THE TIME OF MY LIFE

There was a moment in the cab on my way from Dulles to the hotel in Washington when it hit me: “I’m here. I’m actually here.”

Like all great events and achievements in my life, this three-week adventure also started on the number 21. I arrived in Washington, DC, on January 20th and the next day our three week International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the United States Department of State and organized by Meridian International Center began. The theme of our program was “Promoting Social Change Through the Arts”, which is something one can easily give up on in Slovenia. Not just arts for social change, but arts in general. I felt like someone broke me out of a prison.

Our trip started in Washington where we got to know more about the United States of America, our organizers, and the workings of important arts institutions in the country, like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Smithsonian. We met the great people at Meridian International Center and had a “speed dating” kind of rotation with some of the art institutions that work in the field of social engagement, equity, youth participation etc. Our time in Washington began dreamlike. Among the rockets and planes in an Air & Space museum. Among the huge skeletons of T-Rex and Triceratops in the Natural History museum, or in front of the Batmobile or steam engines and trams in the American History museum. With the words “I have a dream” at the Lincoln memorial, and the dramatic interpretation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Busboys and Poets. It also began with a selfie (I never do a selfie!) in front of the Washington Post. In fact, it was two days earlier that I saw Spielberg’s new movie The Post in the cinema and again marveled at the courage of people to fight for a cause. And we met so many people who are doing the same on a community level with disadvantaged youth.

 

That’s us at the Meridian!

 

Washington monument

 

The Capitol

 

Lincoln memorial

 

The White House

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. (I’ll just drop this photo here, yes. πŸ˜‰ )

 

I’ll have that, too, please. This protest in front of the White House has been there since… wait, the 70’s!?! OMG

 

Lincoln memorial reflecting pool.

 

The moment I sold my soul to the devil and took a selfie. πŸ˜€

 

 

There were eighteen of participants from eighteen countries: Algeria, Argentina, Bahrain, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Finland, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Kuwait, Slovakia, Slovenia, Suriname, Tanzania, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam. Eighteen amazingly wonderful people, talented artists, professionals from art institutions, museums etc. We spend five wonderful days in Washington. It was unseasonably warm and three of us (a Bolivian-Kuwaiti-Slovenian trio) even had a little picnic sitting on the grass at the National Mall. I also saw the headquarters of a magazine that has been appreciating my work (and paying me!) for over a decade. National Geographic Society. Right from the get go we got used to buying food at Whole Foods which was actually my first walking destination right after I dropped my luggage off in the hotel. Besides our great liaisons Marek, Linda and Norman, Karim from Algeria was the first person I met in the lobby, and we connected so well that we immediately took a stroll to get some dinner. That’s when I learned he was a ping pong champion on top of being an amazing, very famous rapper in Algeria – which was what I already knew before. But that ping pong thing, well, that was something I couldn’t pass on – so I challenged him right there and then. I had to wait for another two weeks for him to completely destroy me in a match. By then he reminded me of his title about 50 times – at every meeting where we had to introduce ourselves. πŸ˜€

Eating at Whole Foods

 

The Smithsonian Institution

 

“Still Life with Spirit and Xitle” in front of Hirshorn Museum

 

Air & Space Museum

Our picnic on the Mall

 

National Museum of Natural History

 

Another selfie πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

 

Hope diamond

 

We travelled classy in private buses and one of those took us to New York City on the fifth day. By then all of us were friends. So much so that people would ask us how many years we knew each other. It was as early as in Washington and on that bus that the musicians in our group began to form a unity, a well in-tuned multicultural band, connecting Bolivian violin, Vietnamese bamboo flute, Tanzanian mbira, drum and voice complimented by another from India and energized by Algerian rap, and spiced with dancing by our amazing Jamaican dancer. There wasn’t a moment on this trip that I wasn’t fascinated by the amount of talent from Gustavo Orihuela Calvo from Bolivia (I am writing their names in full here, if you want to check them out online), Vinh Quang Dong from Vietnam, Elidady Msangi from Tanzania, Suman Das from India (“and yes, I’m an actor” – he would say πŸ˜€ ), the ping pong champion with thousands of people at his rap concerts in Algeria Mr. Karim Medouri, and Ms. Kerry Ann Henry from Jamaica who made the decision of what Broadway show to go see when we get to New York much easier. She used to dance in London’s West End production of The Lion King – and she sold that show so well! I am glad she did, because that was the most amazing thing I have ever seen on stage.

National Museum of American History

 

Batmobile

 

Bozo the Clown

 

The Post

 

National Geographic Society

 

Our liasions could fix anything, even shoes.

 

Life pieces to masterpieces after school art programs for disadvantaged youth.

Union Station

 

National Endowment for Arts

 

My camera was inspired to do art itself. With the so-called “rolling shutter” effect.

 

“Paperwork” at Halcyon art incubator. That’s a cutout.

 

On our way to New York

New York was like a different planet with all the lights and tall buildings on Manhattan where we stayed. What surprised me was that it wasn’t as crowded as I thought. It wasn’t even as big as I thought, but we were staying in a good spot, in walking distance of Times Square. Nevertheless, it felt smaller. And it felt alive and young. Maybe if I lived here for a while, it would get hectic, but I guess I have a large rather empty buffer for life. I loved it. Our stay started with Broadway and jaw-dropping number of flashing screens on Times Square. In the next couple of days we saw the Metropolitan Museum of Arts and met with Sandra Jackson-Dumont who manages its education, public programs, live performances in the museum etc. This latter blew me away. The programming of this museum is amazing, refreshing and creative and it stretches the boundaries of what we believe a museum is all about. I mean, yoga classes among the statues? A jazz concert in the exhibition hall? That was like someone cracked open my skull and dropped a truckload of vanilla muffins in there, poured white chocolate over it and sprinkled it with cookies. Oh yes, vanilla muffins, the kind that I’ve been looking for, but couldn’t find any, for years in my home country (bizarre but true) and the kind we were offered at the meeting at the MET! Could it get any better? Well … yes. πŸ™‚

First view of Manhattan

 

and in the heart of the beast…

 

Queensboro Bridge

 

Manhattan Bridge

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

We went to Brooklyn to visit Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy that uses arts education to empower youth of African descent to achieve a high level of educational, professional and artistic excellence (https://ifetayo.org/). They inspire development of a strong cultural identity and make future generations realize that they have the power to transform social inequity. That was inspiring in itself, but what happened when their young musicians and our musicians met – well, that was epic. The first of many epic on-the-spot collaborations. Before we knew it the entire room was dancing, Elidady was on one of the young drummers’ drums, the bamboo flutes were out, and my mind was going “WHAT the HELL?!? That escalated fast!!!” πŸ˜€ People can be so awesome! And so kind and friendly! I’ve travelled a lot, but Americans, total strangers, at delis or even on the street, are the kindest, most open and communicative people I’ve met. Everywhere, not just in New York where an older man smiled at me when we walked in the same direction to the counter and started a conversation with “So, how’s it going?” That is rare in my country. And there was another question I had to clarify before I answered. A young receptionist in our hotel asked me which part of Slovenia I was from, and of course he caught me off guard, because I would expect a question about where exactly is Slovenia. It turns out I heard him right. Xavier was from Udine, an Italian town two hours away from my home town. Small world.

 

Brooklyn

 

Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy

that escalated fast

On the second evening we visited the Whitney museum where we saw a wonderful exhibition on protests in America and Jimmie Durham’s exhibition of petrified food. πŸ˜€ (e.g. rocks that look like salami, bacon, sugar etc.) among his other works. Those were some delicious rocks so our next stop was a dinner in an Italian restaurant.

The Whitney Museum

 

Petrified food πŸ™‚

Next day our wonderful liaisons also took us on a tour of Manhattan, down to Central Park where we almost lost our Suman, pass the Dakota building where Lennon was shot, over to the Lincoln Center, then for lunch on the Columbus Circle next to a prime view Trump Hotel, further to Staten Island ferry to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan, through Wall Street where crowds of people were abusing the bull, and ended our tour with Ground Zero memorial. But some of us couldn’t stand still when we got back to our hotel. Four of us (Slovenia, Slovakia, Turkey, Algeria) went to the top of the Empire State Building to see the Manhattan lights from above and have our pictures taken by the Karim Photography Center, a newly established brand name for a newly discovered skill of our rapper from Algeria. (Although back then, Dilan (Turkey) probably still thought he was from Tunisia, hahahaha). The last men standing were me and Karim who ended our day by walking to Times Square to take some pictures. With that crossed on our list, we could easier say goodbye to New York City the next day. We split into three groups of six, according to our interests, and flew to three different cities. From then on, we had an Iowa City group, Cleveland group and Charlotte group. My group was primarily about gallery programming and photography/visual arts and we went to Charlotte, North Carolina. Our city was the warmest of all three cities, but sometimes cold is a gift. Suman from India experienced snow for the first time in Cleveland!

The Dakota building

 

Central Park

 

Lincoln Center

 

Trump hotel at Columbus circle (you don’t want to know the prices, trust me)

 

Lower Manhattan and Freedom Tower

 

Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island ferry

 

Wall Street

Freedom Tower

 

Ground Zero memorial

 

Empire State Building at night

 

Manhattan from the top of Empire State Building

 

 

Times Square

Charlotte’s downtown is as big as my home town, but it’s packed with skyscrapers. We visited the McColl Center for the Arts (with its amazing artist in residence program), the Bechtler Museum, LaCa Projects (Latin American Contemporary Art) , The Light Factory gallery, Behailu Academy (art programming for empowering youth), Area 15 (which most of us would read Area 51 at first sight) – all with a different kind of financial situation and programming. By now, we knew the fil rouge of the meetings, because all the amazing things that happen in the field of arts, art institution programming, projects and galleries, boil down to one sentence that we heard during our first days in Washington: “It takes a village.” And indeed, everyone we spoke to confirmed it. It takes collaboration on a community level. It takes funding from multiple sources, but the amazing fact for most of us from Europe was the amount of donations that arts get in the US. Donations from corporations, private donors, foundations. For many of us it was like discovering Eldorado. Area 15, a business incubator, was like someone showed us a world we only read in sci-fi novels (https://www.areafifteen.com/). Not only because of the concept of accepting someone into the place, giving them a space to work and let them pay how much they can (it can even be nothing) until their business takes off, but also because of the community engagement, the philosophy behind freelancing that bases heavily on working together, collaborating and supporting one another with resources to benefit all. For me, that was like seeing a freelancing world where everyone is a part of a community and friends with each other, as opposed to a world where I come from, where mostly everyone is for themselves, and support is usually given only among good friends or for some other personal reason, other than the project, art or community purpose or goal. In Charlotte, we had our first “home hospitality”, meaning that a local host invited us for dinner with them and their friends. It was a wonderful evening, and we talked about a wide array of things, mostly family histories and travel.

 

Charlotte, NC

 

The McColl Center for the Arts

 

The Bechtler Museum

 

 

The Light Factory

 

Behailu Academy

 

The Cat Caffe in the Area 15

 

Public bicycles in Charlotte

 

 

Our next stop was the most artistic city in the United States – Santa Fe, New Mexico. We landed in Albuquerque and drove there. It was a little weird to see how the landscape changed. Suddenly we were in a desert at over 2000 meters above sea level, and all the houses were made of adobe and had flat rooftops, so it felt like a different country altogether. Santa Fe is a peaceful town full of art galleries and prices that make your heart jump. There are over a hundred galleries and boutiques in 800 meters of Canyon Road. As early as the evening that we arrived, Hussain from Bahrain (rhymes perfectly) and I went to the Plaza and found a large Mexican bookstore that also keeps photo books. Perfect, because Hussain is a photographer, too. He and his wife keep a very famous travel blog at http://www.dilmunicouple.com – check them out! The Plaza is a National Historic Landmark made in style of traditional Spanish-American colonial cities. It’s a city square and the heart of Santa Fe. In five days there, we discovered it was heaven for artists (but not much else really, is what we were told by the locals). Enough for me! We learned of the festivals and how this huge arts community is funded. We started at the International Folk Art Alliance and Artworks, then one of the most amazing visits of the trip – Studio Center, formerly Warehouse 21 (you see, 21 again! And again amazing! There’s something about this number, I’m telling you! πŸ˜€ )

A sculpture by the road from Albuquerque to Santa Fe.

 

 

The famous Original Trading Post

 

 

The Santa Fe Plaza

Studio Center is an art, media and entertainment community center where local youth can participate in theatre, music, painting etc. (http://www.warehouse21.org/) And we stumbled on a improv rehearsal that escalated into one of the funniest things on the trip. Not only did our “and yes, I’m an actor” Suman the Superstar (check out his dope portrait from in front of Warehouse 21!) and our Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada city councillor Lindell participate in one of the improv play, but the kids played us as well. A typical improv game is to ask someone in the audience about their day, distribute roles from that story among the actors and see them act it out. And by then we were close as peas in the pod so Giulia from Argentina had no problem shaping out the story of their group’s day so that it was a bit more … interesting. πŸ˜€ It got progressively funnier (to the point of being bizarre) as she was telling it and most of us didn’t even know whether she’s making stuff up or not. It seemed it was true, the others from her group kind of confirmed and protested a bit, but still it seemed a little too crazy. In fact she was reinterpreting it – which is what we learned later. But those kids acted out that day so hilariously! That was the moment everyone could see, even their mentor, what a group of 18 really good friends we are. Otherwise that wouldn’t happen the way it did. πŸ˜€ Some of the participants recorded a radio interview, all of us gave a statement for the Big Picture TV project. Nothing was the same after that visit. Rumors seemed to be flying off everywhere and there was constant danger of them becoming real like the one about a naked musician in his room etc. πŸ˜€ In the evening we had our second home hospitality and because this was a wealthy big house that would host all 21 of us (yes! Did you notice this one, too? There were 18 participants and three liaisons! I rest my case!). With no specific name of our host and in a swarm of information about Santa Fe buzzing around, right off the bat someone started a rumor our host was Robert Redford (who happens to live in Santa Fe). We nipped that fake news in the bud, before it could reach all 18 of us and turn into something that would go way over our heads (which is what eventually happened in San Diego). πŸ˜€

Improv rehearsal

 

Vinh can play the piano, too.

 

Suman Das, actor

That home hospitality turned into a huge party with music, our IVLP band outperformed themselves, and I think Suman barely remembers his awesome dancing! πŸ˜€ The next day Hussain and I went for a photography walk around Santa Fe and Yuliya from Ukraine joined us later. When we returned, the whole group drove to Albuquerque to see the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the Native dance performance, then went shopping for native art and me being me I only thought of things to buy for others and not me, but Linda, our wonderful liaison, saved me with a Baja blanket woven hoodie (that I didn’t have time to go back for) which I wear as I am writing this and in fact all the time in my apartment, because it keeps me warm when it’s cold but you cannot get hot in that thing! Our Albuquerque visit ended with 516 Arts (http://www.516arts.org/) and a very cool exhibition on the US-Mexico border. When we got back to Santa Fe, some of us decided to go for dinner, and again it was awesome. By then I was becoming suspicious about everything being so great – I mean, how can just about everything be so amazing, not one misfire? Should I start pinching myself now? And those of you who know my writing probably half-expect a twist at the end, but I assure you there isn’t one. πŸ˜€ It was awesome all the way through.

 

In front of a house in Santa Fe

 

Hussain at work

 

Chili ristras

 

They make art everywhere!

 

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

 

 

Route 66

 

516 Arts

 

 

Our guardian angels

 

The Mexican restaurant. Sazon

Next day it was Sunday and we went to church. πŸ™‚ I wanted to write it like this, because it sounds so weird. I’m not religious. But I’ve probably seen more churches than an average person of religion. For artistic purposes, curiosity, history, culture … It just so happened that Yuliya and I went to the Plaza and decided to take a look at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi before going to the New Mexico History Museum and then to Canyon Road for a meeting at the Turner Carroll gallery. After the meeting, Algeria, India, Ukraine, Slovenia and its alias Slovakia πŸ™‚ and Turkey hiked up the Museum hill to visit the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. The evening was reserved for some food and drinks and sharing information from our “split cities” Iowa City, Cleveland and Charlotte, while the entire country was glued to their TV sets – it was Super Bowl. We saw those last minutes of the game together with Linda, jumping for joy, and when we saw the Eagles win, some of us got inspired with that “Olympic” spirit and before we knew it we were at the Plaza – challenging our ping pong champion to a game. He was confident he would win, in fact he was determined to beat anyone that we bring to challenge him. He even offered a hundred dollars to anyone who would beat him. Well, he did completely destroy me, of course, but he also lost three times to our Bolivian violinist Gustavo. Who – and I think he might have failed to mention this before – was the youth ping pong champion of Bolivia. What are the odds ha?

Santa Fe History Museum

 

Canyon Road

On our last day of Santa Fe, there was another surge of awesomeness. After meeting with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs we visited Wisefool theater company (http://wisefoolnewmexico.org/), got into groups, told each other inspiring stories and acted them out/presented them all in one batch to the other groups. We continued with a meeting in the Teatro Paraguas (http://www.teatroparaguas.org/ ) where we not only learned about their theatre, but also about how the neighboring famous Meow Wolf Arts Center was created. That was the only thing that didn’t go according to plan, because we were all looking forward to visiting Meow Wolf (https://meowwolf.com/), but it just happened so that it was closed for setting up a new exhibition. Honestly, it would be great to see it, but it wasn’t the end of the world if we didn’t – it just gave us motivation to come back! πŸ˜€

Hung Liu, Red Flower Rain, in the Turner Carroll Gallery

 

Igor Melnikov’s Dreamer in the Turner Carroll Gallery

 

Fausto Fernandez showing us his exhibition “Crossing Boundaries” in the Turner Carroll Gallery

 

In front of Meow Wolf. Photo by (I think, but not sure) Yousef Al Baijan.

And Rosita from Suriname who had one eye always open for a future husband, hahaha, maybe got even more motivation! πŸ˜€ We went for lunch, and most of them ordered Mexican, I ordered a slice of pizza and she ordered a bunch of men. πŸ˜€ In blue. No, she wasn’t stealing artwork, but I bet she’d rather that was the case. Paramedics and firemen wear blue as well, you know. Dry air, high altitude, a huge diversity of food to stumble upon an allergy and probably (sweet) tiredness were starting to show a little bit. In Suriname, a country the size of Greece and a population of only half a million (bytheway, the distance from Washington to New York that we drove is almost TWICE the longest distance from one end of Slovenia to another, and Slovenia has a population of two million. You’d fit around seven of my countries onto an area of Suriname. πŸ™‚ ), Rosita is the General Manager of Roseternal Media and Development Art Foundation that focus on projects for youth participation in the arts. She also runs a jazz festival, is a journalist and a radio host and when we returned home, missing everyone like crazy, some of us got our “moment” on her radio live when she said hello on air – of course we were listening via internet. :D.

A hike up the museum hill

 

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

 

Wisefool Theatre

 

The last evening was World Affairs Trivia and Open Mic Night and again – just when you think it cannot get more awesome… After trying to answer what cowfefe means and what was the name of Trump’s second ex wife etc. our musicians took to the stage one by one, followed by locals. And then it happened again. They got restless listening to a beautiful song in Portuguese, moving about, kind of getting nervous like kids at an outdoor lecture that just saw an ice cream truck pull up. And we all knew what will follow. An on the spot joint performance that included all of them. Even Karim, our rapper, which was quite a jump in genres. But the merge of that song and all these international sounds, together with singing by Elidady and rapping by Karim, was like well rehearsed and thought-off performance of a well in-tuned band. And that’s when one ongoing joke began to take on a very real shape: together with Yousef from Kuwait (check out the park he manages in Kuwait: http://alshaheedpark.com), the self-proclaimed manager of the IVLP band (and others, his client’s list was filling up fast!), and Blanka from Slovakia, program director of THIS (http://www.elektrarnapiestany.sk/) amazing place, we really had an idea of turning our musicians into a multicultural band that would travel to different countries and play with local musicians for a joint performance like the one we saw during the open mic night.

Open mic night that turned into a world class performance

 

Somewhere over New Mexico

Now it was time to get a taste of summer. We flew to San Diego, California. They say it never rains in San Diego and that it’s always beautifully warm, but our bus driver immediately burst that bubble and told us it wasn’t true – it WAS raining some two weeks ago – for an hour; and it was a bit chilly that morning, because it was around 16 degrees Celsius. Right, terrible. Bytheway, it’s the 16th of March when I’m writing this and in the next couple of days in Slovenia, the temperatures will not rise above zero degrees Celsius, and we’ll see some 30 cm of snowfall. For comparison. πŸ˜€ First we did our “orientation” with our liaison/philosopher Marek and ended up in a restaurant called Cafe 21 (told you… the number). After lunch we walked down to the marina, pass the USS Midway aircraft carrier, which is now a museum, to the “Embracing Peace” statue and “A National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military” memorial, then back to the Star of India sail ship. Andrew, our filmmaker from Ghana, and I decided to go see the USS Midway museum and we realized along the way that we are both crazy about airplanes. That was one of the most unforgettable museum visits on the trip, also because Andrew is a lot of fun to be around, especially with his cool ideas for photos – of him! πŸ˜€ Our photo model. To be honest, I thought the museum will take us an hour or so, but eventually we spent more than three hours in there.

The “orientation”.

 

San Diego

 

These US Postal Service trucks are so funny to me!

 

“Embracing Peace” statue. After a famous photo.

 

“A National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military” memorial.

 

USS Midway museum

 

The wingman

That evening, we ended up in a Mexican restaurant and here is where one of our jokes backfired – in a funny way. For some reason, Karim thought it was funny to pretend it was Andrew’s birthday. Andrew sure felt like it, happy as a clam for visiting the USS Midway. We were laughing our asses off for almost fifteen minutes into the joke, when the waiters come around the corner spinning the Matraca, carrying a piece of cake with a burning candle in it! They put a sombrero on Andrew’s head and although we were now laughing our lungs out, we composed ourselves for an Oscar performance and sang him Happy birthday. πŸ˜€ We took it even further: we messaged everyone else on our WhatsApp that we’re celebrating his birthday and many fell for it. The next morning, we were still in our roles. “Oh, yeah, it was a great birthday celebration,” we would tell the liaisons at breakfast. “Well, he didn’t tell you, because he’s shy.” πŸ˜€ But then eventually, before they start buying cake and so on, we told them the truth. And then moments later we had to tell them about another birthday, and convince them this time it was real. Our bamboo master Vinh really had a birthday that day.

Andrew, the pilot

My favorite. F-14

 

Andrew, the flight deck “shooter”. (not my invention, that’s what they are called)

 

The bowels of the carrier

On our first “official” day in San Diego we went to Balboa Park to the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) – http://mopa.org. The architecture there is again like a different country – it’s Spanish. Of course, the park is named after a Spanish maritime explorer and the buildings were mostly built for the Spanish-themed expositions in 1915 and 1935. In the MOPA, we had a panel discussion on new urbanism, which became the prevalent topic of our visit to San Diego. After the discussion and free time in the park, we broke into groups and our group was again all about photography, community based programming and large-scale public exhibits. Me, Melat Nigussie from Belgium (she recently wrote a book in Belgium, look her up!) and Meeri Koutaniemi from Finland (well, if you’re serious about photography, you already know her work, but if you don’t know her yet, this is a must: https://meerikoutaniemi.com) went to Aja Project, a non-profit that offers photography programs for youth, empowering them through photography to reclaim their world and gain confidence to influence change. (http://ajaproject.org/) In the evening, we hid behind a wall in the lobby, holding a cake and adorned with birthday decoration and hats – then we called Vinh. He heard the Happy Birthday song in 19 different languages and it turned out into a an awesome party. And Vinh being Vinh he had more presents for us than we had for him!

The Museum of Photographic Arts

 

Balboa Park

They did this everywhere we went. πŸ™‚ Playing with local artists, street musicians…

Day three in San Diego was D Day for those of us (or is it just me) that aren’t very enthusiastic about public speaking, but want to, need to tell important stories. The San Diego Diplomacy Council, specifically the amazing Natalie Maroun organized an evening of international art performances called Art Soup at the Bread & Salt. But in the morning we first went to Barrio Logan to Chicano Park under the Coronado Bridge to see the largest collection of outdoor graffiti in the US. There are murals painted all over the pillars of the bridge and the walls around them. They are dedicated to cultural heritage of predominately Mexican community. It is officially a National Historic Landmark. The rest of the day was a tech rehearsal for the Art Soup and a power nap in the hotel. The evening show was a huge success. We had everything – musical performances, dance, play, photography and film. Elidady opened the show with his amazing voice and mbira and drums, followed by an amazing performance by our actor Suman. Hussain then introduced us to his travel photography, a project of bridging cultural/religious divides in his home country of Bahrain, then Kerry Ann showed a full hall how good one has to be at dance to get into the Lion King musical. Now, by that time I was nervous like a dog shitting razor blades, because of technical issues with the multimedia I was about to show and my “performance” fell apart just moments before the start, but Elidady’s music, Suman’s performance and her awesome dancing cut through that anxiety easily. I was next, not knowing how to pull it off just by speaking. How to properly tell the story from the top of my head, non-rehearsed. At any given moment in my life that would be the end of me. But this was the United States, an inspiration in itself. This was the amazing people from 18 countries that I was a part of, amazing friends and supporters who believe in my work. This was an environment where I didn’t have to feel like an outsider, like my work doesn’t really matter, like I have nothing to say and nothing I say can change that. I was thriving, for the first time in so many years, I felt the sky’s the limit. But the insecurity, that common artistic destroyer you develop in Slovenia, was internal – and that’s hard to defeat. The knockout punch did not come from me. It came from Marek who sealed those positive feelings, enforced them with just a couple of sentences. And I amazed myself. This was the moment I realized how I can really achieve A LOT, even overcome my own internal limits, in the right environment. That’s when I felt sorry the situation in my country is light-years away. Β I had an uplifting story to tell, one that is all about why we were there. Using arts, photography in my case, to for a positive change. That’s why it was important for me to move people with the story of Barbara (http://www.lukadakskobler.com/multimedia/the-girl-inside/), because only emotional impact influences real action. I hope I did.

Chicano Park

Photo by (I wish I knew her name, sorry), San Diego Diplomacy Council

 

Elidady Msangi. Photo by (I wish I knew her name, sorry), San Diego Diplomacy Council – Yes, I will credit all photos that are not mine like this. πŸ˜€ It’s my duty.

 

Suman Das. Photo by (I wish I knew her name, sorry), San Diego Diplomacy Council

 

Hussain Almosawi. Photo by (I wish I knew her name, sorry), San Diego Diplomacy Council

 

Kerry Ann Henry. Photo by (I wish I knew her name, sorry), San Diego Diplomacy Council

 

Me. Photo by (I wish I knew her name, sorry), San Diego Diplomacy Council

Next up: Gustavo and his energetic violin! Then Andrew Obeng with his singing (Vinh and Gustavo helped him out with instrumentals) and voice recording for animation – that’s one of the things he does on top of being a documentary filmmaker (check him out!). What followed was the beautiful realization of dreams for Karim who, together with a friend who passed away before his dreams could come true, dreamt of rapping in California. That performance was a blast. It felt like the both of them are there.

Gustavo Orihuela

 

Andrew Obeng

 

Karim Medouri

We then saw an inspiring story of a girl from Africa who escaped child marriage (and subsequent genital mutilation), delicately photographed by Meeri, who has been doing a project on female genital mutilation for years. And finally, the always-smiling conductor and bamboo musician Vinh with so many bamboo instruments that I was wondering how he brought that with him from Vietnam! I wouldn’t even bring my heavy laptop! πŸ˜€ But that wasn’t all, in between, we had our fellow participants introduce us: Yuliya who is a deputy director of arts and museum complex in Ukraine (https://artarsenal.in.ua/en/), Giulia who is an Institutional Innovation Project Coordinator in Rosario, Argentina, Melat, Lindell were all great! Ending the amazing evening was a mind-blowing performance by Crew Percussion and their awesome drumming on buckets and barrels and … can’t even begin to describe it, YouTube them and follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CrewPercussion/!

Meeri Koutaniemi

 

Dong Quang Vinh

 

Crew Percussion. Photo by (I wish I knew her name, sorry), San Diego Diplomacy Council

And for the grand finale, of course – who ever thought that won’t happen?!?! – of course, the joint performance of all our musicians, singers, and dancers and the Crew. Seriously, with some promotion and a public video feed, these on the spot collaborations would go viral!

Photo by (I wish I knew her name, sorry), San Diego Diplomacy Council

Now we knew our time together was coming to an end. It almost felt like days before you had to take your dog to the vet to put him down. πŸ™‚ On the last day, we had a storytelling workshop with the founder of TEDx San Diego, which for me was almost a sign I should finally tell a certain story I have been planning for more than 5 years. And then we actually started with our goodbyes, but wrapped it in a lovely time at the Coronado beach, where – again – people would see us having fun and ask us how many years have we known each other. It felt like decades really.

The Coronado Beach

We had our final dinner in the lobby and early in the morning most of us left. And for some of us, that trip will never end. Regardless of distances and time that passes and our WhatsApp group growing quiet, some of us left our hearts out there to be carried to all corners of the world. Thank you!

(Here’s a bunch of photos of us, selfies etc. Many from Karim Photography Center πŸ˜€ and just about everybody else.)

Photo by Karim Photography Center. πŸ˜€ Notice the numbers upper right? 7 and 5 repeated twice, right? OK. Now add them and it comes out 1212. Notice anything familiar yet? πŸ˜€

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, today when I’m writing this (Fri, March 16), is a special day. Andrew’s birthday! No, it’s not a joke this time. No, seriously, I’m not making this up. It’s real, I swear. πŸ˜€ So HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MY FRIEND!

 

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3 thoughts on “THE TIME OF MY LIFE

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