Two things are certain, especially this April, because in addition to being tax month, death will take the spotlight in a rather unusual festival in San Francisco.
Beginning Monday, April 16th, Reimagine End of Life will aim to spark conversation around the ultimate taboo topic—the final frontier, the last hurrah, the end days, that good night—breaking it down through the lenses of art, design, spirituality, healthcare, and more.
The schedule of 175 events hosted around SF is poised to present a wide range of eyebrow-raising moments—you can listen as physicians share their personal experiences with death, see music and comedy shows centered on mortality, and even attend a remembrance ceremony for the environment honoring species we have lost (RIP) on the eve of Earth Day.
There will also be a talk on the healing powers of psychedelic medicine (think MDMA, psilocybin, LSD, and ayahuasca); a screening of Coco with Pixar's Academy Award–winning director Lee Unkrich; advance care planning workshops; and the rare opportunity (if you can call it that) to drink from ceramics glazed with the ashes of 200 human bones. (Artist Justin Crowe admits this project has elicited a motley of responses—"Many people are fascinated to test their comfort level and discuss their own outlook, and others refuse to even hold the work, believing the soul of the deceased stays with the remains.")
So how did this death festival come to, er, pass? It started as you might expect: with the death of a loved one. When Sara LaBoskey was diagnosed with a rare form of pediatric cancer at the age 21, her close friend, Brad Wolfe, a songwriter, turned to music to help soothe his friend.
"Through regular bedside concerts at Stanford Hospital, I came to understand the power of art—it's not just a phrase, it can reduce suffering and connect people more deeply," Wolfe says. "Communicating through creativity helped generate meaning and impact in the face of loss, and when Sara eventually passed away, I committed myself to figuring out how people could use their own creativity to connect and make an impact."
In 2016, Wolfe planted the seeds for Reimagine in the form of an OpenIdeo project; this year, the full blown festival launches in SF and New York with the express purpose of bringing people together to celebrate life.
Death is an equalizer, Wolfe points out. "We all face it. If we can find ways to connect around this topic, not only might we learn how our own end of life can be better, but we might also figure out how to live better, as well. Irrespective of culture and background, we envision a world where we're all able to reflect on why we're here, prepare for a time when we won't [be], and live fully right up until the end."
He says the response has been overwhelming, pointing to partnerships such as the City of San Francisco (through the Department of Aging and Adult Services) and KALW, who together are hosting the festival's opening night at SFJAZZ Center with performances by SF Opera singer Renee Rapier with SF Symphony conductor Christian Reiff; comedian Chris Garcia; indie folk band Cloud Cult, and more.
If you were hoping to catch Oscar winner Frances McDormand, master of dark comedy, and David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) performing readings from Sophocles at the Castro Theater on April 19th, sorry—it's already sold out. // April 16-22 (SF), letsreimagine.org/san-francisco