I wanted to write a post mainly for my fellow Obama Leaders whom I have spoken with last month on how to integrate the arts into their own organisations, with the intention of sharing what I have learned in working with many institutions and to encourage them to get into the arts. However, I hope to encourage everyone reading this to make space for art in their work. Arts and culture usually suffer from being the first whose funding gets cut out of organisational budgets, and usually what has gotten me, an artist working worldwide, through the door is a temporary art residency that has specific outcomes and events within the allotted time. This has certain logistical considerations as needing an artist/s who can meet deadlines and work under pressure, and so may not be for everyone as artists have a wide variety of working routines. But for me, art is a very powerful discipline that invokes the human in all of us that is sorely needed in a challenging world. And because I have been speaking and writing about my work for a long time, I believe that considering how daunting the issues are around the world today, arts and culture professionals should have a seat at the table when it comes to discussing policies and change.

How to Integrate the Arts into Research, Advocacy, and Leadership

Here are some specific examples from my personal experience:

1. Integrating the arts in research: Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory

In 2013, I was artist-in-residence at the Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory and Tembusu College National University of Singapore, supported by the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands. This was my first experience being in a lab as an artist, as I have a science background among other things. With the theme of Climate Change and Environmental Futures, I had started by exploring what the public thought of climate change. Back in 2013, the questions were usually, “How is climate different than weather?” or “What is the Anthropocene?”. I conducted Apocalypse Workshops with high school and university students in Singapore and realised that clothing was something that they were thinking about because of concerns with changing weather patterns and poor air quality. Thus, my first piece for my ongoing Apocalypse Project series was Climate Change Couture, where I co-created garments with the researchers in the lab that depicted what we might wear in specific environmental conditions they were studying. The researchers also modelled the garments around Singapore. While I treasure every residency experience, I especially look back on this one as the residency that sparked my niche in interdisciplinary art and institutional collaborations.

Read more: “Check Out These Post-Apocalyptic Fashions, Perfect for a Post-Climate Change World” on Fast Company

2. Integrating the arts in think tanks: Institute for the Future

In 2015, I was artist-in-residence at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) to hold the exhibition, “The Apocalypse Project: House of Futures”, where it showed some familiar works like The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store, where I make perfumes of things we could lose because of climate change, which was previously exhibited at IFTF x Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Open City Art City. We also got to hold a Climate Change Couture fashion show and a Future Feast where we served insects. The exhibition was also a part of the ArtCOP21 celebrations. Being exposed to IFTF’s systems thinking has definitely contributed to my practice, in that I see art as being part of systems in society instead of being separated by an amorphous “art world”. Moreover, I see art as a means to for systems and behavioural change which I hope to harness in the years to come.

Read more: “IFTF’s Future Gallery features The Apocalypse Project: House of Futures” and”Art, Science, and Climate Adventures in Asia” at the Institute for the Future blog

3. Integrating the arts in advocacy: Plan International and the International Climate Initiative

  It was my residency with Plan International in 2017 led by the tireless Kimberly Junmookda that helped me see in great detail how art can be involved in advocacy work. Within a few months, Plan International, funded by the International Climate Initiative, took me to communities in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines to work with children and youth that were experiencing climate impacts to co-create works that we exhibited at the 11th Community Based Adaptation Conference in Kampala Uganda. It was especially moving for me to be with the community in Tacloban in southern Philippines as these were young people who lived through Supertyphoon Haiyan. Moreover, we got government and development officials to, quite literally, see and smell climate change through these kids’ eyes.

Read more: “Interview: To know the colour of water” at the International Climate Initiative website

4. Integrating the arts in leadership: SEA∆ by the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council

Over the years, I wanted art to do more, hence the multiple collaborations but since last year I began to participate in leadership programs with the first being the SEA∆ Leadership Program by the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council. This allowed me to collaborate with arts professionals around Southeast Asia and for my group, we conducted art workshops with elderly members of a local community in Kampong Thom, Cambodia, allowing me to contribute some of the frameworks I have developed in my previous residencies and education to the Arts and Environment Festival. Being with these leaders from Southeast Asia gave me space to think about how art can perhaps be integrated in education and policy and exposed me to more communities that I would otherwise not have the opportunity to work with, and these experiences will likely shape my practice in the decades to come.

Read more: “An Artist Undercover with Academics: A SEAΔ Fellow at the AAS-in-Asia Conference” at the Association for Asian Studies website


What collaborations do for artists

  In the years that I’ve done these, I have grown as an artist by being more in touch with pressing issues around the world, some of which have little media attention. Being surrounded with experts in their fields, be it an academic or a development expert, has given me a lot of access to knowledge and information that may not be available to the public. Institutional collaborations have definitely given my practice a lot more depth. It has allowed me to travel the world with a purpose, as I am not a big fan of tourism and would rather work on my projects for most of the year. It has allowed me to work with communities that are underserved not just by society in general, but by the art world in particular as most do not have opportunities to make or experience art. But best of all, it has also given me a lot of friendships over the years and it’s fantastic to have a global network of friends that I can reach out to and challenge me on my ideas in a constructive way, without the usual petty quarrels one usually hears about in the art world. Doing this has (I hope) given me a professional work ethic, and these experiences have served only to motivate me to keep going.


Why organizations should make room for art

1. Art can reach more people inside and outside the organization

Artists-in-residence can be useful for in-house collaborations because bluntly speaking, we don’t compete with anyone. My lone agenda in being an artist is to do something cool. And by cool, I mean a project that can send a strong message to the public about key issues that are relevant in the world and encourage them to act, and whose impact can go beyond the time I have within the institution. And so I have often done work that gets recontextualised and re-discussed years after the art residency, and for me this is great because no systemic problem gets solved immediately and we have to keep tirelessly working to see change. Artists can help raise awareness on issues organizations are working on, helping to bring science out of the ivory tower, development issues out of institutions, and tools and frameworks out of exclusive memberships and into the minds of the public.

2. Art can be an agent of change and confrontation

It is always encouraging to hear positive feedback after exhibiting art, but there may be those that are not as nice, including those that may be against the organisation’s mission, such as those who do not believe in climate science, etc. However, one thing I have observed is that when the artist gets trolled on the internet, the organization itself is rarely mentioned and so this might be a “safer” way to get into the arts for those who are concerned with having negative feedback. Having withstood climate change deniers and antivaxxers for a long time now, I have learned to suck it up and see this as part of the job and just quietly keep working.

3. Art can help fill in the missing gaps in individuals and communities

Usually, artists will be the ones to suggest and execute something that organizations may be reluctant or shy to do, but I believe this encourages creativity in people who may not otherwise have an opportunity to go outside the box, if only for a short time. Also, as I believe everyone is an artist, I often run into staff who exclaim that they’ve always wanted to suggest the activity I was doing, and so it is not completely unrealistic to make room for art even for a short time and could in fact help rejuvenate an organisation. Lastly, art is a bridge to repairing our relationship with nature. If you think about it, the individuals and corporations responsible for most of climate change probably need some art classes in their lives.


During the Obama Leaders: Asia Pacific convening, one of the statements that resonated the most with me is when Mrs. Michelle Obama said that “Change is always incremental.” Having one artist for one time likely won’t change the world overnight, but I like to think that it contributes something good to the world using frameworks that can be replicated. Meeting all of these leaders in the advocacy world made me wish that they can all have artists that can raise awareness on the issues they care about in atypical ways only artists can. While I hope to live in a time when artists as CEOs, board members, etc. are so commonplace (or hey, a permanent artist-in-residence post), until then, I hope there will be more ways to allow for more art to help create systemic and sustainable change.  

 

Check out The Apocalypse Project and Wild Science websites for more art and science projects

It’s been a rollercoaster year! I can’t believe 2019 is over. Here is how 2019 rolled:

• I kicked off the year in Berlin for The (Un-)learning Place of Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

• In March I returned to Beijing to finish the Crystal Ruth Bell residency. I also spoke at this Global Shapers sustainability event.

• I continued the SEAD fellowship with Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council, recommencing in Cambodia, presenting work in Thailand, and reflecting on the year in Myanmar.

• While this year was more for learning refocusing, I did take part in some exhibitions, most notably the DISPOSABLE exhibition of my favourite Science Gallery Melbourne and their presentations at National Science Week at the Victorian Parliament, as well as part of Poklong Anading’s Seawall project at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The Victor Papanek exhibition that features The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store has also moved from the Vitra Design Museum to the Museu del Disseny / Design Museum of Barcelona.

• I was featured in Burning Worlds (USA), C-Platform (China), and Unbore (Netherlands) and spoke at the Vox Pop Video Address at Global Landscapes Forum. I’m also in the book, “Research in the Creative and Media Arts: Challenging Practice” (2019, Desmond Bell, Routledge).

• I did a major move to Sydney as a Scientia scholar at UNSW, being supervised by the venerable Douglas Kahn, Lindsay Kelley, and Kate Dunn.

• I had my first fiction story published (in a while) with “Our Entangled Future” in Norway, with The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store winning third place, hurray!

• I was one of the 200 Obama Leaders for Asia Pacific.

• I was awarded a couple of grants to go to Finland next year to do a residency at the Saari Residence via the Trans Siberian Railway, courtesy of the Kone Foundation.

Thank you to all who have been a part of this!

—Catherine

 

Netherlands—The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store is featured in the article “Apocalyptic Visions: How do these Artists and Designers face the impending future of the Climate Crisis and other Global Disasters,” written by Lindsey Walsh on the website of Dutch cultural collective Unbore.

From the article:

Catherine Sarah Young’s The Ephemeral Marvel’s Perfume Store (abbreviated to “TEMPS” for short, referencing the French word for time) presents a futuristic perfume line of smells that may soon disappear from our daily lives. The various fragrances are smells that stand to be lost with the catastrophic impacts of global warming. From coffee to our coast lines, Young’s olfactory artwork asks the audience to inhale and remember our relationship with these sensorial features of our planet. Lastly, Young asks if we could stand to live without these odours being a part of our world?

Deepest thanks for the kind inclusion of this project!

(Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)—From December 10-15, 200 Leaders from 33 countries in the Asia-Pacific region gathered together to kick-off a year-long leadership training program by the Obama Foundation.

Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 13, 2019. Photo by The Obama Foundation

President and Mrs. Obama, as well as other prominent speakers and thought leaders, joined us for discussions around progress and opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region and values-based leadership.

In addition to the plenary sessions, Leaders participated in skill-building workshops, leadership development training, and a community service project, among other activities.

Here’s how it went down for me:

Panels

First, the panels:

In “We Are the Future: Progress and Possibility in the Asia Pacific” moderated by Aaron Manian and featuring engineer Arthur Huang, Mongolian MP Oyun Saanjasuren (who has a special spot in my heart since she has a black belt in karate), and Malaysian Deputy Minister of Women, Family, and Community Development Hannah Yeoh, the panel spoke about what lies ahead in the region. Ms. Yeoh says “we need to consolidate resources and ideas” as  “everyone starts and NGO and so there is little impact”—something I strongly resonate with and thus prefer to be a lone artist working with multiple institutions, at least for now.

In “Entrepreneurship: Working with Purpose” moderated by Pat Dwyer, the panelists, Tim Brown of Allbirds, Helianti Hilman of Javara and Tony Fernandes of AirAsia, spoke about what it means to practice value-based entrepreneurship and what drives them to pursue their path. As an artist who will likely be an entrepreneur in the future, this was pretty valuable, and also I was very inspired by the humble beginnings of their endeavours.

In one of the convening highlights, Mrs. Michelle Obama and Ms. Julia Roberts in conversation with Deborah Henry about the Girls Opportunity Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation that seeks to empower adolescent girls around the world through education , allowing them to achieve their full potential and transfer their families, communities, and countries. Mrs. Obama and Ms. Roberts also answered some of the Leaders’ questions.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks with his sister and foundation consultant, Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng about how Asia has shaped their lives. Afterwards, President Obama answers some questions by the Leaders.

Finally, Obama administration alumni Bernadette Meehan and Ben Rhodes explore the idea of tackling touch challenges through ethical decision-making and shared thoughtful stories from their own leadership journeys.

Day of Service

On Day 3, it was great to be able to help building a community with the great folks at EPIC Foundation. My group helped build a playground, and all the squats I’ve done this year were put to great use shovelling soil.

Image by The Obama Foundation

Workshops

The meat of the convening were the workshops which taught us the many facets of leadership:

In the Leadership through Reciprocity workshop, we were asked by facilitator Emily Cushman to list down what we need and what we could give.

In a workshop on Leadership and Shared Values led by John Sung, we were asked to list down 16 of our core values and whittle it down to the 4 most important ones. As an artist, this is not something we usually have to do in this way, so it was great to have the time to do this and it was also hard to narrow down, but I managed to cut it to: Love, Kindness, Integrity, and Courage.

In Leadership and Authentic Engagement with Michelle Ann Iking and Reeta Nathwani gave us a coaching session.

In Leadership and Storytelling, Gabrielle Dolan explored why storytelling is important for communicating your mission and purpose.

In Media Skills for Changemakers, Fon Mathuros Chantanayingyong, Nadia Gideon, Amanda Goh, and Rashi Mehrotra spoke about the media landscape in the Asia-Pacific region, developing our own public narrative, and work on building key messages to advance our work.

In Leadership for a Climate-Smart Future, Dr. Maxine Burkett, Dr. Patricia Halagao, together with one of the Leaders per session, interactive exercises allowed us to define how climate change affects their field of work, understand why it matters, and consider ways they can contribute to a climate-smart future. I’ve facilitated workshops like this in my work, so I really resonated with this part.

In the fantastic workshop on Leadership, Power Dynamics, and Influence, Yee Tong taught us about frameworks to understand power and power dynamics, as well as explore the responsibility and ethics of using our own power to creative positive results.

Delegation

On Day 4, we had a formal dinner with the Obama Foundation delegates. I’m feeling very lucky to be part of both the Australian and Philippine cohorts, both of which have brilliant people. Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng, consultant to the foundation and President Obama’s sister, and Mrs. Loida Lewis, philanthropist, were wonderful people to meet.

Community Groups

We were divided into Community Groups and I’m so excited to work with these incredible people!


This is an unusual place for an artist to be, though I am very grateful to be part of it. It is a rare opportunity for an artist to have a seat at the table being able to lead, because this power is usually wielded by those who speak about our art or use it for decorative purposes. Before I accepted to participate, I had consulted with a long list of very smart and highly critical people to see whether this was a good idea, and everyone said to go for it. Frankly, this week was fantastic, and while you will hear the words “incredible”, “amazing”, and “wonderful” thrown around, I actually think they speak truthfully to this five-day convening, and if you’ve known me for a while, you’ll know I dislike words like “changemaker” and its ilk. Saying yes to meeting 199 high caliber people who are actually making an impact on their communities—some of whom at enormous risk to their lives—instead of complaining in their tiny little circles and feeling temporarily superior and returning to the suffocating smallness of their worlds was absolutely the right thing to do, and has only served to sharpen my focus in my work and resolve to avoid distractions. As an aside, the staff of the Obama Foundation were extremely professional and outstanding. Years from now, I hope to confirm what I suspect is that my time with these Obama Leaders is one of the most important points of my life. The world is a dark place, but what wonderful opportunities and artist has to be a positive—and no less critical—agent in all of this. I look forward to all of it. Thank you everyone!

Stoked and grateful to receive another grant from the Kone Foundation for environmentally responsible encounters. Looking forward to slow travel to reach Finland for my art residency with Saari Residence in 2020. The Trans Siberian Railway is a dream; thank you for believing in this crazy bonkers they’ll-never-pick-this-but-dreaming-was-fun idea! Let’s get our Russian, Mandarin, and Finnish on.

View the list here, and congrats to the other grantees!

 

(Kuala Lumpur)—I’m stoked to be selected as one of the 200 Obama Foundation Leaders for their Asia-Pacific Program heading to Kuala Lumpur in two weeks. The Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific Program is a one-year leadership development and community engagement program that seeks to inspire, empower, and connect emerging leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region, and I am one of those under the “Arts and Culture” issue area. Find the official website with the full list of Leaders here.

I have often wondered how artists can lead, especially if one tends to be on the quiet side and is semi-reclusive. (As a side note, it looks like I’m the only artist who is not a director or a boss of anything, and wow, my fellow participants have quite impressive titles!) Since my first leadership program with SEAD and the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council, and the many international residencies given to me in the past decade, I have realised that artists have a responsibility to keep working towards a just society using creative ways that only artists can think of. The freedom of an artist is such that we can keep learning and making and use these skills to build communities and frameworks to imagine a better future for all of us, and what better thing can one do to spend her days?

Since moving to Sydney, I am grateful for the very supportive research community in a safe and privileged environment where I can keep working on my practice in peace. This program will help me to not lose sight of the bigger picture and to remember that there is a world out there that needs fixing which requires all of us.

I am very much looking forward to participating, asking lots of questions, and learning from my fellow Leaders. It’s quite an intriguing word—to lead—and I can’t wait to see what that word means to me.

Thank you to my friends, colleagues, and an ace supervisory team for their support!

Below is the press release from us Leaders in Australia (FYI: I am a Philippine national who is part Chinese and part Filipino and recently relocated to Sydney, so hello to both my Aussie and Philippine colleagues!)

Press release

November 21, 2019

Contacts:

Nicole Anaejionu, nanaejionu@obama.org

Farah Zuber, farah.zuber@edelman.com

Fourteen Australians Announced as New Obama Foundation Asia-Pacific Leaders

President Obama and Mrs. Obama to Join Leaders: Asia-Pacific Program Gathering in Kuala Lumpur; Plenary Speakers Include YB Hannah Yeoh, Tan Sri Dr. Tony Fernandes, Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren, Tim Brown, Arthur Huang, Helianti Hilman, Aaron Maniam, and Pat Dwyer 

Fourteen Australians have been selected as part of the inaugural cohort of Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific, a cross section of 200 emerging civic leaders from 33 nations and territories in the region, who will convene in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from December 10-14. The 200 Leaders represent public, private, and non-profit sectors, and they work on a variety of issues, ranging from education to environment to entrepreneurship. 

Among the Australian leaders who have been selected for the program are:

    • Usman Iftikhar, Sydney, 29, is an award-winning social entrepreneur, passionate about solutions to global warming and the global refugee crisis. He is the co-founder and CEO of Catalysr, a startup pre-accelerator that empowers migrant and refugee entrepreneurs to launch their own startups. In its first three years, Catalysr has supported 181 migrapreneurs to launch 50 businesses. For his work, Usman was named the 2018 Commonwealth Young Person of the Year.
    • Dan Ilic, Sydney, 38, is a comedian and journalist who hosts the satirical comedy podcast A Rational Fear. He has worked in radio and television in Australia and the USA. Most recently, he was the Executive Producer of Tonightly with Tom Ballard (ABC), the Executive Producer of Satire for Fusion Network (USA) and senior satire producer for Al Jazeera’s AJ+ (USA).  Dan also serves on the board of youth community broadcaster, FBi Radio.
  • Noel Kwon, Canberra, 28, is passionate about human rights and achieving efficiency and equality in organizations. Having been a cultural and linguistically diverse consultant in community organisations before government, Noel still provides strategic advice to community organisations in the Australian Capital Territory.
  • Alice Mahar, Melbourne, 32, is the founder and director of The Corner Store Network, a non-profit working towards food security, improving nutrition, climate adaptation and minimising food waste in Australia and Timor-Leste. She is the co-founder of the initiatives Stock/Store, Harvest/Store and WithOneBean. Alice is passionate about feeding a growing global population in an environmentally regenerative way, and ensuring that no person is left behind.
  • Nicholas Marchesi, Brisbane, 25, is a Co-Founder and Co-Director of Orange Sky, a world-first, free mobile laundry service for people experiencing homelessness. On a mission to improve hygiene standards, Nic and Co-Founder Lucas stumbled on something more significant – the power of a conversation. Now facilitated by more than 1,800 volunteers, operating over 250 shifts a week, Orange Sky aims to positively connect communities across Australia and New Zealand.
  • Jaclyn Mclendon, Brisbane, 38 is the lead of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, an international cultural initiative bringing together the 70 countries and areas of the Asia Pacific. She is passionate about film as a common language to bring understanding to our global dialogue. She recently launched the Asia Pacific Screen Forum to provide a fertile ground for collaboration for filmmakers across the region.
  • Hayley McQuire, Canberra, 28, is a proud Darumbal and South Sea Islander woman. She is the National Coordinator and Co-Founder of the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition, and the Head of Education for the Foundation for Young Australians. Hayley previously served on the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group, and was a UNICEF Australia Youth Ambassador.
  • Tim Middlemiss, Sydney, 32, is a consultant who partners with global institutions like World Vision, government departments, and local organisations like Taronga Conservation Society to build and engage their communities for social impact. Tim was a founding director of for-purpose creative studio, Agency, co-founder of social impact conference, Expanse, and is senior strategic advisor to Rev. Tim Costello AO.
  • Skye Riggs, Sydney, 33, is the Founder of Y Vote, an edu-tech social enterprise focussed on building the civic capabilities of young people to create a stronger democracy. Alongside ongoing community engagement and youth voter drives, Y Vote’s action-based civic education programs are delivered by local government organisations throughout Australia.
  • William Smith-Stubbs, Brisbane, 32, is a social entrepreneur, mental health activist, and writer. As co-founder of social impact venture studio spur: and award-winning mental health non-profit spur:org, William has worked across human rights, refugee health, child safety, and youth mental health. William is also a member of the Leadership Advisory Council for the World Economic Forum Global Shapers, an UNLEASH Global Talent for the Sustainable Development Goals and a Gates Foundation Goalkeeper.
  • Zohar Spatz, Brisbane, 37, is an arts and cultural leader working within a multi-disciplinary context. She is currently the Executive Director of La Boite Theatre Company, Australia’s longest continuously running theatre company. She is also President and Chair of All the Queens Men, an independent Australian arts organisation that collaborates with communities of all shapes, sizes, and identities to produce transformative creative experiences that champion equality, social health, and human connection.
  • Alan Wu, Canberra, 35, is the youngest member of the Board of Directors of Oxfam Australia, one of Australia’s largest international development organisations. After serving as an executive and lawyer with the Australian Government, he is now also the Regional Coordinator for Asia Pacific at the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative that brings governments and communities together to advance reforms to make governments more inclusive, responsive and accountable.
  • Catherine Sarah Young, Sydney, 36, is an award-winning artist, designer, and writer. She uses her background in molecular biology, fine art, and interaction design to create interdisciplinary and experimental artworks on the environment. She has an international award, exhibition, collaboration, and fellowship profile, most recently in China, Southeast Asia, Austria, and the Amazon rainforest. She is a Scientia scholar at UNSW Art and Design, working on climate change and sustainability.

The Leaders: Asia-Pacific gathering will serve as the kick-off event for a year-long leadership program and is designed to further inspire, empower, and connect the emerging leaders to change the world. While in Malaysia, the Leaders will be joined by prominent speakers and thought leaders who will discuss topics such as progress and opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region, values-based leadership, and the intersection of purpose and entrepreneurship during a series of plenary sessions. 

In addition to President and Mrs. Obama, confirmed speakers include:

  • YB Hannah Yeoh, Malaysia’s Deputy Minister of Women, Family, and Community Development;
  • Tan Sri Dr. Tony Fernandes, Malaysian entrepreneur and co-founder of AirAsia;
  • Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren, Director of External Affairs at the Green Climate Fund;
  • Tim Brown, co-founder of Allbirds;
  • Arthur Huang, Taiwanese entrepreneur and founder of Miniwiz;
  • Helianti Hilman, Indonesian entrepreneur and founder of JAVARA;
  • Aaron Maniam, member of the Singapore Administrative Service; and
  • Pat Dwyer, Director and founder of The Purpose Business.

The five-day convening in December will also consist of skill-building workshops, leadership development training, and opportunities for Leaders to connect with one another. Leaders will have a chance to apply their skills and knowledge to various real-world scenarios while using creative, values-driven approaches to problem-solving. Additionally, to underscore the important relationship between service and leadership, Leaders will participate in a community service project. 

Although the gathering is closed to the general public, the plenary sessions will be made available via livestream at obama.org.

Each Leader’s journey of growth will continue remotely for a year after the gathering, through webinars and a virtual speaker series, as well as support, amplification, and other opportunities from the Foundation.

The Asia-Pacific program follows the Obama Foundation’s inaugural international Leaders program launched in Africa in 2018 and represents the Foundation’s commitment to the region, along with the belief that these emerging leaders, through the extraordinary work they do in their own communities, have the potential to positively affect change across the globe.

Meet the inaugural Leaders: Asia-Pacific cohort and learn more about the program here.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Select sessions during the gathering will be open to media, although space will be limited. Members of the media interested in applying for credentials must send an email request to AsiaPacificLeaders@edelman.com by December 2 at 1:00am MYT / 12:00 pm ET (Dec 1). 

For interview requests or other press related questions, please email AsiaPacificLeaders@edelman.com or leaderspress@obama.org.

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Science Gallery Melbourne’s DISPOSABLE exhibition wrapped up on September 1st after a busy month. The Sewer Soaperie was one of the works in this exhibition. The team sent me lots of photos and feedback. Here is what happened and what we learned from this project:

According to co-curator Dr. Ryan Jefferies in an email to me, the exhibition received 26,504 attendees within the four weeks. The show had 150 kg of recycled fat, 12,000 plastic-eating mealworms, over 500 urine samples, and thousands of river reeds.

Having just moved to Australia, I have learned that post-event surveys are standard procedure here, which is fantastic. Here are quantitative feedback from the audience:

  • 92% of visitors were satisfied with the exploration of the theme DISPOSABLE
  • 85% think SGM is distinctive to other galleries
  • For 79% the program challenged their thinking
  • For 86% it sparked conversations they wouldn’t usually have

Dr. Jefferies also wrote that, “DISPOSABLE has also been our most sustainable season, with Science Gallery now following a Sustainability Action Plan, participating in the University of Melbourne’s Green Impact Challenge and significantly reducing our waste.”

The Sewer Soaperie at DISPOSABLE. Image by Science Gallery Melbourne

It was also great to see this piece at the Parliament of Victoria for National Science Week:

The Sewer Soaperie at National Science Week, Parliament of Victoria. Image by Science Gallery Melbourne

I’ve had this work exhibited before, but Science Gallery Melbourne’s team is one of the most exuberant I have ever worked with, and I couldn’t help but feel excited as though this were the first time. It also made those long hours worth it.

More images by Science Gallery Melbourne:

DISPOSABLE by Science Gallery Melbourne. Image by Brent Edwards

Some viewers participated by washing their hands with the soap, though for those who passed, no one blames you.

Images by Brent Edwards

Among the hallmarks of Science Gallery are their mediators, who are there to help their largely young audience to connect with the works. Science Gallery audiences are, from my experience, very curious and ask a lot of excellent questions, which is why I love exhibiting with these guys.

Image by Nicole Cleary for Science Gallery Melbourne

According to Ellie Michaelides, one of Science Gallery Melbourne’s mediators, here are some feedback from the visitors:

“It feels just like normal soap! But less lather”
“I make my own soap at home, I never thought of adding my own left over cooking fat to it!”
“Sewers?! Yeah, nah…”
“Are you sure it’s really clean?”
“That’s really smart, can I buy some?”
“I thought it would smell more”

“It doesn’t smell bad”
“I wish I could buy some”
“I feel like the colour should be less clean”
“I wanted to see what the original fat looks like”

More images by Nicole Cleary:

I, too, have learned a lot as an artist who was a part of this. Back in 2016, this project seemed outlandish, almost in the realm of conceptual art. But human impact on the environment and on cities have increased over time, and so The Sewer Soaperie is in its own way now a legitimate design solution. I am happy and fascinated with how well this been received, including how it provoked many people. For me, art can have a confrontational message and propose solutions in addition to other things it can do. I think this is the strength of interdisciplinary art-science work: it can bring about new dimensions and divergent ways of thinking, and as we continue to negotiate our environmental futures, this can be among the ways by which we can transform society.

It was also inspiring to have this piece be exhibited with these amazing projects. There’s also been a lot of media coverage about DISPOSABLE; do check them out:

Thank you to the Science Gallery Melbourne team!

Hurray, SGM team! Image by Brent Edwards