Shining a Light On the Vatican: Q&A with Louie Schwartzberg
Last week was a moment in history Louie Schwartzberg will never forget. Neither will the world. A global climate summit in Paris followed by a breath-taking light show projected upon the greater-than-life exterior of the Vatican in Rome. Louie stood in the square among the sea of faces gathered to witness this moment in time… and Gratitude Revealed grabbed a precious moment to ask him about his experience.
Here’s the message of holiday rejoice Louie wanted to share with YOU.
Special Bonus Side Note:
We thought it might be absolutely perfect to present this conversation within the context of “Wonder,” one of our 15 videos on gratitude.
If so inspired, we invite you to
Q&A with Louie Schwartzberg
GR: Welcome home, Louie! So, we’ll be publishing this post Christmas week, and I just wanted to do straight forward Q&A with you about your amazing experience last week at the Vatican. I thought that would be fun for everyone and uniquely perfect timing to talk about awe and wonder.
Louie: Great! Let’s do this.
GR: You’re ready?
Louie: Yeah, I’m ready.
GR: Okay, question number one. Was this your first time to the Vatican?
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Louie: No, it wasn’t, actually. I visited the Vatican at least fifteen years ago when my daughters were young. We went inside and saw the great artwork within the Sistine Chapel, all of Michelangelo’s amazing paintings, which truly are so inspirational because they speak to creation. That’s why this was such a special event for me. It was a chance to bridge the gap between old art within the Vatican and new art projected upon the exterior.GR: This building, the actual building itself, does it have … What is it like to be in its presence? Is there a sense of magic about it? It seems like it would have something pretty magical about it.
Louie: Absolutely. I mean, this entire event unfolded very quickly. I was at the COP21 (United Nations Conference on Climate Change) in Paris and they wanted this event to occur during the week of the Climate Summit to draw attention to the Pope’s Encyclical that he wrote about ‘there’s a moral ethical issue to protect the earth’. It got a lot of attention because the whole world media was focusing on climate, with what was going on in Paris and the negotiations there. The idea of projecting art upon the exterior of the Vatican was sort of strategically positioned to capture the wave of interest that was occurring that week around the world.
GR: And did you feel like leaving Paris (where your ‘Love Song to The World’ project with Paul McCartney was aired the 2nd to last day of the Summit) for the Vatican was the right place to be?
Louie: Well, it comes back to Michelangelo’s painting, The Creation…. where you’ve got the finger touching God.
Louie: To me, putting all religion aside, it’s a painting about creation. Of all the “religious” art that I’ve seen it’s the one that moves me the most because of everything I do with pollination and Fantastic Fungi. It is all about creation. It’s celebrating the question of where did life begin? Where did life start? We all have a desire to explore where we came from, a way to explain the divine. Whether it’s an image that Michelangelo painted, which was certainly a reflection of the worldview at that time, or now as we explore conscious new worldviews. Our explorations of creation are always evolving.
GR: I love that you’re drawn most to the art within the building.
Louie: Yeah. Well, that and the architecture, the pillars, just the massiveness, the size of that building. To understand its impact in history as a structure which caused awe and wonder to any who entered into Rome from the countryside. All the great works of art or architectural wonders were churches because that’s where they poured all their resources and energy. They were designed to lift the human spirit.
GR: It sounds like it lifted yours.
Louie: Coming from the Climate Summit, I didn’t really expect the Rome event to be as emotionally moving as it was. When I went there the night before, there was a rehearsal and it was an all-nighter. There were press there from NBC and around the world covering it. I share the fact that it was special for me because I’m the son of Holocaust survivors, and who would think that in one generation that the son of a Holocaust survivor could be shining light on the Vatican?
The impact of those few days just kind of hit me all at once, standing outside the Vatican in the middle of the night during rehearsal. I was struck by the obvious power of unifying forces. I was this one small part of a global movement ready to speak up and say, “Enough is enough. You can’t have extinction of people, extinction of species, extinction of ecosystems.” People need to speak up and be heard. That’s what was going on at COP21. A hundred and ninety countries were assembled to try to come up with some type of accord, and the same time I was there to shine light on the Vatican because we were supporting the Pope’s Encyclical which said that it’s a moral imperative to protect the earth.
I’m glad that I could applaud that effort, I’m glad that there’s progresses that have been made in the last fifty, sixty, seventy years.
Louie: That we could be shining light, that we could be in sync with the church in terms of saying that, “We are here to protect God’s creation, not destroy it. We’re the caretakers for God’s creation. It’s our responsibility to take care of it.” It was wonderful to be able to support that effort by shining beauty and wisdom from nature and to bring art into it. Bridging the gap between religion and art is important because that’s how we can perceive a future that’s filled with hope and evolutionary consciousness.
GR: Then of course two days later there was a proclamation by the Vatican to work together with Jews to fight anti-Semitism, which was covered in The New York Times. You must have had moments of wondering what your parents would say about all of this. What do you think they would say?
Louie: I did think about it, and I think if there’s a universal heaven up there they must be looking down being really proud that we were able to shine some light on the subject … literally.
GR: So what was the very favorite part of your trip?
Louie: To Rome?
GR: The whole trip, including Paris.
Louie: (pause)… The sounds during the Vatican event. They don’t allow music to be played in the square at the Vatican because it’s a place of worship. So, in place of music, the sound track consisted of natural sounds from the animal world… and it was just amazing. The sounds bounced … It felt like we were in a 3D surround sound environment because this mono sound track was bouncing off of all these hard walls. It was extraordinary to take in all the senses. I also felt it was an honor to be a part of a group of artists – it wasn’t just my imagery – that each contributed one’s own imagery to inspire the world and to fall in love with the beauty of nature in order to protect it. That to me was just amazing.
GR: Our plan is to share this article as a holiday message on Christmas day and so with that, is there a specific message that you would like to send out to all who may read this?
Louie: Christmas is about giving and … falling in love. I hope we may all fall in love with the planet in order to protect it. And, I hope everyone reading this right now will allow themselves, their friends and family to hopefully share this gift of wonder and inspiration that makes us want to protect the planet. We need to share it widely because in the past, being silent has led to extinction events and we don’t want that to occur again for our children and our grandchildren.
GR: You’re reminding me right now of the Derek Sivers 3-minute TED Talk on The Making of A Movement, where he humorously clarifies the difference between a leader and a Lone Nut, as being dependent upon the first followers. Truly it’s the first followers who give the status of the lone nut some meaning. Otherwise we’re just crazy. Right?
Louie: Yeah. Well, nuts.
GR: You have a strong message but truly these people who will read this are the ones who will make the difference. Otherwise, you’re just a lone nut, Louie!
Louie: Yeah. That’s why I … I’m so grateful for the fact that people share my work with their friends and family so that we create that movement needed to create the big changes for good in the world.
GR: Correct, correct.
Louie: The greatest power in the planet is the power to choose the things we do every day that are conscious decisions that can truly have a global impact…
GR: And, “Happy Holidays”, too. Right, Louie?
Louie: Ha! Yes. And have a very very happy holiday to all!