Culture is the New Communication

The sun sets upon the Mekudeshet Festival in Jerusalem’s Tower of David

The sun sets upon the Mekudeshet Festival in Jerusalem’s Tower of David

Observing Millennial students from around the globe through my Masters classes at USC Annenberg, the world’s Number One Communication school, I have come to realize that Culture is the new Communication with Bold Creativity at the center.


I was sitting at the most boring program the other night that was promoting the most courageous, breakthrough initiative.

 

Boring Old Communication:

The talking heads formula.

I had arrived with excitement and anticipation because I was already familiar with the initiative. For the last several years, the sponsoring institute, located in Israel has been accomplishing the impossible, hosting Moslem imams for an open study and dialogue about Judaism and Zionism. The institute is known for the depth of its challenging, intellectual and analytical thought. But when it came to presenting this initiative, they left all their original thinking back in Israel, demonstrating not enough understanding of what Communication now requires in a new era. They chose to present this breathtaking program through a same old, same old talking heads event formula in a cavernous synagogue. The setting and uninspired event were both so deadly, that it hardly made a difference that the brilliant and soulful Israeli Jewish founder of this initiative, was on the stage with the daring and open Turkish-American Imam who had originally suggested this program, along with a scintillating moderator asking some insightful questions.

At the age of 66, I was one of the youngest people in the room. I began to find my eyes diverting from the presenters I could hardly see, more drawn to the clock on my iPhone. Then suddenly, a connecting light went off in my brain.

 

Enthralling New Communication:

A Palestinian rapper. An ultra orthodox Jewish singer of sacred poems. On the same stage.

The Kulna evening's diverse performers defying the bans, propaganda, and hateful rhetoric through music.

The Kulna evening's diverse performers defying the bans, propaganda, and hateful rhetoric through music.

I realized this same issue—Jewish/Muslim interaction—brought me to a powerful, knock-out cultural event in Jerusalem this last September, where I wanted time to stand still. It was the first night of the Mekudeshet Sacred/World Music Festival. The event was called Kulna, which translates to “All of us.” Kulna too, is a courageous initiative which accomplished the impossible, bringing together for the first time Israeli Jews, Arab-Israelis and Palestinians, all musicians, on the same performance stage. An orchestra of Jews and Arabs. A Palestinian rapper from Shuafat refugee camp. An orthodox Jewish singer of holy poems. A Yemenite-Israeli superstar. An Arab-Isaeli diva. An Armenian pop singer. Kulna defied all the bans, propaganda and hateful rhetoric on both sides of what the interactions between Israelis and Palestinians are supposed to be. There were about 3000 people in attendance, Jews, Moslems and Christians. The stage and the space were meticulously designed to facilitate excitement and communicate purpose.

At the age of 66, at this event, I was one of the oldest people in the crowd.

 

Intertwining Culture and Communication.

Rooftop performance at the Mekudeshet Festival with downtown Jerusalem in the background

Rooftop performance at the Mekudeshet Festival with downtown Jerusalem in the background

Mekudeshet’s powerful program was consciously and brilliantly intertwined into goals of Communication, concept and creativity. This event of culture was so successful that the after party of hundreds, also a first between Jews and Palestinians, continued until 4am, with ongoing performances.

For a new generation, Culture is the Communication and the shared experience. Bold, risk-taking creativity sits at the center. As a result, Kulna and the Mekudeshet Festival became the subject of stories in the New York Times, Forbes, Huffington Post, al-Monitor, YNET and Ha’aretz, spreading the language of possibility to hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

 

Suggesting some radical ideas to the institute.

So what should the institute do when promoting the imam program, if they want to capture a new generation? The unthinkable for a classic intellectual, teaching institution. Team up with culture—Jewish and Muslim poets, musicians and writers. Don’t just ask questions of talking heads on the stage, simply telling the audience about the program. Give them an experience of it, engage them, let them in. A new generation wants skin in the game.Bring a few Muslims and have the Jewish audience participate together with the speakers for an hour in the curriculum together. The opposite, for a Muslim audience Also, the space needs to be conducive to the event. An old synagogue constructed like a long tube, with a platform midway, blocking a view of the stage, doesn’t capture. The event needs to be as physically designed as should be each moment of happening. The institute, should be teaming up with Mekudeshet to promote their imam program, or at least hiring them as a consultant. The entire evening should be a cultural and creative experience. They need to put resources into the promotion and Communication, just as they do into the program, itself.

 

An insight from teaching: No formulas.

Onstage at Mekudeshet: Kulna

Onstage at Mekudeshet: Kulna

I have gained these insights, teaching. I talk to my students and observe what unleashes their thinking and creativity. And then by trial and error, in order to reach and motivate them, I have dispensed with the frontal lecture style, with formulas, as well as bringing in speakers who simply speak. I’ve learned that every class has to be original, a cultural or creative experience in some way, that actively engages the students in a critical thinking and creative process. This generation has a very sensitive bullshit meter, and turns off as soon as they smell it.

 

Relevant to business and all social issues.

Mekudeshet and its Kulna evening were a reaffirmation of the teaching lessons I have learned. They bear repeating, which I never do in these blogs. Culture is the new communication. Bold Creativity must be at the center, during every step.  

These lessons apply beyond Jews and Muslims. They are relevant to business, social issues, academia—absolutely everything, today.

 

 

 

 

Gary Wexler