From Feb. 28 through Mar. 3, Duke will host Across the Threshold: Creativity, Being & Healing, the international conference, now in its fifth year, that examines the interrelationship of mind, body, spirit, community and, now, environment.

In 2007, Dance Program colleagues conceptualized an interdisciplinary approach to determining how healing and altered states of consciousness translate to the contemporary world.

“Dance originated as an expression of spirit, and that’s what we have to offer to academia, to the broader world and to the incredibly huge overarching issues that we face as a species,” says Keval Khalsa, a co-convener of the conference, associate professor of the practice and director of the dance program.

Knowing that the project would extend beyond their own fields, the co-conveners built bridges with the Center for Integrative Medicine and the Franklin Humanities Institute, along with several other organizations, students and professionals. Since then, Duke has convened two interdisciplinary symposia. In 2009, the program invited scholar and artist Ciane Fernandes from the Federal University of Bahia, and in 2011, the conference was held in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Across the Threshold will be Duke’s second international conference.

“Bringing our students together with a diverse group of individuals who elucidate connections between spirituality and social, economic, environmental and global issues helps to broaden the conversation about the human experience,” Ava Vinesett wrote in an email.

An associate professor of the practice of dance and another co-convener of Across the Threshold, Vinesett continued, “In part, our purpose is to further galvanize the spiritual stamina required to heal self and community.”

This year’s conference will be the biggest venture to date with respect to the scope of key presenters and attendees. “It’s a big undertaking for a small program,” says Khalsa, “but we’re very thrilled to be connecting with just so many units on campus around the key presenters.”

The conference will place a greater emphasis on the environment, considered the missing piece from previous programs. This year’s key presenters are Chris Jordan and Lily Yeh, two artists who, in different but overlapping ways, convey the theme of Across the Threshold.

Chris Jordan is a Seattle-based artist, described by Khalsa as “a brilliant artist, touching people on the visceral level about the sort of global destruction that human activity has brought on.” Bridging the gap between science and art, Jordan takes scientific statistics and communicates them in a manner intended to stimulate activism. Through photographs and multimedia, Jordan unapologetically bears witness to the effects of our world’s ravaging consumerism.

His keynote presentation is titled “Encountering Midway: the roles of grief, hope, and love in healing our world.” For a number of years Jordan has documented Midway, an atoll located in the North Pacific Ocean covered by massive amounts of garbage and debris. He is currently in the post-production stage of a documentary about his work at Midway and will show select clips during his presentation.

During his residency, Jordan will also work with the Nicholas School of the Environment, interact with MFA students in Experimental and Documentary Arts and join Arts of the Moving Image for a Screen/Society event on Jan. 27.

The second key presenter is Lily Yeh, a Chinese-American community-based artist who has worked extensively in impoverished areas including villages in Rwanda and a Philadelphia neighborhood. Yeh also worked in the suburbs of Beijing at the Dandelion School for the children of Chinese migrant workers, which is now a DukeEngage site.

Yeh is the cofounder of Barefoot Artists, a nonprofit that uses creativity for healing. Yeh has powerfully changed lives and affected development in poor communities. Through her work, over a hundred different spaces have been transformed with mosaics, gardens, artwork and educational programs.

Yeh will hold a pre-conference workshop on Feb. 28, presenting “Healing through Creative Action: Authenticity is the Key,” where she will work through her model designed to transform a space and community. Throughout her residency, she will also speak with the Asian American Association and the Duke Center for Civic Engagement, work with schoolchildren in Durham and meet DukeEngage students who will work at the Dandelion School this summer.

Across the Threshold is designed as a space through which attendees can nourish and explore the purpose of spirit and healing. These are themes the conference conveners would argue are sometimes overlooked—academically, personally and socially—yet are profoundly connected to much more than our individual experience.

“As artists, what is the contribution that we make to society?” Khalsa asked. “These are questions that we’re exploring through this conference. The idea of embodied practice is central to the work we do. We can heal on all levels by starting in the body because this is where we live.”

Registration and additional information at Duke student, faculty and staff discounts available. Separate registration is required for the pre-conference workshop.