This year, I pulled out of my Los Angeles to New York to Sundance to NATPE routine to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. If my normal travels revolve around the business of stories, Davos was all about issues.
Nestled in a tiny skiing village in the Alps, Davos has become famous as the annual meeting place of political leaders and business moguls, academics and journalists (more the former and less the latter). Over four days, a program of nearly 250 sessions focused on “The Big Issues,” a dozen topics ranging from climate change and poverty to weapons of mass destruction and the global economy.
A select group of entertainment industry players have long been a part of the Davos experience. And this time those players included Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes, producers Sandy Climan and David Puttnam, outgoing FCC chairman Michael Powell, PBS CEO Pat Mitchell and Imax CEO Rich Gelfond.
But the most striking new addition to the Davos mix were artists and celebs — Richard Gere, Sharon Stone, Angelina Jolie, Bono, Peter Gabriel and Lionel Richie, among others.
Increasingly — and not without controversy — Klaus Schwab and the organizers of the WEF have attempted to integrate such folks into the global dialogue. The WEF reached out to Variety to help as a conduit to those cultural leaders. As the thinking goes (and there’s a lot of thinking going on in Davos) artists can provide a perspective that enriches the dialogue about global issues.
Thus, at one session, Bono joined Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Thabo Mbeki and Bill Gates in a discussion about the role of the G-8 in Africa. At another, Stone weighed in with a cash donation that sparked over $1 million in pledges toward the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. And in a moment of odd juxtaposition, Gere and Richie were recognized for their focus on world issues following a stirring address from newly elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko.
Still, not everyone thinks celebrity attendance is a good thing.
Some academics and journalists dismissed the stars as mere window dressing on an already overly splashy affair. They contend that celebs trivialized the event.
Still, who could argue that the global perspective of a Bono, a Gere or a Gabriel isn’t meaningful or doesn’t help galvanize change around the very themes that the Davos forum has established as the big issues? The Davos organizers have made it clear that they are looking for cultural leaders, from whatever provenance, to make a difference.
Artists not only build currency through the stories they tell and the impressions they create, they can evolve into cultural leaders by transcending their scripts or their songs or their novels to authentically tackle issues much bigger than their next contract negotiation.
As for Variety, the participation made sense for us as well. We’re thrilled to be plugged day after day into the business of stories, but the heady air of Davos put us square in the middle of the larger issues. That broadened perspective can only enhance a 100-year-old showbiz brand, just as we hope it influences the policies and practices of the world’s business and political leadership.