Arts and Culture

How art helps us make sense of growth

Nico Daswani
Head of Arts and Culture, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Arts and Culture

As you think so you are, as you imagine so you become – Anonymous 

In a speech many years back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, President Barack Obama spoke of the need to address the “empathy deficit“, even before the federal deficit. He spoke of a vision for a collective generosity of spirit so strong that individuals could weather any storm and realize their true potential, “because our individual salvation depends on our collective salvation”.

As we explore the theme of Charting a New Course for Growth at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2015 in Dalian, we have again invited artists to help us think about the human dimension of growth and transformation. These artists have collaborated with designers, scientists, academics and humanitarians to create experiences that take participants outside of their frame of reference in order to build empathy for one another and for our collective heritage. Paradoxically, they are using some of the latest and most ground-breaking technologies to reconnect us. What does it mean about our society when we need virtual reality and stereoscopic projection systems to help us feel human again?

The experiences we are presenting are meant to be awe-inspiring in and of themselves, but more importantly, they are intended as a “primer” that so alters the frame of mind of decision-makers that they can engage in dialogue with others about global issues in a more mindful and intentional way, with the hope that they will be moved one step closer to action.

At this year’s meeting in China, some of the interactive activities include:

  • The Cave Dome – An immersive experience that takes participants into the Mogao Caves, the world’s largest site of medieval Buddhist art. Located on the ancient Silk Road in Dunhuang in north-western China, the site includes more than 700 caves. Although the caves are closed to the public on a rotating basis for the purpose of preservation, participants in Dalian can experience one of them virtually in this special installation. The experience is designed to remind participants of the beauty of our collective heritage and of the imperative to protect it. “Pureland” was conceived and directed by Sarah Kenderdine and Jeffrey Shaw and it is innovatively brought to dome format for the first time in Dalian.
  • Robots in Action – An interactive exhibition on human-robot collaboration. Long confined to factory floors, robots will soon be rolling, walking, climbing and flying into our daily lives – at work, at home and in the world at large. This special exhibition will explore the technological advances driving this revolution and spur new dialogue on the opportunities and challenges ahead. It is produced in partnership with experts from the Global Agenda Council on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, with several participating institutions.
  • The Virtual Reality Dome – When participants put on their virtual reality headsets, they will be transported to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. There they will meet Sidra, a young refugee girl, who will take participants into her home, school and around the camp, for a unique multi-sensorial appreciation of the daily lives of refugee children. Clouds over Sidra was commissioned by the United Nations and is directed by Chris Milk and Gabo Arora.
  • The Earth Time-Lapse – Interactive large-scale time-lapse satellite images of our planet, using Google Maps technology, reveal humanity’s impact on the environment. Participants will be able to zoom in or out on any spot on the globe and move back and forth in time as they are reminded of humanity’s impact and its place in space and time. The time-lapse was produced by the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.

The programme will also include ethical debates on artificial intelligence, conversations on well-being in our special Health Dome, morning Tai-Chi sessions, and film screenings providing utopian and dystopian visions of humanity. This and much more awaits you at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian.

The Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2015 will take place in Dalian, People’s Republic of China, on 9-11 September.

Author: Nico Daswani is Associate Director, head of Arts & Culture for the Programme Development Team at the World Economic Forum.

Image: View of “Lyon, Terre aux lumieres” installation by artists Gilbert Coudene and Etienne Guiol during the rehearsal for the Festival of Lights in central Lyon late in the night December 4, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Pratta

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