Go the lyrics of the David Bowie classic “Major Tom.” The chorus refers to the Major’s glorious view from his space capsule as he drifts out of radio contact. In this case, the same imagery might instead call out, “Attention climate change deniers.”
Maybe my previous efforts to persuade you to accept the inevitable have failed. Maybe you can even overlook the facts that: the East Coast experienced record highs for February one day, followed by a blizzard the next; sea levels have risen 17 centimeters in the last century; ocean temperatures have increased by .302 degrees since 1969; and ice sheets are rapidly shrinking in thickness and overall mass. (Maybe you even agree with Donald Trump’s EPA leader, Myron Ebell, that climate change is a “hoax”).
If so, I urge you to see the inspired and wonderful mosaic of photography, video, live dance and music from around the world that is Bella Gaia.
This captivating multi-media show is the brainchild of composer and director Kenji Williams, who fulfilled his own dream to bring us the unique vantage point of genuine NASA astronauts and how our world looks from their eyes. This, when combined with haunting classical/world fusion music and interspersed with stunning depictions of what climate change is doing to our world, creates a mesmerizing spectacle that should not be missed. Both environmental activists and climate change refuseniks will enjoy this blend of art, sound, color and sensory stimulation.
From a pilot’s perspective, (I am earning my multi-engine license) I was enthralled by the visual of global, real-time en-route commercial flights, simultaneously depicted in one image. Bella Gaia resonates with the audience intrinsically and creates a sense of interconnectedness that is difficult to capture in only one medium. This is environmental messaging done right; this is perhaps one way that we can capture a much larger audience.
I had the pleasure of sharing my Bella Gaia experience with Heather Logan, a 20-something environmentalist working for Teeki, an eco-fashion company. Heather describes Bella Gaia as “an awe-inspiring celebration of beauty on earth. It is a must see performance if you’re interested in an amalgamation of space, art, dance, music, archaeology, technology and the beauty of the humanities. There is truly something for everyone, whether you’re an environmentalist, scientist, corporate tycoon or artist.”
You only need to look at Bella Gaia’s diverse list of global performance locations to believe Logan’s words. Since it began, Bella Gaia has held over 150 performances in eight countries. In fact, it has enamored viewers in places ranging from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to the U.S. Department of State to Tokyo’s Goi Peace Foundation.
Admittedly, my prose here is uncharacteristically gushing. So before we go any further, click on the link and have a look for yourself. The video snippet does not really capture the essence of the show performed live with a huge screen, but you’ll get the idea…
So how did Kenji Williams take a wild idea like this and turn it into reality? Like any good entrepreneur, Williams explains it better in his own words than I can. So, here is his narrative:
“The project started from meeting astronaut Mike Fincke and learning of his life-changing experience seeing Earth from space. I was so inspired by Mike’s story that it got me thinking, ‘How can I bring this transformative experience to those of us who cannot yet go to space?’ The idea gestated for about two years before I could even figure out how to proceed. Using space flight simulator software for planetariums, I had a tool to produce photo-realistic orbital images. Through a coincidence, I was introduced to NASA scientists at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. One person from that group, Valerie Casasanto, became my champion at NASA and she persuaded her intrigued but skeptical colleagues to support Bella Gaia.
“I submitted a proposal to the Foundation for Global Community, and they awarded me a $50,000 grant to get started and a follow-up grant the next year to complete production. Without them, the show would not exist. With Valerie’s help, I then pursued a $500,000 education grant, and after four tries, we finally were successful. That was really the game-changing boost that allowed us to grow the project in terms of video content, live music and performers, costumes, technical equipment and more. Finally, a prototype version of the show called ‘Gaia Journeys’ was performed in front of a live audience at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. That first show in front of 100 people has now evolved to a recent show at the Marin Civic Center for 1,200 people, and even the Miller Outdoor Theater in Houston before an audience of more than 5,000.”
I stumbled onto Bella Gaia while searching for a video snippet to use in a sustainability education seminar I was putting on for Eastman Chemical Company. Indeed, there is research that shows Bella Gaia can actually change hearts and minds about the environment. A NASA-funded survey showed a 90 percent conversion rate in audiences reporting a greater understanding of the earth, and a more than doubling in response of people who felt a more personal relationship with the Earth after experiencing the show (31 percent pre-show to 64 percent after viewing). This resonates with me, as the performance seems to sink in on a humanistic level, penetrating far beneath the layer of partisan politics that often separates us on environmental issues.