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During a springtime that does not feature a global pandemic, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders, the Lotus Education & Arts Foundation would be in the midst of hosting resident artists from around the world so that they could share their work with communities in south-central Indiana. Lotus has been bringing world music and art to Indiana schools and communities every spring since 1996 and is proud to call this initiative Lotus Blossoms.
Lotus is known for its world music and arts festival that has taken place in late September every year since 1994, but the foundation does so much more than produce one of the oldest world music festivals in the United States. Lotus fulfills its mission to create opportunities to experience, celebrate, and explore the diversity of the world’s cultures through music and the arts year-round. One of the ways Lotus does this is through Lotus Blossoms, a four-week period of intensive outreach that takes place every spring.
Imagine being a school-age child from a rural county in south-central Indiana and one day coming to the school gymnasium to see a performance from an artist like Masankho Banda, a Malawi-based performance artist, storyteller, and drummer who was recognized by His Holiness the Dali Lama for his work as an international peacebuilder. Imagine you had the chance to join him on stage to dance or play an instrument with him during a song. What would happen in your mind?
When the minds of children are expanded to include exceptional music and art experiences from cultures they have never encountered, children broaden their world views and are more likely to embrace the beauty in humanity’s differences rather than dismiss them as wrong or threatening.
In a 2019 Limestone Post article composed by Stella H., a student at Child’s Elementary, she discussed a Blossoms performance from Adilei, a yodeling group from the Republic of Georgia.
“Not only did we get to hear traditional Georgian singing, but we also got to learn something about a country I didn’t even know existed,” Stella wrote.
One of her schoolmates, Max, said, “Seeing Adilei was truly an eye opener to how much more I have to discover in the world. I loved their performance.”
Comments like the ones above are one of the reasons Lotus does the hard work of booking artists a year in advance; corresponding with over 20 schools and community organizations to organize workshops and concerts; securing lodging for artists, which is often in the homes of generous Bloomington residents; fundraising; coordinating volunteers; and so much more.
Blossoms not only enriches the lives of children in Indiana, it also enriches the lives of the adults who help make the programs a reality and who attend the Blossoms events.
Laura Patterson, Bloomington resident and owner of Vibe Yoga Studio, hosted four members of the group Dance of Hope, a music and dance group comprising mainly Ugandan children, at her family home during the 2018 Lotus Blossoms season.
“We opened our doors to children artists, which was fascinating for us,” Patterson says. “I feel like part of the reason we were so blown away at the experience was because of how much you can learn when you share space with someone. There’s a layer of trust to open up your doors. Their hearts were open because we were hosting them, and it allowed us to learn a lot about each other.”
The four children from the group stayed with Patterson and her family for one week. She says she will never forget many things about the experience, but that one very special memory she has is of one of the children playing the piano every morning before the kids left to go to their performances.
“He played the song ‘Sad, Sad World’ and other songs that pulled on the separation of our worlds but the connections of our humanness,” Patterson says. “We might be separated culturally, but the music was the shared joy and shared sorrow with these kids that we got to know. Music can teach us that we are all so much more connected than apart.”
Running the Lotus Blossoms program involves donations of all kinds from the Bloomington community and beyond. People donate their time to pick up artists from the airport, make meals for artist-welcome potlucks, or haul sound equipment to schools in rural counties. Many businesses and individuals generously give the money that partly covers the cost to bring these amazing artists to Indiana.
Kathy Aiken, former Lotus board member and longtime Lotus supporter, volunteered in 2018 to help drive Dance of Hope to and from their performances and to make food for the group during their Blossoms residency.
Once, when Aiken was supposed to introduce the group at a performance, she says she was almost unable to do so because when she tried to speak, all she could do was cry and say how wonderful the children from Dance of Hope were. Most of the children in the group live in the M-LISADA orphanage in Kampala, Uganda. They visited Bloomington as part of their first U.S. tour.
“One of the older girls from the group came and tried to comfort me and that made me cry more,” Aiken remembers. “That’s how deep the connections are that you can build through music and through the Blossoms program. Learning about everything the children had done and been through was really transformative for me.”
This year Lotus Blossoms had planned its most extensive artist lineup to date in honor of its 25th anniversary. The artists who would have visited Indiana include Masankho Banda (Malawi), Vox Sambou (Haiti/Canada), Yungchen Lhamo (Tibet), Mariachi Perla del Medio Oeste (Mexico/US), Cielito Lindo (Mexico/US), The Corn Potato String Band (US), Violet Duncan (US), and Moira Smiley (US).
The Lotus staff was especially excited to see Blossoms make another appearance at the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) in Marion County for a performance from Vox Sambou, a Haitian Canadian musician known for rapping and singing in five different languages. Blossoms brought Finland-based band Kardemimmit to the JDC in 2018, and the Lotus staff was and is determined to go back again next year if not sooner.
“The residents were all very attentive,” says Chanel Parker, JDC program director. “It is always good to learn about different types of music. With that you learn about where people live and something about their culture. Music is a universal language.”
Lotus was also very excited to see Blossoms bring Yungchen Lhamo, a renowned Tibetan singer-songwriter, to Medora, Indiana, the smallest school district in the state, for a performance, a collaboration with their school choir, and a community dinner.
Sadly, Lotus Blossoms will not bring any artists to Indiana this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Lotus, like so many other arts and culture organizations, has had to cancel all of its events and is not sure when in-person events can resume.
Lotus is taking an emotional and financial hit as all of the hard work to produce the Blossoms programming seems to go by the wayside, but Lotus is an arts and culture nonprofit and refuses to let its creative side sit on the sidelines. Lotus has already hosted one Lotus Live-Stream Concert with Giri and Uma Peters on its Facebook and Instagram pages and is planning another live-stream concert from Cielito Lindo, a Chicago-based, family mariachi group, on Tuesday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. EST, and also one from Aaron Jonah Lewis from The Corn Potato String Band on Saturday, May 2 at 8:00 p.m. EST.
“Lotus is looking for ways to connect our past artists to our audience, to remind us all of the incredible beauty these musicians have brought to our doorstep and to affirm how their artform greatly enriches our lives,” says Lotus Executive Director Tamara Loewenthal. “We proceed in hope, planning for our 27th annual Lotus Festival, while acknowledging that we may have to make some adaptations for this year’s event. Most of all, we’ll be exploring ways to keep Lotus lovers inspired by our awesome artists.”
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