a huge gap in knowledge levels, sense of urgency and ownership, and the human will necessary to drive change. Addressing this requires connection and collaboration, similar to the wood wide web that connects the trees and the fungi in the forest.

How to Exit a Reality wasn’t necessarily my favorite performance of the week, but the title says a lot about the hope and despair I experienced. Perhaps, in various ways, we are all trying to exit a reality. By trying to contribute to a better world, by looking outside of our planet, or by ignoring reality and hoping to keep going as before. In that last case, arts can actually offer a form of escapism, adding to the lack of action.

Interestingly, the long title was actually How to Exit a Reality (Attempt 1 of 19). So rather than letting despair win, I’ll stick with hope. And continue to search for examples of the powerful role arts can have in envisioning that better world – and in urging us to change our behavior for that better world. If you have relevant examples, please share them.

This blog was written by Marjolein Baghuis and was also posted on LinkedIn. To read about interesting people, book reviews, and other posts about sustainability, leadership, and behavior change please subscribe to this blog in the right-hand column. 

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