Meet the College Students Who Created an Online Art and Healing Community from Scratch
It all seemed simple enough.
Professor Molly Sturges and 14 students from her Arts and Social Healing class at George Washington University’s Corcoran School of Art and Design set out to offer a safe, creative community for their 2020 Spring semester.
Their plan: for the month of April 2020, a 20'’ x 10'’ canopy tent would stand at Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square, one block from the The White House. There would be daily offerings of emotional, spiritual and artistic support to soothe the soul. They called it the Soul Retrieval Tent.
Then, a pandemic broke, and the world changed. So Sturges and her students practiced what we humans have done for thousands of years and adapted the project to meet the moment.
The challenge: responding quickly to the recent chapter of uncertainty by resurrecting the tent over the Internet via virtual offerings and short videos, with the same spirit, and message: We Got This World!
Today, the fruit of those labors now lives on via their digital, soul-soothing tent at SOSSoulStation.org
“Our goal was always building something that truly connects us,” Sturges said. “And the site is that. These amazing students learned to adapt on the fly and created something beautiful.
“The result is this creative and spiritual technology, freely offered to the world, one offering at a time. It is truly for everyone, both to receive and give as they see fit.”
Just as the physical tent intended, the students and Sturges’ offering now lives online, a website populated with dozens of short videos of music, meditations and expressions, anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes
The web experience is simple: visitors are prompted to choose a video from Daily Offerings (i.e., poetry or affirmations) or from six different categories they’d like to explore — Listen, Feel, Laugh, Vent, Learn and Create — with a different selection of videos for each.
The offerings themselves are wide-ranging and encompass the full emotional spectrum:
There are Soul Vitamins to Frontliners, Journaling with Jocelyn, Pillow Scream Therapy, Bad Car Karaokes, and even a section devoted solely to surviving the next 10 minutes.
You can listen to freshmen Jessica Schwartz’s soothing 15-minute piano performances and Anne Joseph’s musical meditation series, or an array of other supportive musical expressions from both students, Sturges and other contributors.
There are two-minute long “Love Beam” videos by sophomore Alyssa Gaderon and the rest of the class — where a student looks into their camera, asks the viewer to think of something they love, and hold that loving space together.
All of which are just a fraction of the different offerings from the students, as well as dozens of guest artists and musicians — poets and permaculturists, dancers and energy healers, moms and grandmoms, and much more.
According to project producer Joseph, the site as it stands today is merely a beginning.
“We wanted to offer as many different flavors of humanity as possible, especially given the emotional challenge of the past weeks,” Joseph said. “It feels like we did that. I’m so proud of how we came together, and created this space as some, small balm for the world right now. And I’m so excited about what it can grow into in the future.”
Creating a better future, of course, requires meeting the current moment exactly as it is.
As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.”
Initially, for both Sturges and her students, the project sought to do exactly that. In early 2020, the project’s intentions were a bit different. Fundamentally, the idea for the tent was built on the class’ collective recognition of social and global inequity — racism, gender violence, homelessness, incarceration, the treatment of animals eaten by humans, and climate change, to name only a few.
Which planted a seed for one of the project’s guiding principles: true honesty brings about real healing. From that truth, a foundation for the project was forged.
Today, the digital tent remains guided by that same notion, while exploring our deep interconnections as a species on this planet, and our spiritual capacity — which the recent days and weeks of sheltering-in-place and social distancing have further reinforced.
The current public health crisis and changing global paradigms, in fact, only further emphasize the need for us to fully see, and care for each other.
“Our notions of what was once normal must be let go of, and we can help catalyze that letting go,” Sturges said. “The old way was not working and we all know it. Our society has been dominated by fear and greed, with only a few truly benefiting on the backs of others and the planet.
“Hopefully, the project is another baby step towards creating a safer, more equitable, just world. A space for folks of all walks of life to learn and start to heal, together.”
The saying goes, “To know where you’re going, you must first know where you are.”
Indeed, the pandemic has illuminated a functional truth at home, and abroad — that those with the least physical and economic means are most vulnerable to a perpetual loop of suffering.
Yet Sturges’ students are doing their part to know, feel, and confront that difficult reality, with the project as a vehicle.
Despite the collective academic experience now lived via Zoom — and the communal fabric of the student life largely been a distant memory — the class is trying to live by an example of adaptability, and a call for resilience and reframing.
“One of our mottos this semester has been, ‘It’s OK not to be OK,” graduating senior and project lead Maggie Murtha said. “Getting to show up as a class, to share that discomfort with others, and then, to create something from it, has been super challenging. But also super rewarding. And if it can be some small benefit, or even bring a smile or tear to someone’s face, that’s why we’re really doing it.”
The students, in spite of fears, personal grief and self-judgement, are leaning into generalized uncertainty with open hearts and minds. They, alongside the site’s other contributors, are holding space in that spirit.
Going forward, the legacy of the class and project is evolving. For now, it is a simple as an intention to reframe social distancing as simply physical distancing. Ironically, it’s an opportunity that wouldn’t have been available without the current pandemic.
After all, back in January, the tent was a limited 30-day run, tethered to Washington, D.C.
Now, it is evolving into a community of communities, with an intention to offer expressions online indefinitely, connected to every corner of the World Wide Web.
And a moment that is apparently just getting started.
The ultimate mission of the SOS Tent — and larger message of We Got This World — is to build a decentralized global creative movement, one that allows anyone to submit offerings, create localized, digital tents online, and offer a deeper level of emotional exchange, and co-collaboration.
Sturges’ class has officially ended, though the majority of her students are staying involved as ambassadors and guides — for however the next phase takes shape.
The ultimate hope: to support our world’s capacity to move from an old, profit-oriented paradigm of being alive, into a new one, focused on each individual’s capacity for empathetic expression — one voice, one offering, one heart, and one soul at a time.
Because, of course, each individual is just one spark in the larger torch — and deeper sea change — the project is here to illuminate.
“Let’s keep our lamp burning bright,” Sturges said. “Nurture it with compassion for yourself, others and the planet. Protect it. Together, our lamps can make a light bright enough to find the beautiful future calling out to us. If we dare to believe in beautiful new possibilities and expressions, we can begin to let go of old, destructive ways.
“The goal is to inspire individuals to spend time creating what we do want instead of focusing only on what we don’t,” Sturges said. “To align with the earth and life’s fundamental principle. If we can connect to that, we can all connect to serve a balanced and harmonious planet.”
It all sounds simple enough. Simple, though certainly not easy.
Just like the project itself: transmuting circumstances, struggle and suffering into expression, connection and, most importantly, hope and healing.