The morning we left Albuquerque to travel to Santa Fe was one of the most beautiful mornings I have ever been a witness to. The magic and playfulness left by the early morning snow literally made me smile all the way to Santa Fe. Thank you Julian for the magical drive in the land of enchantment.

Heidi Majano, Executive Director to the Peaceful World Foundation

By Julián Antonio Carrillo

As part of our Executive Director Heidi Majano’s first official visit to the Land of Enchantment in early 2023, I planned a second in-person Peaceful World Conversation apart from the one we hosted previously at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. This time, Heidi and I connected with the award-winning Wise Fool social circus in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a non-profit organization of which I am a Board Member.

Social circus, as we discussed that day, is many things. But a simple working definition is the use and practice of the circus arts to advance social justice and equity. You can read more about it on Wise Fool’s website.

The objective of our morning gathering over breakfast was three fold: first, introduce Heidi to some of the educational and social justice work that this organization is known for; second, give its three Co-Executive Directors, Kristen Woods, Alishiya Kapoor, and Amaya Alvarado an opportunity to “break bread” with some of their staff, board and community members; and third, reflect on the many ways that social circus contributes to peace-building, community formation, and equity.

The hour and half that we spent over breakfast at The Pantry was filled with reflections, ideas, anecdotes, and rich dialogue as everyone around the table contributed and listened attentively to what others had to say. Even Alishiya, through a Zoom video from the East Coast, was able to participate and bring her insight and experience into the conversation.

After a quick informal introduction around the table as all eight of us participants ordered coffee or tea, the talk kicked off with a question about the Peaceful World Foundation (PWF) from one of Wise Fool’s Co-Executive Directors.

Paraphrasing, it was asked: “What does the Foundation do and stand for?” 

The Dynamic Staff energized the room.

Heidi responded by explaining its origins, referencing the artwork of and hosted conversations by its Founder, Sami Sunchild, and then moved on to talk about education and grantmaking. Here, I added a little about the work some of our grantees do, such as Karen Collins, Artist and Founder of the African American Miniature Museum, to illustrate our reach and the kind of work we support. 

This sharing about the Foundation then allowed Wise Fool members to easily find common ground with it and answer Heidi’s first conversation starter:

What does social circus mean to you and how do you see it advancing equity and justice?

 The first to go, as I recall, was Kristen who brought up both the acceptance she has felt from the social circus community as well as the resilience of the circus arts. Amalia then spoke about how central community-building is and the power of learning together. For her, social circus is also about learning to be in your body…and how to function in the world. It also has great potential to teach you discipline and commitment. 

Photos taken at the Wise Fool creative room.

Then, Wise Fool Board Member Tori Nicole and her friend Tauri Lang, both of them artists, pitched in some great ideas. The latter highlighted, similar to Amaya, the empowerment that social circus contributes to and the strength of its intergenerational emphasis as it serves kids and youth but also adults and elders; in other words, there’s room for everyone and everybody in social circus. 

Tori Nicole, on her end, commented on the ways social circus aims to create non-competitive spaces. In a world and dominant culture in which competition, status, and egos are so prominent in classrooms, sports, and even recreational activities, social circus breaks with this tendency. Rather, it emphasizes collaboration and that each person can contribute whatever they bring already to make the whole greater than the parts.

At one point along the free-flowing and enriching conversation, I remember sharing that, for me, one of the key contributions of circus in general and social circus, in particular, is that it creates a unique space and time for humans to bring out our ludic side and playfulness.

Play in human society is so liberating, yet so constrained. For the most part, dominant society has designated spaces where “play,” “humor,” and “joy,” even, can take place. Yet we know, from an anthropological perspective, that humans (and apes and other social animals!) are playful by nature and play teaches us so much about the world, our relations, and ourselves. 

Lastly, one of Wise Fool’s coaches, Amelia Calsi, gave Heidi and the rest of us some concrete examples of the organization’s educational programming. For instance, the “Circus Comes to School” program offered to schoolchildren in New Mexico. In a state like ours where public education is constantly ranked amongst the lowest, creating a welcoming space for self-expression, self-discovery, peer-to-peer learning, and social justice, can be and is transformative. 

Stay Playful

I think all of us at that table left thinking that our work – at PWF and Wise Fool – intersects in many ways. And that maybe in the future we may even collaborate. For now, we hope Heidi will visit us again in New Mexico next year and invite us once more to breakfast over reflective, meaningful conversation.

To help us expand peace building efforts together sign up HERE and Join one of our community conversations.