The moon is full and this is the time we normally launch the World Festival of Sacred Music (WFSM). What began in 1999 with the millennium and that famous letter from His Holiness the Dalai Lama went on to become a citywide festival that captured the support and commitment of hundreds of artists and tens of thousands of audience members.
I now share with you the ideas for the next chapter of WFSM. My commitment to our city remains unchanged. My love of it’s diversity is greater than ever. It is my situation that has changed. In 2011, I retired after 37 years as a faculty member at UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures. We closed the UCLA Center for Intercultural Performance and our powerful and amazing staff went on to other things. As this harvest moon of 2014 approached I knew that without this staff I could not mount another festival and at the same time I also knew that my work was not finished. Those of you who know me also know there are mountains I am still willing and able to move.
A new manifestation of the WFSM is now announced. In partnership with the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, our own 501(c)3 — Foundation for World Arts — will sponsor and produce eight concerts under the banner “Aratani World Series.” We begin appropriately on Thanksgiving weekend and end in May 2015. This will be the first of many years of programming.
In today’s L.A. Times an Op-Ed piece Marc Dunkelman says, “We are more tolerant today than we’ve ever been, but we’re also more likely to wall ourselves off from those who hold opposing points of view. As a result, the latitude to lead lives of our choosing allows and sometimes compels us to narrow the horizons of our individual experience…. newfound tolerance hasn’t led to a broader diversity in our everyday lives as much as it’s touched off a stampede towards balkanization…. Empowered to deviate from any central norm by the erosion of prejudice, we have sought comfortable, familiar niches.”
I have observed this first hand, both on my campus and in the city. The goal of the Aratani World Series is not simply to program Indian theater for Indians, Brazilian dance for Brazilians, rather, like the World Festival of Sacred Music, our mission is to encourage the public to reach out, be more curious and eager for exposure to the artistic and imaginative world of others. We are reaching out to people who will enjoy sitting with a community they may not know, to hear languages spoken from the stage or in the house that they do not understand, and in the end feel a resonance with people and places that are both near and far. We ask once again that the public trust our curatorial hand and come to the theater not knowing entirely what you will experience but know this experience will offer wonders and insight into our city and the world.
Being an Emeritus Professor has its advantages, working from home and fully volunteering my time to this series are two of them. I have found a great partner in Leslie Ito and the staff of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. Like all the venues that have partnered with us in the past, they want to open their doors to the diversity of our city and facilitate a cultural dialogue that will add to our appreciation and understanding of other cultures. We begin without grant funds or underwriting, rather we depend on the help of our constituents to support us, get the word out, come to the concerts, and carry away our artists’ message into their day to day lives.