Emergent Exuberance Amidst Emergency

Lila Pell is a senior at Tulane studying Environmental Biology. She received the Changemaker Catalyst award from the Taylor Center during the COVID-19 pandemic to help coordinate a two-weekend virtual healing arts and wellness festival called Exuberance. She is passionate about the earth and human connection to it (and to each other!), environmental education and justice, and sustainable living.

On May 12, 2020, I received a text from an unknown number in a group chat with two of my friends. The woman introduced herself to us as Hannah, citing that she was connected to us through the local pastor and our friend who works at the Methodist church and cafe nearby. She had contacted them in search of some Tulane students who might want to help her with a virtual healing arts and wellness festival called Exuberance through a meditation retreat center in rural Louisiana called Peace of Mind. I contacted her to set up a phone call, and a new brief chapter in my life had begun.

As we spoke, I realized how aligned I felt to this project in the making. Through diverse modalities such as natural connection, music and art, social justice awareness, emotional healing, and more, Exuberance was to be an effort into bringing our best foot forward as human beings who want to spread love during this time of crisis that is COVID-19 and the related instances of social injustices targeting the black and brown community. We realized we were connected to each other through friends and past experiences as well as passions. I was on board. My wrist and finger may have been broken, and I was still limping my way through a very heavy load of incomplete finals, but I knew I had to trust my gut.

Making my way through a copious amount of schoolwork, I began to attend Zoom meetings with the small team (including one of my closest friends, Julia) once or twice a week, balancing two spheres of my life. What a learning experience that was! I was certainly overwhelmed, but in a way that imbued me with purpose and meaning. I had a newfound resolve to tackle my finals with the light that I knew I was working to have more time to spend on Exuberance. My fire had been ignited.

In the process of this strange and enticing experience, I made my first “internet friends,” fostering new work relationships and friendships in the virtual portal that is Zoom. Our team of (usually) six would spend hours on the platform together, working and learning with each other. Our roles were all somewhat pliable due to the adaptive nature of making a festival happen, but we settled on some titles in time for the website release; Kris was the “Charisma Salamander,” Sam was the “Logistic Mystic,” and my dear friend Julia was the “Vibe Check Specialist.” Hannah designated herself as the “Executive Puzzle Magician.” A lot of the work that came up was collaborative, and as myriad random little (yet impactful) tasks appeared along the way, we slipped into and out of our designated roles to get the work done. Time flew faster than I was prepared for, and soon enough we were getting down to the wire. Our final list of tasks the week before was frighteningly long, and free time did not come often. I threw my heart and soul, my gratitude and spirit, and the connections I value most into this project, having faith that the outcome would be worth it for everyone involved. If a single person found something to give them hope, or learned something new about themselves, that would make every drop of energy worth it.

a picture on the job, taken by my lovely roommate

I found myself essentially performing the role of a festival handywoman, taking care of any tasks assigned to me (my official title on the website became Genial Generalist), such as communications with our teachers and facilitators and sponsors, fundraising, a bit of website design, and putting out various “fires.” Along the way, I learned innumerable lessons, for which I am so thankful. I used Canva to design fliers and banners for our media posts and the website itself, and I learned the ways of WordPress for website design (never did I think I would understand one slice of website-making!). I honed my skills in connecting with and honestly coming forth to members of the community in a professional setting. My interpersonal social skills in high-tempo and demanding situations have improved, as well as my understanding of my strengths and my limits. This time was only a handful of weeks long, but it was intense, informative, and beautiful.

Soon enough, the weekend was upon us, and abundance was flowing. We had more teachers than we thought we would to participate and friends and family supporting us every step of the way. It was going to happen. And on June 20th, it began. We were streaming live, and people were watching it. There were plenty of bumps in the road, but the road was lined with wildflowers and strawberries. What a joy it is to see something you’ve put so much into come to fruition! We ended up doing the festival a second weekend after hearing back from more teachers. The website itself is beautiful, with little swinging windchimes hanging from a New Orleans style window surrounding the video. It has functions like a community board and a marketplace, and a perpetual zoom chat called “the Campfire.” It is something to be proud of for all of us.

I feel that this experience has supported my desire and ability to be a changemaker in this world. Now, I know that a small group of people with little money can do a beautiful thing available to inspire many. I have the adaptability, the passion, and the experience I need to keep making change on my path, one step at a time.

a peak at the reward of our efforts!