Arts and Culture

The hidden arts festival at the 2020 Annual Meeting in Davos

Image: European Union Youth Orchestra conducted by Xian Zhang © Peter Adamik

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

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

From a VR installation that makes you feel what it would be like to be a tree, to a performance mixing beat-boxing with AI: there's a world-class arts festival hidden in plain sight at the 50th Annual Meeting in Davos, with over 40 installations, exhibitions, performances, talks and more.

The Smithsonian, Natural History Museum London and Wellcome Trust are among the institutions helping create a programme closely linked to the goals of the summit: seeking to change hearts and minds, and to nudge leaders to action on the critical issues of our time.

Highlights include:


  • The 26th Annual Crystal Awards, celebrating artists who help create a more inclusive and sustainable world. The 2020 Awardees are: American artist Theaster Gates, for his work creating sustainable communities; Indian filmmaker Deepika Padukone, for raising mental health awareness; Australian artist and filmmaker Lynette Wallworth, for her inclusive narratives; and Chinese dancer Jin Xing, for shaping new cultural norms.
  • Opening Concert: An International Call for Unity and Joy. On the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, Marin Alsop leads the European Union Youth Orchestra, the choir of São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, and soloists from around the world, in a new rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, “Ode to Joy”.
European Union Youth Orchestra Image: European Union Youth Orchestra © Marco Caselli Nirmal
  • Closing Concert: Voices of Light. Vocal artist Harry Yeff, aka Reeps One, and members of the London Contemporary Voices Choir offer an immersive sonic and visual journey to expand our understanding of the potential for better communication with each other.
  • Musical Moments: Yo-Yo Ma and the Bach Project. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, 2008 Crystal Awardee and a member of the World Economic Forum's Board of Trustees, gives six pop-up concerts — one for each of Bach’s six suites for solo cello.
Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello
Exhibitions & Installations
  • Tree of 40 Fruit, by artist Sam Van Aken, who has used centuries-old grafting techniques to create a tree that grows forty different types of fruit including peaches, plums and almonds. For this installation, Van Aken worked with the Swiss Association for the Protection of Fruit Heritage, to collect local apple varieties. He then grafted 40 of these varieties to the tree and invites participants to join in the grafting.

Other installations include The Algae Platform, by Atelier Luma, which investigates the potential of algae as an alternative to conventional materials such as plastic and synthetic textile in the fields of architecture and design; the Department of Seaweed, by Julia Lohmann, who experiments with the fabrication processes and material properties of seaweed, a plentiful and renewable resource; and Totomoxtle, veneers made from native Mexican corn by designer Fernando Laposse, who has collaborated with farmers, agronomists, and scientists to reintroduce native varieties and restore indigenous farming practices.

  • Projection Mapping Exhibition: Wildlife Photographer of the Year, presenting the best images of nature from the past year in gigantic animation format. The animation is designed by Zsolt Balogh. In collaboration with the Natural History Museum, London, and accompanied by a mini-museum booth with scientists giving context about the images.
© Natural History Museum
Impressions from TREE VR experience at the World Economic Forum at the Annual Meeting 2019 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 21, 2019.Copyright by World Economic Forum / Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary
Impressions from TREE VR experience at the World Economic Forum at the Annual Meeting 2019 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 21, 2019. Image: Copyright by World Economic Forum / Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary
Hao Li's Deep Fakes
  • Immersive Experience: Sensory Dinner in the Dark, led by visually impaired guides. With Gina Badenoch, Capaxia, and Sight of Emotion.
Talks and Panels
  • In total more than 40 cultural leaders from 20 countries will lend their unique voices and visions to the dialogue on key issues in dozens of sessions across the official programme, on topics ranging from climate change to inequality. Cultural Leaders include Classicist Mary Beard, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch, youtube star Molly Burke, young wildlife photographer Cruz Erdman, transgender model Gina Rocero, designer Daan Roosegaarde, art teacher Andria Zafirakou, and others.
YouTuber Molly Burke
  • Culture-focused sessions will include topics including “Narrative and Power”, “A History of Feminism in the West”, “How to Understand Blindness”, “The Fight for Artistic Freedom”, and many more.
Special Initiatives
  • Launch of the inaugural New Narratives Lab, a year-long fellowship that pairs exceptional artists from under-represented communities together with experienced members of the Forum’s network of cultural leaders, so they can develop the skills and savvy to navigate circles of power and bring about change. The Lab is directed by artistic director Lynette Wallworth and developed with support from the Ford Foundation.

    Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu will be supported by Chinese choreographer and media personality Jin Xing in navigating the legal landscape and developing the narratives that will empower artists in Kenya and beyond to advocate for freedom of expression.
Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu

South African model and diversity advocate Thando Hopa will be supported by Beninese musician Angelique Kidjo in advocating for more inclusive representation in the media.

Azerbaijani photographer Rena Effendi will be supported by British photographer Platon in her quest to combine powerful storytelling with real-world impact.

See the full offering and all cultural leaders here.

Find out more about Arts & Culture at the World Economic Forum, here.

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