04/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Can Art Help Us Save The World?

Not long ago, Canada's Governor General Michaelle Jean, who was born in Haiti, spoke movingly about the connection between art and action.

This week, on the radio, we heard an old woman singing as she wandered, like so many others, through the devastated streets of Port-au-Prince. Other voices, shy at first, joined in the singing, growing louder and stronger. This song of hope rose from the wreckage and travelled over the airwaves to reach us. And I thought: even when we have nothing left, there is always music, words and dance steps to bring us back to life, to bring us together and to provide hope. Art has the power to inspire, to heal, to transform, to rehabilitate, to bear witness, and to make us believe that there are better days ahead. In times like these, that is what the young people of Jacmel, in Haiti, remind us, who were able to recover their audiovisual equipment from the rubble and have since used it to bear witness to the human tragedy and the efforts made to overcome it. Their testimony is living proof of what art can do, even in the direst circumstances. Art has the power to elicit compassion and generosity.

The Governor General (or GG for short) was addressing an Art Matters Forum in Calgary just days after the Haitian earthquake (a message even more poignant today, given news from Chile). The Art Matters Forums are something she and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, introduced on taking office five years ago - a series of conversations between artists of all ages and people from all walks of life. They've done more than 45 forums across Canada and around the world.

Curious to know what happens? We can listen in to the conversations on the Art Matters website - there are videos and blog posts. Some extraordinary moments in the video clips I've seen - from the voice of experience of mature artists like author Michael Ondaatje to the astonishing contributions of audience members. When I first heard about the forums, I immediately imagined a bunch of elites talking to one another. How wrong I was... All kinds of people take part, from the homeless to men and women who say they've never been to a play or an art gallery or even read a book, to urban artists who say that getting into art literally saved their lives. Talk about a conversation!

The most recent Art Matters was in Montreal on February 23. By the time you read this, the site should be updated with the latest material. It was co-hosted by an organization called Culture For All (Culture Pour Tous), whose name pretty much says it.

Regular readers will know that we've explored the intersection of the arts and world-saving-work before -

Yes, New Radicals welcome Governor General Michaelle Jean (a former journalist) and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond (a film-maker) to the ever-growing community of people who are finding ways to put the skills acquired in their careers to work on the world's greatest challenges. (For more, please see archived articles.)

The arts move us and stir our souls, that's for sure. But can they also make us agents of change in our communities? Can the arts help save the world? Please share your thoughts by commenting below. As always, I invite you to email me directly: Julia (that familiar symbol) wearethenewradicals (punctuation) (suffix).

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The Purpose Prize - For Those Over 60
Know someone who's 60-plus and saving the world? Or maybe you're doing something good and would like to share your innovative idea? The Purpose Prize is a great way to honour men and women who are making a difference in communities across North America and around the world. Purpose Prize nominations close March 5th.