Coming to Toronto without a plan has led to an astounding labyrinth of connections that organically evolve from conversation to conversation. The momentum began when my Couchsurfing host immediately sent emails describing my project to her friends and colleagues on my first night with her. Within a few hours, I had my first interview scheduled, and the ball has only continued to roll from there: four interviews in three days and many more scheduled for the upcoming week.
One of my first interviews was with Michael Holt, a warm-spirited traveling musician who lives just down the hall from my hosts. Although this project has focused on visual artists in the past, I knew from a single email exchange with Michael that he would bring some seriously insightful observations about creativity and community building if we were able to sit down together. So over a healthy breakfast, we fell into a deep discussion about building sustainable communities through vulnerability and celebration.
Although he has toured for many years, Michael does not hold his heart at a distance. He instead gushes about his experiences building intensely rooted personal relationships during each performance. His 2011 “Make Our Own Culture Tour” consisted of sixty intimate living room gatherings across North America and Europe, featuring a variety of other performers and participatory activities. In 2012 he released his 70’s-pop tinged album “Jubilation!” and organized a European “Transition Culture Tour” of forty intimate concerts followed by talking circles, in support of the Transition Towns sustainability movement.
For the last 9 months he has settled in Toronto to rekindle a sense of camaraderie and interconnectedness in the Dundas West Arts Building, which has been his home base for many years while touring. Although his original idea was to inspire the other tenants to work on projects together to “green” the building, he quickly realized that the first (and most important) step was for the tenants to actually get to know each other. Only after the neighbors had formed a network of authentic personal relationships could they be mobilized to work on improvement projects.
When asked how he creates a nurturing environment for these relationships, he swears by two tools: house concerts and celebrating the little things.
Intimate events such as house concerts allow participants to feel seen and heard. This sense of connection in each person escalates and enriches the same feelings in the next person. If the mixture is just right, these reciprocal connections spawn an electric aura that blocks out the rest of the world and leaves only a warm safe space. Once this has occurred, even people who just have met can engage in sincere and vulnerable conversations. The principle of creating a safe space for your audience to engage with you can be applied when painting, writing, recording, designing, or any other creative endeavor.
As we all know, though, not all murals, concerts, or books will create this safe space. However, taking the time to celebrate small accomplishments is a big positive step in this overworked world and will relieve some of the pressure for a project to “succeed.” Similarly, if a project fails, a celebration for at least trying will provide an opportunity for empathetic commiserating and for rekindling positive energy to brainstorm the next idea.
Michael will head off on his “Sacred Culture” house concert tour this fall which will prompt audiences around the world to consider how we create sacred gatherings that inspire people to share from their hearts. Be sure to keep your eyes on his website so that you can participate in one of these uniquely intimate gatherings.
(Featured image of Michael Holt performing in the Bordel Musicale on November 26, 2011. Photo Credit: Chuck Paisley.)