by Bill George
Bethlehem was born from a utopian, communal Moravian experiment in 1740 that dissolved in the face of the philosophy of progress, the industrial revolution and the domination of Bethlehem Steel. Then, in 1998, after an almost 150-year history building our nation, Bethlehem Steel shut down. To help our community work through that trauma, Touchstone Theatre created a festival of original art and performance in 1999 called Steel Festival:The Art of an Industry.
Now, as we approach 20 years since that landmark event, Bethlehem’s SouthSide residents are largely Latino and 80% low-income; affordable housing is a tight 1% availability; homeless shelters are overflowing; opioid use has doubled since last year; and class and racial tension undermines the treasure of our cultural diversity. In response, Touchstone has embarked on the most ambitious, artistic, community-wide initiative of its life, Festival UnBound.
Partnering with the City of Bethlehem and starting back in 2017, Touchstone has held hundreds of hours of meaningful conversations throughout the community around three questions: What challenges are upon us, and what are coming? What must we do to successfully face them? What kind of future do we want for Bethlehem? From these conversations and their generated stories, art, music and an increasingly complex community understanding, the design for Festival UnBound has evolved.
What challenges are upon us, and what are coming? What must we do to successfully face them? What kind of future do we want for Bethlehem?
The Festival will run October 4-13, 2019 as a cluster of original art performances and happenings created in collaboration with our community, City government, and visiting regional and international artists, centered on the nexus of problems identified in this two-year-long community dialogue. Surrounding these events will be panel discussions, public meals, social media exchanges, and town meetings that will lead to practical solutions and the increased empathy and compassion that is necessary for us to advance collectively.
Touchstone and its many dedicated partners have been conceiving and building this community-wide event for a long time now, but it will be nothing without the community itself. It has become increasingly clear during this three-year-long process that the way forward for us, as a people, is through collaboration. The way forward depends on us moving towards an ever more inclusive process, the way forward is to build a culture that reflects values that are sustainable and healthy for all.
As Paul Hanley, quoting Edward O. Wilson, the dean of evolutionary biology, in his book, Eleven, on the implications of our moving towards a planet of eleven billion people wrote: “Homo sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection, the force that made us. Humanity’s childhood has ended; our future is being determined not by natural selection, the force that shaped us, but by our own decisions. Consequently, we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become.”
October 4-13, the City of Bethlehem will be listening, during our panel discussions, our social media campaign, web page blog and forum. Join us. Enjoy the art, and let your voice be heard.
by Bill George
Bill is a theatre artist and co-founder of Touchstone Theatre.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)