The Wellbeing Burden of Saving the World: Lessons from the Wellbeing Summit

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Co-written with Alexey Timbul

Parades have always been a space for activism. The industry is increasingly aware of its harmful pressures: lost talent due to addiction, accidents, unreported abuse. “Mental health is not fashionable.” The infamous protest at a Gucci show led to institutional soul-searching, with the CFDA prioritizing its commitment to its groundbreaking health, safety and diversity initiative. The creative industries and public service historically share some of the highest burnout rates. New York City has invested in its pioneering wellness program for city employees. People recognize the need for collective support from those on the front lines of global change. Cities can become open platforms for creative collective healing. For example, this month’s Wellness Summit for Social Change in Bilbao, Spain. Co-founded by social entrepreneurs Aaron Pereira and Sandrine Woitrin, it brought together more than a thousand guests from 60 countries: artists, scientists, activists, NGO workers and donors. “Well-being inspires well-being,” said the posters around town and the tote bags of the participants. Now is the time for an in-depth conversation at the intersection of creativity, social justice, and economic alternatives for the future.

When it comes to examples of public design serving community building, Bilbao hits the mark as a destination. “The city itself has undergone a major socio-economic transformation over the past thirty years, anchored by the Guggenheim Bilbao and other cultural initiatives,” said Sandrine Woitrin. Mayor Juan Mari Aburto attended a tree planting ceremony at Mandala Lab. This interactive space inside a city park gives guests the opportunity to creatively process difficult emotions. Colombian American artist Yazmany Arboleda took the idea further in his soul hospital. This monumental mirrored installation reflects an old magnolia, the sullen Basque sky and passers-by. Destined to become a hotspot for stylish selfies, the room invites people to inhabit an interconnected world like the site-specific DYI metaverse! “This is the first international gathering to make the arts a central structuring element of Why we came together. Learn about new and historical modes of healing. The Summit invited us to participate with our whole body and all our senses, not just our brain,” Arboleda explained. As creative industries focus on sustainability, arts institutions are leading the way in making well-being a priority of urban planning.

Cultural diplomacy is another increasingly vital effort that connects individuals, communities and governments. Storytelling allows us to rewrite problematic narratives. Recent examples include Arab-Israeli fashion collaborations, holistic VR artworks, or special attention to the voices of Ukrainian artists. Another “masterclass” was a performance in Bilbao by Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski. The play starring Oscar-nominated David Strathairn pays tribute to the envoy of the Polish and Jewish people to the Allied forces during World War II, credited with “bringing the news” of the Holocaust. If the truth ends up winning, at what personal and collective cost? Participant Gabriela Arenas de Meneses is the founder of Fundación TAAP, an arts education organization that helps victims of state violence. “The role of journalists and artists is fundamental in peacebuilding as they help establish deep human connections. For the past 20 years, my energy was focused on the well-being of others, but now I understand that the only way to continue to do my job well is to take care of myself too,” Arenas de Meneses said.

Networking beyond business prospects is crucial for lasting well-being. Many cited the personal connection with like-minded changemakers as a major highlight of the Summit. Dinny Jusuf, President of Torajamelo, a pioneering project to empower women artisans in Indonesia, best summed up the collective feelings: “The first and strongest impression I felt was that I was not alone I was touched to know that so many others were working tirelessly for the greater good, and it filled me and my team with great hope and enthusiasm.

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