June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
Service to humanity is an act that springs from a love for all humanity and a recognition of its oneness. In this collection, we explore the themes and perspectives around this critical spiritual principle.
Creative Circles – A Retreat for Those Striving to Serve Humanity Through Art
I had the privilege of meeting the wonderful Gordon Kerr at the recent Ink of Light Baha’i Writers’ Festival, and he told me about an awesome initiative he’s started in the UK called ‘Creative Circles’.
Creative Circles is a small retreat for those striving to serve humanity through art, and it’s a gathering where artists of all types come together from around the world for a week of masterclasses, workshops, presentations, and the sharing of experiences. It’s also an opportunity for artists to explore their interests and nurture their creative talents in an atmosphere of fellowship and support.
I absolutely love the idea of Creative Circles and I wanted to know more, so here’s what Gordon had to say about this great initiative:
Baha’i Blog: Hi Gordon, can you tell us a little bit about Creative Circles and what it’s all about?
Creative Circles are a series of small scale retreats intended to appeal to artists from across the creative spectrum. They bring together writers, painters, musicians, filmmakers and performance artists who strive to keep spirit at the centre of their practice, whatever their discipline. They are distinctive in the unique welcoming spirit we strive to foster and focus on personal and social transformation through the practice of art.
Baha’i Blog: What was your motivation in starting Creative Circles?
I believe that art is essential for our personal and social development and that encouragement and support is necessary if artists are to fulfil their role as torchbearers of a new world civilisation. I was privileged to work for the National Assembly of the Baha’is of the UK for some 18 years, where as manager of the Baha’i Publishing Trust I was able to work with writers, artists, photographers, filmmakers and musicians from all around the world. Since moving to China in 2000 I have continued to work in the field of education, publishing and arts management, running summer arts camps and programs in creative teaching methods for local schools and universities and serving as director of several arts and educational organisations.
Over four decades I have seen how we often struggle to value the contribution that artists can make to the development and expansion of the Baha’i community. I have also witnessed how many talented and sensitive souls who sought in different ways to offer their art as a response to the Revelation, were sometimes ignored, had their motives impugned or were even abused in different ways. This is sometimes a result of inexperience or unrealistic expectations on the part of artists, but also because of narrow mindsets, cultural ignorance, or insecurity within certain sections of the Baha’i community. Sadly, this resulted in many of these talented souls, including many of my closest friends, leaving the Faith or becoming marginalised within the Baha’i community. The situation has greatly improved, but many souls still bear deep scars which restrict their potential and others still find it difficult to play a fulfilling role in the Baha’i community. I wanted to do something about that and so spent several years consulting friends, mentors, institutions and studying relevant guidance.
Baha’i Blog: How are they organised?
Creative Circles are organised and sponsored by the Dazzling Spark Arts Foundation. This privately funded foundation was started in 2013 in Edinburgh to commemorate the centenary of Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to Scotland. The aim is to create a permanent legacy to those “never to be forgotten days” by encouraging and supporting artists who use their talents in service to humanity.
This year we are organising three Creative Circles in Northumberland, UK. Each residential program lasts for 3 days and has a slightly different focus, Literary Arts 16-18 July, Music & Performing Arts 19-21 July and Visual Arts 22-24 July. We hope to host other Creative Circles at other times of the year in different venues and are exploring the idea of rolling programs in Europe, North America and Asia which will reduce costs and travelling distances and allow more artists to take part.
We still have a few places left on this year’s program but we try to keep all our Creative Circles quite small so that we can maintain an intimate environment where everyone has the chance to share and become fully engaged. As a non-profit agency we try to keep costs as low as we can and offer subsidies to those on restricted incomes. Tickets can be be booked directly though this link.
Baha’i Blog: Why do you think it’s important to have something like this?
We talked to many artists and educators, also researching arts organisations, support networks and funding agencies. Our conclusion is that we need a special space for artists to receive encouragement and feedback in a mutually supportive environment. Creative Circles meet an important need by providing opportunities for artists to come together to explore the challenges of the creative process in a loving and supportive atmosphere which encourages reflection, shared learning and collaboration. Although currently most of the participants are Baha’is, our goal is to attract any and all artists who try to speak the common spiritual language of art and who are interested in the betterment of the world through individual and social transformation. We also hope to extend our networks and learn from working with other organisations and agencies who share similar goals. Through co-sponsorship and joint management of projects we can strengthen our skills, support more artists and deliver greater outcomes for the communities we serve.
Our work is on a modest scale, but so far we have sponsored and supported artists from across the creative spectrum, commissioned pieces and performances, provided travel grants and assisted places, helped with grant writing and provided practical publishing and marketing advice. Last year we also instituted the Dazzling Spark Awards which give recognition to artists and organisations who have made outstanding contributions in the fields of personal and social transformation. One of our most visible and successful programs has been our Creative Circles.
Baha’i Blog: Can you describe these Creative Circles in more detail?
These retreats are fairly small scale in nature, but bring together three groups of people: established artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers and creative professionals of every background, plus a second group of emerging or aspiring artists and thirdly an equally important group of supporters and arts enthusiasts, such as family, friends, colleagues and club members. This mix of talents and energies when carefully nurtured can help produce an intimate and supportive environment for deep and meaningful dialogue. This has proved truly transformational and a magnet to those with similar aspirations to use their talents and resources for the betterment of the world. Many long-term Baha’is have described the Creative Circles as the most empowering and joyful experience of their lives and urged us to host similar events around the world, something we are actively researching and considering.
Our Creative Circles are still evolving but after many years of trial and error we have established a successful model which can be adapted to different locations and communities, sometimes in partnership with other organisations. So maybe in future we will be hosting a Creative Circles near you. If you are interested in exploring this further please do get in touch. You can reach us thru email: [email protected]
Baha’i Blog: How do you see them developing in future?
As with any learning process, consultation and reflection are both essential. One of the most interesting observations we have made, is that our original concept of “aspiring artists” as a group of mainly younger, inexperienced artists proved to be limited. Changes in demographics and lifestyles has meant that many who retire from full-time work are faced with a new set of challenges. Whereas retirement in the past may have meant a few years put out to pasture or spent in leisurely pursuits such as crafts or hobbies, now many individuals are being forced to think of some form of active employment to support meagre pensions or lack of family/community support. Whether driven by financial need, a desire for personal fulfilment or commitment to service, large numbers of people are now actively reinventing ourselves as creative professionals/ teachers/consultants in a second or third career which as life expectancy increases may stretch 20-30 years into the future. We have come to realise therefore that retirees entering new careers as artists should not be viewed as mere hobbyists or enthusiasts, but potentially as serious professionals investing considerable time, resources and expertise into perfecting their work. Maybe you are one such worthy soul. It’s never too late to start.
The arts are often a great way to meet new people and form new friendships so perhaps you can join an existing group or even start one in your home or community space. Most arts are a form of spiritual language where people are happy to engage in meaningful conversations.
Baha’i Blog: How can we learn more about Creative Circles?
Information is regularly posted on our Dazzling Spark Foundation’s Facebook page and we hope to relaunch our digital platforms and websites in the next few weeks. Finally, for those of you who might be interested here is a link to a short film we produced of last years Creative Circles in the north of England by award-winning filmmaker Lou Armitt. It conveys something of the unique spirit of Creative Circles, so please take a look and share.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Gordon for taking the time to do this interview, and thank you for creating such a wonderful initiative! We hope this year’s Creative Circles continue to be enriching and fulfilling for all.
Book tickets to attend this year’s Creative Circles, but hurry because it starts in a few days, so register now!
Naysan is passionate about using the arts and media to explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. Back in 2011, Naysan started up the Baha’i Blog project, channeling his experiences in both media and technology companies to help create a hub for Baha’i-inspired content online.
Was indeed fantastic to meet Gordon Kerr at the Ink of Light Festival.
I would love to save up to make one of these.
It sounds brilliant.
I have been studying a lot about strength based approaches to social change. To see what artists can gift to the world appeals to me greatly as working from strength and seeing their unique offerings.
All the best Gordon and the Dazzling Sparks Team. Also thanks for this post Naysan.
June Perkins (July 7, 2019 at 11:08 PM)
thanks for your kind encouragement June.Keep up the good work and I look forward to our next gathering and futre collaboration
Gordon Kerr (July 7, 2019 at 7:04 AM)
Thank you Gordon for sharing your story and vision of the importance of arts and the artists and their crucial role as torchbearers of a new civilization. I wish you all success for the Creative Circle; a platform for the arts and an enriching experience for the participants.
Ian Hallmond (July 7, 2019 at 1:48 AM)
Thanks Ian and thank you for your warm welcome and kind hospitality in Brisbane. May the results of your efforts be light upon light.
Gordon Kerr (July 7, 2019 at 7:05 AM)
This is a wonderful initiative. I’m not a fiction writer by trade or training but was inspired to write an epic fantasy/romance-blend trilogy (The Windflower Saga, under pen name Aleksandra Layland) inspired by our teachings. But I always felt alone. It wasn’t a Baha’i book yet it was inspirational, included themes of racism, the transformation of individuals and society, preserving indigenous cultures, the role of women and education in uplifting society, the search for justice, peacemaking, and some social issues, in a medieval-like world. Maybe an odd combination but it’s what I was inspired to write. I hope others like me who may have a story to tell will be able to participate in this wonderful initiative!
Kimberlee Benart (July 7, 2019 at 2:50 AM)
Thanks so much for your comment Kimberlee, and I hope you’re able to make it to one of these. 🙂
Naysan Naraqi (July 7, 2019 at 5:23 AM)
Kinberlee, for many years I favoured fact over fiction when it came to serious writing but eventually came to realize the importance of fiction in the transformation and ennoblement of the human condition. We need to expand our understanding of “Baha’i books” beyond a simple presentation of Baha’i teachings to literature which embraces all the potentialities of the soul. Time for a second book perhaps?
Gordon Kerr (July 7, 2019 at 7:17 AM)
Thank you for your comment, Gordon. I appreciate your viewpoint. So many people enjoy fiction that if we can give them stories which are uplifting in tone, how can that be a bad thing?..:))) The Windflower Saga started as a trilogy of novels. That was all I intended to write. Halfway through I found that several of the characters who had relatively small parts (text-wise) in the novels kept talking to me. I wrote four novellas initially to expand on who they were and how they added to the overall Saga. Then I added four more novellas which crossed into the young adult genre. My Saga features a horse/herding culture. I used animal characters with minor mention in the novels as well as childhood versions of some adult characters as the focus of a short middle-grade novel, a short chapter book, and three picture books. Although I considered at one time writing a “prequel” to the trilogy, I’ve decided instead just to incorporate some short stories into a “book about the book” that I’m currently working on which provides maps, illustrations, and commentary. It will be the final book in my Saga and then I hope to get on with other artsy/craftsy things.
Kimberlee Benart (July 7, 2019 at 10:36 PM)
Thank you Gordon, this is such an amazing initiative and I would love to take part in one of these. Unfortunately this year is too short a notice to travel all the way from New Zealand but I shall look out for your next creative circle retreat. This is wonderful, all the best with your retreats this month, our love and best wishes to all the participants.
Sonbol Taefi (July 7, 2019 at 12:31 AM)
Hi Sonbol! Remember me. We met years ago in New Zealand, Arts and Spirituality Conference.
June Perkins (July 7, 2019 at 4:03 AM)
Thank you Sonbol. We would love to welcome you. Perhaps we can organise a Creative Circles in New Zealand in the not too distant future.
Gordon Kerr (July 7, 2019 at 7:03 AM)