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Connecting through creativity: Rio’s People’s Summit

UN conference on climate change

Rio’s People’s Summit has the feel of a summer carnival – except that it’s punctuated by marches of Amazonian Indians fully decked in feathered headresses and painted chests.

We set up camp next to a tent where speakers take it in turns to rail against deforestation, industrial agriculture, and pollution, then call for the protection of the commons, for social justice and organic small-holding models of farming.

Sitting in a circle of benches we are asked to talk to our neighbour about what is really bothering us in the world.

I am sitting with John Cimino, an Italian-American opera singer, who the previous day had stunned the management education conference with his rendition of a 16th century poem that he has set to music.

Our discussion starts with a healthy shared outrage at the growing inequalities we witness in our respective nations and the world in general. All well and good.

But then the conversation takes a shift to a palpably deeper level.

“John,” I find myself saying, “there’s something that lies beneath that, which troubles me more. We have lost our sense of connection with the planet. Our sense of wonder and reverence for the living entity that sustains us.”

John’s take on this as an artist causes me to reflect.

He recites a poem he is working on. It describes a forest scene from the point of view of a Native American before the arrival of Europeans.

It speaks of innate spirituality, and a sense of the interconnectedness of all things. John is transported as he recites his poem.

He takes on an almost trance-like state.

And I realise that for some it is in creativity that they find their connection to that which is higher than the individual self.