Nancy Belmont is the CEO of Vessence Corporation and leader of the #WeLiveBig community. Nancy focuses her work on promoting human flourishing, continually inspiring authenticity and increasing individual and collective consciousness for a more unified, vibrant world.
Vessence works with individuals, teams and organizations to find their essence and give it voice through words, images and actions. Nancy believes that once people and teams identify their unique selves, and live into that more fully, they can have more impact and feel more fulfilled. Nancy works with individuals who want to flourish as leaders, teams who want to build community and organizations who want to grow authentic brands.
In 2015, Nancy launched the "Courage Wall," a community project that catapulted to the national and international stage. The Courage Wall, a larger-than-life community chalkboard that reads, “I wish I had the courage to...” was covered by the TODAY Show, Al Jazeera, ABC, Forbes, The Washington Post and the Washington Business Journal, sparking the conversation on courage and fear around the globe.
Based on the success of the Courage Wall, Nancy created a special program of Vessence, #WeLiveBig, that serves as a creative incubator for community-building initiatives. This community-focused program is committed to promoting human flourishing through interactive public art, community conversations and tools for empowerment. Nancy believes that by building community in neighborhoods and among all of humanity, she can become a better advisor on how to build community within and around organizations.
Nancy’s project, “UNITY,” is in response to the divisiveness in the national conversation. UNITY is a larger-than-life structure that helps us celebrate our uniqueness and shows that even though we are different, we are not separate. The project consists of 32 posts, each with identifiers such as, “I’m a parent; I speak English as a second language; I identify as LGBTQ,” etc. Participants wrap colorful yarn around posts that reflect their identities. Their yarn intertwines with others’ to create a web of interconnectedness. The project has gone global, with over 800 people downloading the how-to manual to bring UNITY to their communities.
Sekou Coleman is a creative professional, cultural activist and youth advocate with a passion for using art to educate and inspire. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, where he majored in Music, and worked afterwards as a community organizer fostering collaboration in and between the city’s marginalized neighborhoods. In 1996, he founded a program teaching music business, music theory, and music recording to urban middle and high school youth. This earned him the attention of a national nonprofit focused on improving opportunities for black men and boys, where he was hired to work on arts, media and technology initiatives.
Seeking to further engage his creative side, Sekou began working as a digital media specialist for a wide range of organizations in 2001. He created websites for television networks PBS and BET, developed software to support the marketing and promotion of recording artists for Sony Music, produced videos for independent musicians, designed interactive training software for the federal government and taught multimedia design software to creative professionals in the US and Ethiopia.
He is currently the producer for Beneath the Veneer, an independent documentary about a community healing from the physical, mental and emotional impact of multi-generational systemic inequity, as seen through the eyes and experiences of 6 young black men. Sekou lives in Asheville, NC where he also devotes considerable time and talent to working with organizations that support leaders and communities of color, such as the innovative giving circle CoThinkk and the bilingual youth-led media channel Word On The Street.
Forty years ago, Betsy Damon stepped outside her traditional art training and carved a unique path to work with the environment, communities, science and art. She began looking to her inner consciousness as a source of inspiration which initiated her public engagement, starting with gritty art performances on the New York City streets. She was engaged in the women's movement of the 1970s, where she founded No Limits for Women Artists, a network to join and support female artists.
In 1985, after a cross-country camping trip with her children, Betsy found herself reconnected to the primal elements of the natural world --the sound of wind, the flow of water, the forest, the rain. This initiated the casting of a 250-foot dry riverbed, The Memory of Clean Water, which brought her attention to the invisible destruction that development was having on water sources. In the early evening, while casting the riverbed, Betsy looked up to realize that the stones of the riverbed were patterned like the stars of the sky, that everywhere were the patterns of water. She committed herself to learning everything about water, little did she know that 27 years later she would still be deeply entrenched.
Beginning with the creation of Keepers of the Waters in 1991, Betsy has continued to work towards creating community based models of water stewardship. Her work includes sculpture, teaching, lectures and workshops. In China, she created the nation's first public art event for the environment, and most notably the Living Water Garden, a world renowned public park and natural water filtration model. In the US, she is continuously working with communities and grassroots groups, as well as completing art/ design commissions.
Betsy Damon's inspiration comes from extensive research of sacred water sites, and her curiosity for the biology and earth sciences that compose living systems. Always seeking new ways to articulate the complexity of water and engage communities in caring for this precious resource, Betsy continues her passion. Visit: www.keepersofthewater.org to learn more about Betsy and her projects.
David Novak is Founder and Artistic Director of A Telling Experience, telling stories to enrich discourse, entertain imagination, engage emotion, and discover our common ground.
In the 1970s, David moved out of traditional theatre to participate in the national revival of storytelling. He applies his skills as a writer, performer and teaching artist to the development of public discourse, community building, and education. Over 40 years of storytelling and spoken word, David developed a unique style of narrative combinatorics. A master of literary collage, he contrasts the familiar with the surprising, simplicity with complexity and the ordinary with the fabulous.
During a raft trip on the Willamette river in Oregon in 1990, David was prompted by the scars of clear-cutting and deforestation to explore the deep narratives that drive our exploitation of, and alienation from, the earth. This led to his cycle of stories on The Separation of Heaven and Earth. To learn more about David Novak, visit www.david-novak.com
David is a veteran of the National Storytelling Festival, and internationally touring storyteller and speaker. He was on the opening team of The Disney Institute as Director of Story Arts and is a long time faculty member of the Storytelling Program at East Tennessee State University. David keynotes for numerous library and educational conferences, including the Sydney International Storytelling Conference, Czech Children's Theatre Festival, and American Alliance for Theatre in Education.
An Asheville resident, he is an A+ Fellow for the North Carolina Arts Council and a Teaching Artist for the Wolf Trap Institute. David regularly lectures for the Humanities program at UNCA.
Suzy O'Hara is a curator and researcher based in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Through her research at CRUMB, her curatorial practice and her post-doctoral role with Creative FUSE North East, Suzy seeks to nurture and understand evolving relationships between the Arts and Creative, Digital and IT sectors and develop and test new models of collaborative commissioning for the production of interdisciplinary art and creative practices. Suzy completed her practice led PhD at CRUMB, University of Sunderland, titled “Collaborations between Arts and Commercial Digital Industry Sectors: A Curatorial Practice-led Investigation of Modes of Production” funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
Her latest projects include: INVENTORS! with Dominic Wilcox , a project that turns children’s inventions ideas into real objects by drawing together partners from across art, design, manufacture, commercial business and education, Sunderland 10 x 10, a project by Sunderland Cultural Partnership, that supports North East UK-based artists and creatives and nurtures the development of contemporary arts in collaboration with local Sunderland businesses and Rewriting the Hack, the North East’s first women only hackathon that examined the hack format as a site for producing collaborative, interdisciplinary artworks and explored issues surrounding diverse voices in digital industries. Suzy is also founder and curator of Thinking Digital Arts, in collaboration with Thinking Digital Conference.
Growing up in the UK, Diane’s first college experience was at Performing Arts school in London where she was a dance major who took every available class in video production, directing and vision mixing. Unexpectedly life events took her away from performance and visual art, and led her to the healing arts. After six years of extensive studying she began practicing Chinese medicine, a career that spanned the following 15 years. Eventually Diane rediscovered her passion for filmmaking, consequently training as a documentary filmmaker during which she integrated her experience as a clinical “listener”. Diane is in her element as a documentarian; she is ceaselessly curious about our beliefs and our perceptions, and how our identity informs the nature of our being. One of her greatest joys is to awaken someone to the value of their story. Seven years ago Diane relocated from the UK to the Asheville area. Over the last decade she has participated in a wide variety of independent film projects in the UK, India and the US. Currently Diane is the director of the feature length documentary Beneath the Veneer.