His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama.

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama.

If hope is a superpower, UC Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures is aiming to be the Avengers of cultural organizations.

With the unveiling of its new initiative, Creating Hope, the programming powerhouse seeks to inspire audiences and the community at large with shared experiences — online, outdoors, in schools, in theaters and other spaces — featuring thought-leaders, creative problem-solvers and arts visionaries.

“Creating Hope programs will strengthen human connection, bridge our partisan divides, promote emotional well-being, joy and compassion and envision positive change,” said Celesta Billeci, Miller McCune Executive Director of Arts & Lectures. “We can create hope — but only if we do it together.”

The cornerstone of the initiative, which will serve as an umbrella for all A&L programming into 2022, is a keynote event as inspiring as they come: His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. A free, virtual conversation between His Holiness and Pico Iyer will take place at 8:30 p.m. May 18 (a recording of the livestream will later be available for unlimited replay).

“We have already announced multiple events in spring 2021, and our education programs are rolling out at the same time,” Billeci said. “You could say that we’ve been wading into Creating Hope for a while now, as opposed to diving in with a big splash. But His Holiness is definitely a big splash, an international event. It’s a great honor for our community.”

Other virtual spring events under the Creating Hope umbrella include a presentation by attorney and author Bryan Stevenson, April 30); and a performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Scott, May 5. A conversation with Jane Goodall took place on April 10.

“Our campus community is grateful to our supporters and Arts & Lectures for bringing us this uplifting programming series that will focus on nourishing our hearts and our minds,” said UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang.

“We look forward to the opportunity to hear a message of encouragement from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, especially at this challenging time, and to the hope and inspiration that each of our guest speakers and performers will impart through their unique stories and talents.”

The new initiative evolved from discussions within A&L that date back to 2019, said Billeci, “when we began to look at emotional health and mental wellness, and with it the need to experience joy, to give and receive kindness and compassion — especially within the increasingly rancorous national conversation — as possible topics for public lectures and education programs.”

“When the pandemic upended everything and exposed our deep need for human connection while further inflaming our partisan divides, it became clear that Arts & Lectures had a particular role to play,” she said.

“As we began to explore the concept of hope, presenting programs by Dr. Vivek Murthy on loneliness as a public health issue, and author Anne Lamott on the stubborn nature of hope, we realized that Creating Hope would be the umbrella for A&L programs from now into 2022,” she said.

Meant to serve the community as a bridge “from where we are now to where we want to be,” Creating Hope also will build on the robust educational component that has become customary with A&L initiatives.

“Arts & Lectures has a unique ability to bring together the wonder, the ideas, the creativity and, yes, the hope that we all need to come through this stronger than ever,” Billeci said. “For decades our mission has been to ‘educate, inspire and entertain,’ and this is certainly a time that calls for inspiration.

“But hope happens through education and entertainment, too. In recent years we’ve developed a vast web of community connections, working with local nonprofits, schools, agencies and corporations, as well as activists, thought leaders and influencers.

“As I’ve said before, we are living through a moment that calls for optimism, resilience, courage and vision — a tall order.” she added. “Creating Hope is how Arts & Lectures is answering the call.”