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Thursday Complexity Post
December 26, 2013

Inspiring Peace in Dangerous Spaces


The image of Buddha is serene and lovely and visually beautiful in a garden, says sculptor Indira Johnson, but it serves a different purpose when it appears in harsh and dangerous spaces. Dozens of sculpted Buddha heads are emerging in unexpected places in troubled Chicago neighborhoods, and Johnson hopes their presence will be a catalyst for conversations about peace and nonviolence.




In a story by Mark Guarino in the Christian Science Monitor, Johnson explains that she is convinced public art can serve social issues and alter the way people think about their environment. She approached community organizations and activists and suggested using her sculpted Buddha heads in ways that could generate discussions about peace. The heads are incomplete. They appear to be growing out of the ground, out of sidewalks, near train tracks, in parks, near schools and in what she calls marginalized spaces. Johnson suggests her symbolic intent was to make the heads seem to emerge from earth, "Just like all of us ....growing in our self-realization and spirituality." Johnson isn't promoting Buddhism or any religion. Her goal is to provoke and inspire transformative thought.


The effort was started by Ten Thousand Ripples, an art and civic engagement project Johnson launched a year ago with the nonprofit organization Changing Worlds. Communities were offered ten heads each, and local people chose where to place them. Johnson wanted people in the communities to respond in their own way, and she reports that they have. The heads have been moved around and made to face in different directions. One head decorated with painted makeup was later cleansed and painted white. In Albany Park community residents said the sculptures were a call for peace and harmony, a message that fit with violence prevention, youth training and conflict resolution efforts begun in response to gang related shootings.


In an interview with Jenniffer Weigel in the Chicago Tribune, Johnson, a native of Mumbai, India, who attended the Chicago Art Institute and made the city her home decades ago, talks about her art and a universal desire for peace and a better future. She thinks individual experiences with art can help people think about huge concepts like peace and how an individual can have an impact.


"I like the metaphor of ripples," Johnson said, referring to the title of her organization. "It was based on the idea that your actions go on and live past you."


Read the Christian Science Monitor Story here, the Chicago Tribune story here, and to learn more about the Buddha project visit


Happy Holidays!


Remember PlexusCalls!

Friday, January 10, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

Citizens, Community and Education in South Africa 
Guest: Louise van Rhyn and Lisa Kimball




How can citizens create a culture of collaboration, lead lives of contribution and become social architects of the communities they envision? The DVD South Africa: Alive With Possibility  has examples. Organizational Development guru and thought leader Peter Block says Louise van Rhyn has "the passion to restore high performance and humanity to our organizations and communities. She is a national treasure."  


Louise van Rhyn founded Symphonia, a group of organizations committed to sustainable transformation in people, teams, companies, organizations, and communities, in 2008. She has a doctoral degree in organizational change, and 25 years experience as a change practitioner with focus on large scale change in complex social systems. Through Symphonia for South Africa, a community focused-NPO, she is committed to mobilizing citizens to become actively involved addressing the educational crisis in South Africa. She initiated the innovative School@theCentreofCommunity leadership development process that creates an opportunity for business leaders and school principals to develop their leadership skills in co-learning partnerships. Louise has studied complex systems with Ralph Stacey and Patricia Shaw.


Lisa Kimball, PhD is an entrepreneur with more than 30 years experience as an organizational consultant with business, government and nonprofit organizations. As CEO of Metasystems Design Group and Executive Producer of Group Jazz she supported the efforts of teams, task forces, communities and organizations and specialized in helping them leverage the power of new technology and social media. She is active in online community work, organizational development (she also serves on the Board of the Organization Development Network) and is skilled in applying complexity-inspired principles. She has worked with hospitals applying Positive Deviance methodology to the problem of eliminating transmission of hospital acquired "superbug" infections. She has trained PD consultants and coaches as well as designing and developing materials to support hospital teams. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology; Cognition & Learning from Catholic University of America where her research focused on problem solving strategies of senior executives in complex systems. Lisa served as Plexus Institute President for three years and continues to serve Plexus as chair for learning programs.


Audio from all PlexusCall series is available by searching the iTunes store for plexuscalls. Or, visit under Resources/Call Series. 


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