Archives for January 2018

“The Magic of the Schloss”

When I told my peers at Davidson that I was going to be working for Salzburg Global Seminar with my Davidson Impact Fellowship, a common response was, “Oh, that’s the one that goes to Austria, isn’t it?”

Though I do a whole lot more in the DC office, I did have the chance to visit Salzburg, where the Salzburg Global magic happens.

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For about two weeks in October, I had the opportunity to work from the main office of Salzburg Global Seminar in Salzburg, Austria. And “office” is incredibly misleading – the organization is based in Schloss Leopoldskron, an 18th-century Archbishop-Prince’s family-residence-turned-home-of-Max-Reinhardt-turned-hotel. And, no, I never got used to the fact that we staff ate lunch in a room off the kitchen that would have suited 1740s church-state royalty.

I wasn’t sent to Salzburg just to admire the architecture, though. In DC, I’m on the development team, working to fundraise from individuals and institutions for what happens in Salzburg.

So what does happen at Salzburg? Quick history lesson: Salzburg Global Seminar was founded in 1947 (we’re celebrating 70 this year!) by three young men from Harvard who envisioned a “Marshall Plan for the mind” to help Europe recover from WWII. For six weeks during the summer, men and women from all over Europe – people who had been enemies just months before – gathered at Schloss Leopoldskron for a session on American Studies. The topic was chosen for its relative neutrality, but over the course of the session, participants – some of whom had been members of the Nazi Party and others who had been active in resistance movements across Europe – became comfortable enough to discuss their own countries and issues.

Today, Salzburg Global Seminar is a nonprofit that includes many other sessions in addition to American Studies, ranging from healthcare to environmental care, genocide prevention to corporate governance. Both current and rising leaders from all over the world come together for about a week at the Schloss for each session to exchange different perspectives on global problems, and come up with solutions.

All this I had read and written about many times in DC, but I’ll admit I didn’t have a complete grasp on what Salzburg Global really did. Until I got to Salzburg, that is.

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The thing that struck me was the “magic of the Schloss.” I had seen that phrase back in DC, and was admittedly a bit skeptical. But as it turns out, there is a magic to this place. From the stunningly beautiful library (with a secret staircase!) to the rococo-style rooms to the grounds with the stone seahorses, Leo and Mo (who make an appearance in the lake scenes in The Sound of Music), there was a definite tranquility all around.

The other part of the “magic of the Schloss” was the thought-provoking conversations that happened between the Fellows. I helped out with the sixth annual Young Cultural Innovators session, during which about 60 twenty-five to thirty-five-year-old artist-activists and social innovators from around the world convened at the Schloss. To say that these people were fascinating, inspiring, and just really cool would be an understatement. (There was also an unexpected Davidson reunion – one of the participants was Calley Anderson, ’14!)

In addition to the scheduled lectures, workshops, and panels, these Fellows organized their own discussions to get further into the issues – including a “Shop Talk” conversation based on barbershop culture – complete with uncomfortable questions and an actual haircut! I really believe there’s something about the atmosphere created by the sessions at Salzburg Global that allows people to ask hard, awkward, and prickly questions and discuss them in a totally open manner – not unlike some of the experiences I had in classrooms at Davidson. That’s the real magic of the Schloss, and the core of what Salzburg Global does.

One night, some of the Fellows organized a program – “The Schloss is Alive” – to exhibit some of their work that they had done in the past, and some they had collaborated on together in the past few days. I wish I could do it justice. The work they showed – documentaries related to their own First Nation community, photography as art and activism, an animated video to a jazz-traditional-Albanian song – and the passion that was obvious in their presentations was honestly moving. And seeing a Japanese musician, Nigerian rapper, South African poet, Canadian pianist, and Japanese dancer – people that had met just days before – perform a beautiful piece all together was something that embodies what can happen at Salzburg Global.

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Back in May, when I was explaining my new job and organization to various people, I occasionally got the very skeptical reply, “Okay… so they basically get people together to talk for a few days?”

Okay, basically, maybe. But this is truly transformative talking that happens, with connections and collaborations and projects that last well beyond the week at the Schloss. I’ll admit there are moments of frustration in writing fundraising appeals for an organization that doesn’t have tangible and easily-quantifiable results. But how many of us have had our perspective shifted from a conversation with someone totally different than us, but with similar interests and passions? How many of us have driven ourselves in circles with an impossible problem, only to have someone come in and flip the puzzle around, suddenly revealing a whole new set of possibilities? That’s what I saw happen at Salzburg Global.

So, given all that, I must have been super bummed to get back to the daily grind of DC, right?

Well, not so much. While I miss my co-workers across the Atlantic and the verified magic of the Schloss, I was really excited to get back to DC and contribute what I can to this organization, now that I’ve seen it in action.

Plus, there is something to be said for home sweet home… even if it’s not an Austrian palace.

The World is Melting! Do Trails Even Matter?

When I talk to people in the community about what the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) does, their response is often something along the lines of “trails? I don’t do that.” But after talking for a few minutes, I almost always discover that they, in fact, walk their dog along a greenway that is part of the Thread Trail or take their kids to a riverside park we helped to fund with grant money as part of a project to establish blueways or paddling trails. These types of conversations have driven home for me the way in which we often interact with the built environment and use environmental resources unconsciously. This lack of attention to modes of habitual contact with the natural world can mean that many people don’t make the connection between their quality of life – their ability to spend time outside with their kids or grandkids or to walk safely to the store or a friend’s house – and the need to conserve the environment.

I have learned a lot in my first few months at the Thread Trail but one of the most important lessons has been the importance of identity in gaining community support for environmental conservation. The Thread Trail puts a name to the small trails and greenways across North and South Carolina – it allows the people who use those trails every day to connect to a larger regional identity. Establishing this connection with nature has been an integral part of the  mission of the Carolina Thread Trail since it was created out of the Catawba Lands Conservancy (CLC) in 2007. The Thread Trail still works closely with CLC and both organizations do important work in environmental protection. I think that the Thread Trail, however, is a uniquely important tool that provides something the Conservancy cannot. CLC protects large areas of land, providing critical wildlife habitat and sequestered areas of forest where native plants can flourish, but all that land, all the native flora and fauna, is not accessible to the public. CTT preserves smaller areas of land, often in unglamorous habitats on floodplains filled with scrubby bushes and briars, but every inch of that land is open to the public.

This type of community-focused environmental effort is what I believe will make the difference in rapidly developing areas like the Piedmont of the Carolinas. While monumental conservation projects like Yosemite or the Great Barrier Reef often serve as emblems of the environmental protection movement, they are not representative of daily modes of interaction with nature for most people. When I think back to the conception of my own interest in the environment, I remember weekend walks in local parks with my family and days spent exploring the scrubby woods in my neighborhood with friends. These outdoor spaces of my childhood are not glamorous by any means, they are the in-between spaces carved out around neighborhoods and stores and schools. Such spaces are not particularly significant individually, but if we can make it possible for every child to have access to open space in which to run and explore, however unspectacular that landscape is, we will likely have far more environmentalists in the coming decades to combat global climate change, biodiversity loss, and the plethora of other large-scale issues we face. The in-between spaces that sparked my interest in conservation are invisible to many but are transformed into places – into landscapes of wonder – to those who care to look closely and spend time in them regularly.

This transformation is what the Carolina Thread Trail facilitates. The Trail opens up these invisible spaces and invites people in – people, hopefully, like me, who will one day look up and realize that their little slice of nature, the small trail behind their house or their local park, is a piece of something so much bigger and so much more significant than just themselves.

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