April 10, 2019

Guest speaker Kiran Singh Sirah meets with art center officials. Left to right: Assistant Director Temple Reece, Storytelling Director Kiran Singh Sirah, Executive Director Cristy Dunn. Photo by Meg Dickens

By Meg Dickens

“If the world is going to be saved, it’s going to be by the arts,” Evelyn Cook told the Johnson County Center for the Arts crowd as she introduced a special guest.

Mountain City welcomed International Storytelling Center Director Kiran Singh Sirah on Thursday, April 4. Sirah maintains that art connects everyone and that everyone carries art within them. He overcame adversity and has spent his life helping others connect through the arts.

“The arts are expressive forms in which we share our stories with the world,” said Sirah.

Storytelling enamored Sirah from the beginning. The education system in the form of teacher Len George finished the job. Mr. George’s stories inspired hope in Sirah, which he now emulates everywhere he goes. That hope continues to spread. Events such as Sirah’s Side by Side festival celebrating faith brings people together from different backgrounds, religions, and races to connect on a human level. Religious groups stand together and share their stories and cultures. Side by Side is now an annual event.

Sirah spearheaded the Bigger Busters program in Glasgow. This program set out to conquer the hate and fear between Catholics and Protestants. Children from both religions participated in activities together. Mothers bonded over loss. This shows that bonds are stronger than labels.

Sirah says that the world is full of storytellers sharing their tales. These combined stories make up this nation and are the shortest distance between people. He traveled to homeless shelters to hear the occupants’ stories and understand their concept of home. One occupant summed it up nicely. Home is a place in your memory where you are happy.

Programs such as Side by Side and Bigger Busters show that labels only have the power society gives them. Bigger Busters has had over 100 thousand participants so far.

Kiran Singh Sirah is a social justice warrior that uses storytelling to fight for equality. He was honored with an international Champion of the Peace award for his work using storytelling as a peacemaking tool and previously worked in conjunction with the Pentagon and US State Department to develop story-based methods for conflict resolution and PTSD.