In 2006, I attended my first music workshop in the United States, a year after moving to New York from Beirut, Lebanon. The five day Arabic Music Retreat that took place at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts helped introduce me to a number of musicians from New York and other states and countries, many of whom I remain friends with today. Through this retreat, I quickly realized how important such workshops are. They not only teach and practice the arts and styles of focus, but also offer access to a vibrant community to make valuable friendships and connections that can later open many doors of opportunities.
One of the opportunities offered to me was to travel to China for a low-budget tour with a friend I had met at a workshop in Croatia. Most people I knew weren’t very encouraging of me traveling then, mainly because they thought it’d be a better use of my time and resources to decide on my career. At that time, I had already graduated with a BS in Math and Chemistry from CUNY, and was pursuing a MS in Industrial Engineering at Columbia University, and was a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble. But I was still unsure of which route to take.
I ended up going to China, and the month-long journey resulted in many positive outcomes; I bonded with many expats and locals, and formed long-lasting friendships that paved the way for future projects. I was introduced to the Vice President of International Programming at the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts, Alicia Adams, who then invited me to perform on the Iberian Suite Festival (and later on was a main supporter of our organization and joined our advisory board). I connected with Disney World Imagineers, who later invited me to collaborate as a cultural consultant. This was also the trip that resulted in the inception of what would later become Circle World Arts.
In 2015, my co-organizers and I developed the first world music and dance workshop at the Linden Center in Xizhou Town in Yunnan Province, China. The impact was incredible. The villagers heard music, participated in dances, and learned about cultures very different from their own. They met people from Egypt, Lebanon, United Kingdom, Taiwan, and The United States. The impact of that workshop resonated with the impact of other workshops I’d been to, as a participant and a teacher, like Simon Shaheen’s Arabic Music Retreat, Banff Center’s World music workshop, and Silkroad’s Global Musician Workshop.
Our world today is facing many problems; calls for separation, climate change, and hostility between nations and individuals are evident in every direction. These symptoms concern every person on our planet, and reflect a problem that has been developing over the course of many years. Numerous decisions have been made promoting feelings of separation and division within the arts world as well; the continuous cuts of arts programs in schools are part of the problem, as well as the lack of genuine experiences that bring people together to foster a sense of belonging and respect towards the world’s communities, despite distance.
Circle World Arts’ mission is to make the world arts accessible to as many people as possible. Through our organization, we can create a global network of cultural citizens and institutions that share values of empathy, curiosity, and respect that can make our world a better place. To achieve our goal, Circle World Arts plans to introduce a series of global arts workshops and media to bring artists, audiences, and cultural institutions together across continents, languages, and traditions.
Our concept is proven through the joy we see on the faces of kids learning rhythm for the first time, or dance workshop attendees enjoying the presence of others while learning a new practice. We will continue our mission, and hope you join the circle that connects us, our cultures, and the arts. We hope you join Circle World Arts.