- Abdu’l-Baha was the eldest son of Baha’u’llah. When Abdu’l-Baha passed away on 28 November 1921, He was eulogized as One who led humanity to the “Way of Truth,” as a “pillar of peace” and the embodiment of “glory and greatness.”
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!
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