Imaginarium – Creating a magical space for storytellers

“The world needs good storytelling because we have huge crises created by humans. That means we’ve been telling bad stories and we need the ones that call us to a better place,” says Sirish Rao, co-founder and artistic director of the Indian Summer Festival.

Imaginarium, a new live event/podcast program created and hosted by Rao and Indigenous broadcaster and curator Jarrett Martineau, hopes to create such a space where the magic happens for storytellers, be it through conversations or through music.

The program was born out of a need to imagine a better or different way of living and thinking through the creative dialogues between Rao and Martineau. It will debut on July 9 as part of the Indian Summer Festival and explore this year’s festival theme of Inner/Outer Climates.

“Both of us have been really interested in stories that are either left out or maybe don’t exist in the way that we think they should. We are looking at the world and thinking that there is a need for good storytelling,” Rao says. “And I think the best way to explain what we’re after with Imaginarium is we’re not creating a predetermined map or structure. We’re creating the conditions.”

The inaugural issue

The inaugural edition, titled Parables for a Planet in Crisis, will discuss the personal and political forces that shape our lives and the world around us with a line-up of world-renowned thinkers and writers.

Indigenous broadcaster and curator Jarrett Martineau. | Photo courtesy of Chan Centre

“The first half of the evening, the conversations with Naomi Klein and Amitav Ghosh and the music that goes with it will be around the idea of outer climate and then the second half of the evening we move into a more intimate space with Robyn Maynard and Leanne Simpson that kind of looks inward to the inner landscape,” says Martineau.

The evening will also open with a story from Sun Dance Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and it will feature live musical performances and accompaniment by Juno award-winning jazz guitarist Gordon Grdina and sitar maestro Mohamed Assani.

“Music is a big part of it. The sound gives way to the possibility for words to be formed and shared. And I think that that to me is such an integral element of what we’re doing,” Martineau adds.

Imaginarium also marks the launch of a new book by Maynard and Simpson, Rehearsals for Living. The book was born during the pandemic time when the two talented writers wrote letters to each other about the state of the world.

“It is a book about pretty difficult things, but it’s also imagining beautiful futures,” Rao comments. “All those books written by our guests are very clear about the great problems that face us, but they are also deeply hopeful, they are calling upon us to really imagine something better.”

The creative vision

Having met through a common friend, Rao says they quickly found out that they both share a similar sense of what he describes as “abundance.” “When we program, we like many options and many different perspectives,” explains Rao.

“And we thought it would be really interesting to come together to work on a project where we acknowledge those commonalities and also those differences,” adds Martineau. “We could then also invite into dialogue with us people that are way smarter and way more interesting than we are to guide us into the world of their work.”

Born in India, Rao moved to Vancouver in 2010 and co-founded the Indian Summer Festival. He is a cultural innovator who has worked with a wide range of international art institutions. He also wears several other hats – writer, publisher, artistic director, public speaker, and moderator.

Equally talented is Martineau, who has worked extensively at the intersections of music, art, media, technology, and social movements. He is the host of Reclaimed on CBC Radio and was recently appointed the curator-in-residence at the Chan Centre of the Performing Arts at UBC.

They both share a common vision for Imaginarium as an act of travel – both in the mind and in the physical world.

“In our roles, we are accustomed to bringing people to us. So, one thing that is really exciting about the idea of Imaginarium is taking this idea out on the road to other people and bringing that concept to places where we can go meet people where they are,” says Martineau.

“It is a space of provocation, but also a space of invitation to wander around; it is an invitation to storytellers to bring their stories. I think we will just follow the story,” Rao says.

For more information visit: