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INTERVIEW OF THE MONTH.

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DEBRA TIGERLILY
on the TRANSFORMATIVE POWER of GRATITUDE

By Anya Khalamayzer and Saida Mouradova.

 

Gratitude Migration: Summer Dream, the second annual outdoor festival organized by Gratitude*NYC, brought the elemental mix of camping, cleanliness, world-class music, art, and radical self-expression of the Burning Man Playa to the sands of the beach and put an original twist on the outdoor festival experience.

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Debra Tigerlily Lin, at Joshua Tree.

Held on the quaint Keansburg, NJ beach over the weekend of July 15-17, Gratitude promised a seaside oasis where “life becomes art and dreams become reality.” It delivered an adventure that left participants calling it “a taste of Woodstock” and buzzing with the transforming power of gratitude for weeks after.

Sand, sun, and sea combined for the perfect backdrop for performance art, all-night dancing, sunrises set to music, fire spinning, costumes, yoga, lectures, beach camping, and of course plenty of swimming and lounging as the New York City skyline twinkled comfortably out of reach across the water.

Most importantly, the festival was affordable and open to all, including discounted passes for local residents and volunteers, and it emphasized sustainability and leave-no-trace (LNT).

We spoke with Gratitude Migration’s art and curatorial director, Debra Tigerlily, about the tremendous effort of putting together a festival this ambitious, the importance of participation for a gratifying experience, and and why it’s worth it to make this event happen again for years to come.

*If you’re interested in transformative festivals, read our latest article about PEX – The Philadelphia Experiment.

Twenty Five Hundred: What is Gratitude and why was this festival created?

Debra Tigerlily: Gratitude Migration is a celebration of our community, all our makers and creators, and a celebration of the oneness we feel when we create something together. It’s what happens when we let go of our negative projections and judgements and open ourselves to love. We operate within an unbelievably incredible, unique community, and when we come together we can make serious magic happen. I hope this year’s festival was proof of that

I think we all gravitated towards Gratitude in a subconscious effort to leave a beautiful mark in this existence, to apply our ways of life to heal all of the suffering out there.

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All photography by Saida Mouradova.

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TFH: This is the festival’s second year. What did you learn and build that was different from the inaugural Gratitude?

Debra Tigerlily: One major difference was the number of unique environments we put together. We had two main stages: The Gratitude Earth Stage and the PEX Fire Stage, three sound camp stages, the Mandala Biergarten live music stage, Center Camp, Culinary Cove (our food vendor area), the Wellness Village, family camp, and the School of Dreams motivational speaker series stage. We also had more than 40 interactive art installations, tons of activities, and wellness and yoga programming – we really endeavored to provide something for everyone. All of this programming comes at a high cost for coordination, budget, and energy.

 

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One simply can’t not admire those parents who bring children to transformational festivals! They expose their children to an alternative world of self-acceptance, radical self expression and a larger concept of sustainability.

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There are many great ways to safely expose your children to the festival life these days. Sound cancelling headphones, for example!

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TFH: What was your role in the festival’s organization?

DT: I was the art & curatorial director, and basically Drew’s (creative director and co-founder) right hand in all experiential matters. This means experiential design, reviewing art proposals, managing various projects and configuration of the grounds, decor, conceptualizing and executing the overarching aesthetic, and physically translating the energetic vision of Gratitude – bringing dreams into reality, bringing hearts and communities together, and operating under the belief that we can actually make the default world a beautiful place.

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Ali Luminescent during a night show at Gratitude.

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One of the main Gratitude stages, spotting one of the incredible light shows that never stopped all the way into the morning light.

TFH: Was Burning Man an inspiration for the event?

DT: We do share certain ideals, such as the 10 principles, but we see those more as principles of life and being a decent human (we’ve even come up with our own 11th principle – Gratitude!). We don’t even consider ourselves a “transformational festival,” much less a “regional Burn.” We are working towards being the first “waking life festival,” – driven by constantly living the way we’ve manifested on the beach, a world lead by inspiration, creativity, compassion, and mutual benefit for all participants. What we’ve created on the beach should not be an exclusive experience. It should be the way we are all the time. We should behave that way all the time. And we should recognize and experience gratitude at every moment.

You can see the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines from the festival grounds – reality is not that far away, nor should it be.

TFH: What are the most important ingredients to making a great festival?

DT: First and foremost, a good team that loves each other like a family and steps up, unified, when one of us is taken down by the stress and exhaustion. Other key ingredients are: quality content that speaks to our vision and illustrates our message, a respectful yet firm security team, a strong LNT team to educate guests and protect the environment, treating the local community with open arms and kindness, and the commitment to leaving a positive trace.

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John O’Mahoney- member of the Flambeaux Tribe and one of the stars of Queen of the Night.

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TFH: At Gratitude you have managed to weave together a vast playground for artists and guests alike with education about the main sustainability principals. For example, most food stands this year were vegan and vegetarian. What other measures have you taken to gently guide the guests in the direction of footprint awareness?

DT: The goal is to show that environmental awareness can be a natural step within pre-existing consumer habits, while showing that it is not difficult or sacrificial to simply consume less.

We had all of our vendors commit to using biodegradable cutlery, plates, cups, and provided gluten free linguine instead of coffee stirrers. We had LNT stations with signage to separate garbage and used specific vocabulary, such as “landfill,” rather than “garbage,” to remind people that their waste goes into the Earth. We also encouraged everyone, prior to the festival, to bring their own reusable water bottles, cups, plates, and cutlery. Our sustainability lead, Betty Blue, established great partnerships that were focused on eco-conscious and sustainable goods – plant based sun screen, organic beverages and treats, and boxed water that came in recycled, recyclable containers.
Next year we hope to be run solely on bio-diesel and continue to push towards being a minimal carbon footprint festival.

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Performer Cat Widdifield from House of Yes.

IMG_3711TFH: What was the spark that grew Gratitude from a beautiful indoor party to a full-blown outdoor festival?

DT: Avi, our amazing production director and co-founder, had long wanted a “migratory” event for NYC, away from NYC. As did the rest of the team. We’ve always wanted an extended, more effective way to reach people, and to really show that we are more than just a party. We’re an educational platform for expanding consciousness, and we believe in tapping into a form of spirituality by enriching lives. So when Avi joined our family, he approached Drew about combining forces for a big excursion, one thing lead to another, the township of Keansburg offered their beach, and we now have a sandy little haven to call home.

TFH:  We have a few questions we ask in every interview we do on TFH. Where do you see yourself and Gratitude five years from now? 

DT: I want Gratitude to be self sufficient. I would love to be able to pay our contributors what they deserve, not just what we can. Artists need to survive off of their art so that more of their art can be possible.

In five years I hope we can be in a place where we are recognized as a migratory mecca for artists and visionaries all over the world. It’s time we took the east coast by storm!

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TFH: If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?

DT: I wish we’d all be nicer to ourselves. Then we’d be nicer to the Earth and to each other.

TFH: What does love mean to you?

DT: Love is the biggest redeeming quality and strongest force that we puny humans have. We do a lot of horrible things to each other, and with love we can start to make up for some of it.

TFH: What does self-expression mean to you in today’s world?

DT: Self expression comes from a place of self love, to present myself as I am, without ego and without expectation, in an effort to share my perspective. Art comes from a place of self expression, borne of self acceptance or self destruction. Either way, to me, it requires honesty, introspection, and being true to oneself.

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DJ stage during one of the many Flambeaux Tribe’s performances.

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Joules Magnus, Flambeaux Tribe member and one of the stars of Queen of the Night.

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For more inspirational interviews please check ————> HERE.

More about Burning Man ———–> HERE.

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