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Mapping Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong has been in Vancouver for much of the past two weeks, as a key figure at SFU’s 12 Days of Compassion. I’ve been a big fan of Karen Armstrong since I read her books “A History of God” and “The Gospel According to Woman” some years ago. And I was privileged to hear her speak at the 2009 Peace Summit in Vancouver, along with the Dalai Lama and other notables.

So imagine my thrill when I was asked to graphically record a talk she was giving at an academic symposium on “Working Compassion” earlier this week! Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity. You can see the charts below.

Even more excitement later in the week: Kristin Miller, editor of the Charter for Compassion website in New York, called me to say she’d like to use my images on their website and write a profile about me to go with them. Well, who’s going to say no to an offer like that?? So a couple of days later I found myself having a delightful chat with Kristin, and sure enough, I wound up on their website! I’m beyond thrilled, and am happy to share the link with you here: She Sees What You’re Saying: Avril Orloff’s Compassionate World

Karen-AM Panel



What you’re seeing above is a mural that was co-created over 3 days by Mariah Howard, Mary Corrigan and myself at a splendid event in July called the Mount Madonna Chautauqua. (Click on the image to see a larger version, and go here to see close-ups of different sections.) The Chautauqua is the brainchild of the brilliant (and brilliantly subversive) educator Ward Mailliard, who for the past 6 years has created a space each summer where a group of people who care about learning can, as he says, “engage in meaningful conversation about our own learning and discover…new ways of transforming our work in education.” This year Chautauqua was structured around the theme of the “Learning Journey,” and from the very beginning of the planning, it was designed to put art and music at the centre of the learning process. And what a learning took place! Suffice to say that it was one of those transformative events that one is occasionally blessed to experience, and what I learned at Chautauqua will be informing my work for a long time to come.

Read more about Chautauqua if you’re the least bit interested in education and learning. Their blog is full of rich and juicy details, including videos, transcripts of talks, and written reflections from various participants. For specific reflections on the role of art, check out Artists’ Reflections, On Art/Graphic Facilitation, and Peter Block’s article on Art and Community.

Interesting video

Research is definitively showing that visualization fosters knowledge-sharing in teams and dramatically improves the productivity of meetings. Hey, we knew that! But it’s nice to have hard evidence to back us up. Thank you to the University of St. Gallen in Lugano, Switzerland and Prof. Martin Eppler.

Hello Dalai!

It’s a good thing I don’t try to make my living from blogging, otherwise I’d be broke! But never mind. I’ll just restyle myself as the Quarterly Blogger, and all will be well. It’s all in the framing, right?

Well, lots of fun since the last time I posted. The Big News this fall was co-mapping Connecting for Change (C4C) with Mariah Howard in September. Mariah is one of the most talented and thoughtful visual recorders I know and I was overjoyed at the prospect of working with her. Plus she’s smart, funny and gracious, and I’m proud to call her a friend.

C4C was a 3-day dialogue that brought business, social sector and philanthropic leaders together with the aim of learning “with and from each other about how we can create new and advance existing cross-sector collaborations in service of addressing the most pressing issues of our time.” It would take me the entire post to describe the event, so I’ll just mention a few key details:

  • It was part of the Vancouver Peace Summit, organized by the Dalai Lama Center, and included a day at the summit where we got to hear the Dalai Lama and various other luminaries speak about compassion, forgiveness, peace, and educating the heart – topics we need to keep talking about and hearing until we finally absorb the lessons;
  • C4C facilitators included Meg Wheatley, Peter Senge, Juanita Brown, Dawna Markova, and Peter Block, which is pretty heady company to keep. (Not that I actually talked to all of them, but I at least got to breathe the same air – and I did give Peter Block a couple of pages from my sketchbook!)
  • The organizing team was made up of some of the coolest people on the planet and I’m thrilled to be able to say my name in the same sentence as theirs;
  • The Dalai Lama shook my hand!!

I worked with Mariah at the NCDD Conference in 2008, but we worked on separate charts that time. This time we actually co-mapped on the same sheet of paper, and once I got the hang of it, it was like doing a dance together. We’d each start out on one side of the chart, then weave back and forth to mix things up over the course of the session, and act as a sort of tag team to capture different bits of the dialogue so neither one had to do it all. I thoroughly enjoyed the process, since I love working as part of a team and it takes a lot of pressure off when there are two sets of ears and hands at work!

Below are some of the images we created for C4C. (Click on them to see them more clearly.) You can see them all on the Connecting for Change website, along with a little descriptor we wrote about graphic facilitation. Can you tell which of us did what bits on the charts? I think our styles mesh very well.

PS: Yes, I took the picture of the Dalai Lama at the top of this post: I squeezed my way into the media scrum just before the second half of the session and snapped off several pix. Training for the Paparazzi Brigade!


More new stuff…

The images here are from a pair of community events that were convened to support the District of North Vancouver’s Official Community Plan. (OCPs seem to be a recurring theme for me this year…) At these events, participants were invited to talk about issues that mattered to them relating to (a) people and (b) places in the District. As I stood at the chart, people came up to me with their ideas, dreams, wishes and concerns, and I drew them all out. This is what they looked like:

DNV-People DNV-Places

It was really quite wonderful, because everyone was so passionate about what they wanted to see for the District and wanted to make very sure their ideas were fully drawn out. If I missed a detail, I heard about it! For example, the proponents of community gardens made sure there was a composter in the picture. And the folks who wanted to see vibrant urban spaces made sure I drew children into the picture and that I noted that vibrant space meant “night AND day”.

What this tells me is that the drawings really mean something to people. I see it as a way of making abstract ideas concrete. Pictures are so much more solid and real than mere words, and I think people feel their ideas become real when they see them translated into images. It reminds me of my favourite story when I was a little girl, which was a story about a little girl who had a magic pencil, and whatever she drew with her magic pencil came to life. I always wanted to have a magic pencil like that … and lo and behold, now I do!