Keynote Speakers &
The 2024 conference offers a very special, woven tapestry of performances, facilitated conversations, keynote talks and contemplative practices throughout our 3-day event, to enable a deep, insightful and transformative experience.
Meet Our Keynote Speakers & Retreat Leaders
Award-winning performer, writer, and educator advocating storytelling as compassionate action for personal and community transformation. She is the Artistic Director of the Hans Christian Andersen Storytelling Center in NY and the founder of The Center for Engaged Storytelling (new). She has been a Senior Research Fellow for the International Peace institute at Rutgers University Newark under the auspices of UNESCO. As a spokesperson for storytelling she presents keynotes and workshops in conferences, villages, schools, universities and community events. Member of the Therapeutic Arts Alliance of Manhattan. Senior Teacher of Shambhala Buddhist meditation. Laura received the Brimstone Award for Engaged Storytelling, CHOICE award for best story collection and Sesame Street's SUNNY DAYS award for work with children worldwide. In 2011 she received a Life Time Achievement Award from the National Storytelling Network. She is co-faculty with Terry Tempest Williams at University of Utah, consults with ETSU’s CANCER STORIES project, and is spoken word consultant for Foundations, NGOS working in post disaster and conflicts. She is author of Our Secret Territoy: The Essence of Storytelling (Sentient Publications, 2011).
Singer Erica Gabriel received her Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from Oakwood University. Her training also includes a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan. She has performed with the Chicago Symphony orchestra, the Jacksonville Symphony, the Savannah Philharmonic, and the Jackson Symphony.
She was cast in Ravinia’s production of Bernstein’s Mass under the baton of Marin Alsop, which Aired on the PBS Television Network as a part of their “Great Performances” series. She has also toured with the renowned American Spiritual Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Everett McCorvey.
Her competition credits and awards include The Alma Blackmon Scholarship Award, Winner of Classical Singer Regional University Competition, winner of the Hartford Memorial Scholarship Competition, Second place winner of the Alltech Scholarship competition, and the 2018 Gold Medal winner of the American Traditions Vocal Competition.
Professor Emerita at Emory University, Bobbi cultivates conversation, discovery, and action born at the intersection of contemplative practice and community engagement. Trained academically as an Interdisciplinarian of Religious Studies, her research and publications range from women’s embodied spirituality to Christian and Buddhist contemplative traditions to place-based knowledge and pedagogies for earth-care and community-based engagement. Her recent work with Adaptive Resilience Theory has benefitted organizations working with issues of environmental and climate insecurity. A nationally awarded teacher, she designs presentations, workshops, and retreats for skill-building, creativity, and action. An Episcopal priest, member of the Fellowship of St. John the Evangelist, and Steering Council Member of The Mind and Life Institute, she recently wrote Building Resilience Through Contemplative Practice: A Field Manual for Helping Professionals and Volunteers (Routledge).
Carine Gibert is the founder and lead facilitator of Grounded in Motion. Grounded In Motion’s work centers on what it looks like to deepen human-earth connection, advocate for the Rights of Nature and biodiversity protection while reframing what education and installations can do to remind us of our coexistence with the natural world. Carine has been curating, teaching and designing with communities globally in a common effort to place ecological flourishing at the center of each project. The learning journeys she designs offer a different kind of educational roadmap, one that investigates how the union of contemplative wisdom, art and science can lead to greater awareness of the interconnectedness of the earth’s living systems. Her teachings are grounded in Deep Ecology and Gaian principles. Grounded in Motion merges the artistic, scientific and contemplative to create spaces of embodied learning while emphasising that we are in relational existence with Earth. Carine has been teaching and facilitating for the past 2 decades including courses at the Lycee Francais de New York, UWC World Colleges, Mind and Life Institute, Harvard University, and the Association for the Advancement of International Education. She is a mentor for fellows attending the Learning For Action course at TerraDo. Carine has performed as a contemplative poet for Courage of Care, and Forever Sabah Institute. She released her first EP, Honoring Holocene last year, a spoken word album as a way to shift climate activism into experiential learning and embodied practice.
Lance Brunner brings an unusual perspective to his musical scholarship and teaching. A graduate of Brown University, he earned his MA and PhD degrees in musicology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also studied in Germany at the University of Erlangen with the renowned chant scholar Bruno Stäblein. He has been the recipient of a number of awards and fellowships, including the Elliott Prize from the American Mediaeval Academy and the Notes Prize from the Music Library Association, as well as awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council of Learned Societies, American-Scandinavian Foundation, American Philosophical Society, and the German Academic Exchange Service. Lance held a Kellogg National Fellowship from 1985-1988, researching the role of music in human health and healing. He was co-founder (with Arthur Harvey) of Music for Health Services Foundation in 1986 and he served as adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville (1990-93), where he worked with the Center for the Study of Music and Medicine. He is a founding member of the UK’s Emerging Leader Institute (1989-2006) and has taught a seminar on creativity and business for a variety of organizations. He has led numerous mediation and contemplative arts workshops and retreats nationally and internationally for over thirty years. Lance has been on the faculty of the UK School of Music since 1976 and will be retiring in June, 2024.
Frank X. Walker
A native of Danville, Kentucky, Frank X Walker is the first African American writer to be named Kentucky Poet Laureate. Walker has published ten collections of poetry, including Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers, which was awarded the 2014 NAACP Image Award for Poetry and the Black Caucus American Library Association Honor Award for Poetry. He is also the author of Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York, winner of the 2004 Lillian Smith Book Award, and Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride, which he adapted for stage, earning him the Paul Green Foundation Playwrights Fellowship Award. His poetry was also dramatized for the 2016 Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV and staged by Message Theater for the 2015 Breeders Cup Festival. Voted one of the most creative professors in the south, Walker coined the term “Affrilachia” and co-founded the Affrilachian Poets, subsequently publishing the much-celebrated eponymous collection. His honors also include a 2004 Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry, the 2008 and 2009 Denny C. Plattner Award for Outstanding Poetry in Appalachian Heritage, the 2013 West Virginia Humanities Council’s Appalachian Heritage Award, as well as fellowships and residences with Cave Canem, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Kentucky Arts Council. The recipient of honorary doctorates from University of Kentucky, Transylvania University, Spalding University and Centre College, Walker is the founding editor of pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture and serves as Professor of English and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
Keynote Conversations, Addresses & Daylong Retreat
New to our conference this year, KEYNOTE CONVERSATIONS are a fresh way of manifesting the key issues of the Conference through experiential presentations and dialogue.
THURSDAY, FEB. 29, 1:00-2:00 PM. KEYNOTE CONVERSATION – Apples into Doves: The Alchemy of Narrative
Featuring Laura Simms & Bobbi Patterson, Moderated by Lance Brunner
In this conversation, we will weave Deep listening, Mindfulness and Imaginative response. All are efficacious means through which the mind is made more flexible, resilient, compassionate and responsive. A scholar of resilience and a storyteller will collaborate in a provocative dialogue about the urgent and enriching benefits of contemplative practices in higher education. Be prepared to participate in uncovering essential creative presence as the missing link in our education system.
THURSDAY, FEB. 29, 5:00-6:00 PM. DINNER, FEATURING SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCE & POETRY READING by Frank X. Walker – Poetry of Loss & Healing
THURSDAY, FEB. 29, 6:15-8:00 PM. KEYNOTE ADDRESS by Erica Gabriel, Healing the Healers: Music as Contemplative Practice, an Artist’s Perspective
“We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers, And sitting by desolate streams; —World-losers and world-forsakers, On whom the pale moon gleams: Yet we are the movers and shakers Of the world for ever, it seems.” This beginning of the Arthur O’Shaughnessy poem “Ode” captures the polarizing plight of the musician. Art is frequently born of introspection and isolation. Yet, what is created is poured out onto the world around it, watering an often emotionally starved culture and society. Much as doctors need medical care and nurture to restore their health and balance, musicians need restorative practices so they can continue to create and serve others. In this presentation, Erica will discuss this wellness gap in the field of music, along with the journey to optimal health through artistic expression and contemplative practices that can also apply broadly to students and people in any field of endeavor.
FRIDAY, MARCH 1, 1:00-2:00 PM. KEYNOTE CONVERSATION – Rivers That Repair the Tyranny of Disconnection
Featuring Laura Simms & Carine Gibert
A conversation about the potency of contemplative practices and immersive learning as a means to restore an authentic ecology of being. Rivers are a source of life. Rivers, as the 'heartmind,' nourish us and the earth. The pace of environmental degradation, mirrored in our increasing disconnection from a sense of interdependence, calls us to a spiritual and cultural transformation. It demands that we enhance our skills as educators, activists, and citizens. In this session we will engage in a participatory event bringing together the experience of music, story and presence that regenerates the fabric of relationship, as it renders mind flexible and open to participating in life beyond the intellect. This is the actuality of contemplative practice and the missing link in our education systems.
FRIDAY, MARCH 1, 4:45-6:15 PM. KEYNOTE ADDRESS by Bobbi Patterson, Edgy Resilience: How We Flourish through Change
Resilience flourishes via change – when we’re on edge. Tools and skills offered in this session teach how to engage resilience-bearing edges: from ‘listening aware’ to ‘choosing which hindrances we can face without looking away’ to ‘flopping’. Discover practices that reduce our reactivity to edges in teaching, learning, and beyond!
SATURDAY, MARCH 2, 9:00 AM-4:30 PM. DAYLONG RETREAT – The One Who Is Not Busy: A Contemplative Arts Retreat
Facilitated by Laura Simms, Lance Brunner & Carine Gibert
A day-long immersion in the personal and community potency, creativity and benefit of mindfulness-awareness practice in our lives. We will explore fundamental contemplative arts practices including meditation. Starting with a breath and a blank piece of paper we will explore the art of being present, making a simple stroke, a single sound, a single gesture, and a narrative poem. Contemplative art practices are in service of finding and sharing wisdom, interdependence and compassion in a more and more uncertain world.