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Chicago Prepares For Dalai Lama of Tibet's July 17-18 Visit With Interfaith Outreach Workshops Citywide

Exelon Corporation Donates $25,000 To Fund Workshops For Construction Of 12 World Religion Sculptures For The Dalai Lama’s Public Talk



CHICAGO - In honor of the return visit to Chicago by Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet, Exelon Corporation has sponsored the Theosophical Society in America and Jim Lasko of Redmoon Theater to devise a collaborative process to design and create 12 icons representing world religions through a series of workshops aimed at strengthening interfaith relationships. 

His Holiness the Dalai Lama returns to Chicago on July 17 at 1:30 p.m. to present a public talk on interfaith cooperation entitled "Bridging the Faith Divide" at the University of Illinois Chicago Pavilion, 525 S. Racine. The stage setting for the talk, featuring artwork devised from an interfaith collaboration will be directed by Lasko.

Congregations from a variety of religions will work together in interfaith groupings to render large sculptural icons representing 12 world religions including: Baha'ism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Native American religion, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism.  Each sculpture will be mobile and carry within it a sapling. The sapling is a reference to a quote from the Dalia Lama's book equating a young sapling watered by many sources to the human soul being nurtured by different spiritual traditions; following the Dalai Lama's visit, the saplings will be planted in a Chicago area park. 

In keeping with the concept of interfaith outreach, the icons will be collaboratively decorated by artists working with interfaith communities, each beautifying the symbol of a religion not their own.  This collaboration thereby encourages, promotes and supports engagement among various faiths through dialogue, education and communal construction.

"The project was designed to foster and publicly present interfaith cooperation," said Jim Lasko, Co-Artistic Director of Redmoon Theater.  "We wanted to involve as many people as possible, from as many faiths as possible, in the active honoring of other faiths.  So we gathered together interfaith groups to build and adorn the icons of 12 different world religions.  It's very exciting that these broad coalitions are coming together and giving their time and thought to the action of building, decorating, and ultimately honoring those other faiths."

Lasko commissioned a variety of artists to lead the workshops at churches, synagogues, temples and other meeting places across Chicago throughout June in preparation for the Dalai Lama's public talk on July 17.

The artists will work with representatives from the faith-based organization to devise, design and execute the look of the icons.  The religious communities will transform the five to seven foot-tall skeletal forms of the symbols, made from a plywood and foam "sandwich," by creatively adorning the icons in their own unique manner. Together, they will take these giant images and transform them into art objects that are an expression of the power of faith, cooperation and of mutual respect.  Once completed, all 12 icons will stand as the backdrop for the Dalai Lama's talk entitled "Bridging the Faith Divide."

"As a member of the host committee for the Dalai Lama's visit to Chicago, Exelon is proud to support this interfaith art project," said Steve Solomon, director of corporate relations at Exelon.  "Because diversity is a core value for Exelon, we work to foster a culture of inclusion, mutual respect and fair treatment for our employees, regardless of background. We hope this project will serve as an example of successful cooperation and open dialogue among Chicago's faith-based communities."   

About the Dalai Lama's Public Events
On Sunday, July 17 at 1:30 p.m. the Dalai Lama will present a public talk entitled "Bridging the Faith Divide" at the University of Illinois, Chicago Pavilion, 525 S. Racine Avenue.  In the talk, His Holiness will expand upon the ideas put forth in his recent book "Toward a True Kinship of Faiths."  Emceed by Bill Kurtis of CBS Chicago (WBBM-TV), the event will also feature an array of cultural programming featuring representatives of various faiths from the Chicago area, the children of the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago and the Chicago Children's Choir under the direction of its President and Artistic Director Josephine Lee. Buddhist singer Ani Choying will present a special invocation.  The stage setting, featuring artwork devised from an interfaith collaboration, will be directed and produced by Jim Lasko of Redmoon Theater in conjunction with the Theosophical Society of America.
On Monday, July 18 at 9:30 a.m., the Dalai Lama will join Rabbi Michael Lerner, founding editor of the progressive Jewish interfaith magazine Tikkun, which is dedicated to building bridges between religious and secular organizations; Dr. Ingrid Mattson, former president of The Islamic Society of North America and Rev. Peg Chemberlin, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches in a panel discussion entitled "Building Bridges: Religious Leaders in Conversation with the Dalai Lama."  The panel will be moderated by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that aims to promote interfaith cooperation. The event will be presented at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Drive. 

This appearance will mark His Holiness' fifth visit to Chicago (the last having been in May 2007).  Prior to visiting Chicago, the Dalai Lama will participate in a 10-day Kalachakra for World Peace in Washington, D.C.  The Dalai Lama, who describes himself as "a simple Buddhist monk," is recognized worldwide for his lifelong advocacy for non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression.  With the Communist Chinese invasion of his country, he fled Tibet in 1959 for India, where he established a Tibetan government in exile, and has since devoted himself to advocating for the welfare of the Tibetan people and world peace. Now 76, he announced in 2010 that he would retire from the position of head of the Tibetan government. In 2006, the United States honored him with its highest civilian award, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, "in recognition of his many outstanding contributions to peace, non-violence, human rights and religious understanding."

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