Merlijn Twaalfhoven works as a composer and theater maker in conflict areas, with refugees and in places with major social challenges. He searches for new connections between population groups and cultures and discovered how artists, musicians and storytellers approach the unknown with imagination, beauty and play. He described his experiences in the book It is up to us. Why we need the artist in ourselves to save the world. In this book he shows how each of us can play a meaningful role in tackling global problems if we activate the artist within ourselves.
During his training as a composer at the Conservatory of Amsterdam he already brought his music to unusual places. After countless music and theater projects in cities, neighbourhoods, conflict zones, refugee camps and in nature, he sees himself as a creative researcher of complex social problems. In 2017 he founded The Turn Club, a collaboration of art professionals who tackle urgent issues with an artist mindset.
Merlijn has worked with the Kronos Quartet, the New York Philharmonic, Holland Festival and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, among others, and initiated festivals and collaborative projects in Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Brazil and the US. He received a UNESCO award and was nominated for the Amsterdamprize for the Arts.
A few examples of Merlijn’s lectures:
How can we shape the world in a time of uncertainty and change?
What can we hold on to in a time of uncertainty and change? Are we tempted by false certainties? Do we cling too much to values from the past? Or can we face the unknown with fresh eyes and an open attitude? Merlijn Twaalfhoven shows how we can find the artist in ourselves to navigate through uncertainty with beauty, imagination and play.
A connecting story for a time of transition
It seems as if we have forgotten to dream. Our worries and desires are determined by the short term. What ideals do we still have? And how do we shape those? We seem to prefer to respond to whatever comes our way. We share someone else’s opinion or vote for a party with a good story and then we quickly let it go. Looking for the next idea, a bit of meaning or a glimmer of hope that reaches us through all the noise and distraction.
In this way we remain alone, loose and without connection to a faith, a group or community, detached from seasons, stories, traditions. What has value, what is important, is determined by the commercials on TV, the talk on social media or the targets of your company. If you live in the present shock of a constant now, without the sense of direction, then powerlessness, loneliness or despair can set in. How can we relate to a bigger story? Where do we find collective connection? How can we take care of future generations?
Workshop Uncertainty Skills
There are many things that are not only uncertain, but also a bit scary. In fact, climate change is terrifying. Our human response to stories like that is to withdraw and protect ourselves. We withdraw and switch to busy daily activities. Or we protect ourselves with arguments that flatten our role as a whole, thinking that our contribution to the big picture is negligible. In this way we cut the relationship between our present time and the future. We leave the future to politicians, scientists, Bono and Elon Musk.
How do we fix this relationship? How do we become aware of our place in the big picture and our responsibility for the generations to come? Not because of warnings from David Attenborough, scary temperature graphs or images of melting polar ice. A relationship arises when we see beauty. We want to take a closer look. We want to take care of something that is vulnerable. That is why beauty, together with imagination and play, should define our attitude. If we connect to something that we want to take care of, if we can imagine a better world, and if we feel the freedom to experiment, a world of possibilities will arise.
What are the skills needed to navigate through a time of change? Let’s look at the world with an artist mindset, embrace uncertainty and find a way to turn today’s major challenges into images, stories and actions that are contagious, connecting and inspiring.
TEDxAmsterdam, First edition