When you haven’t quite figured things out yet, a safe space to explore, heal, and be curious can be the antidote to feeling stuck. Artists who stay at Esalen for several weeks as part of the Artist in Residence program all seem to say the same thing: their creativity blossoms when they are given the opportunity to slow down.
“It felt like the place where I’d finally be able to breathe,” shared Darnell Walker, a filmmaker and former Blues Clues writer. “It felt like the place that was offering me the opportunity to slow down – an opportunity I couldn’t find anywhere else in recent times.”
Those were just his first impressions, but the impact is lasting, says Walker. “Esalen will always be that place where I was able to reconnect to forgotten parts of me, and connect with people I didn’t know I needed to meet. It was full of kindness and good energy.”
In this Q&A, Darnell shares more about how his art could change the future and a conversation with someone who helped him understand that at the heart of his work is healing.
ESALEN: How would you describe your life’s work?
Darnell Walker: I haven’t quite figured that out just yet, and not sure when I will, but it’s beginning to feel like my life’s work is to create safe spaces that welcome others to explore and find their way to healing and happiness.
ESALEN: You’ve made three powerful documentaries: Seeking Asylum, Outside the House, and Set Yourself on Fire. Is there a through line to the topics you choose? How would you describe your approach to the craft?
DW: I became a documentary filmmaker by accident or happenstance. It was never my intention to do it, but a backpacking trip around Europe with a camera asking citizens how they felt about what was happening to Black Americans at the hands of police and racists turned into Seeking Asylum. Conversations around racism led to conversations around Black mental health, and to no surprise, mental health conversations included sexual assault and rape. Organically, it all unfolded. Beautifully, in some strange way. It was at Esalen, talking to Sam Stern [host of the Voices of Esalen podcast], when I realized each of these films were about healing.
ESALEN: You also write children’s media, books, animated shorts, a podcast, what is your goal with that work?
DW: My goal here is to create content that allows all children to see themselves. I strongly believe that representation matters and know what it means when kids are able to see themselves outside of themselves. Incredible things happen - lives, places, things, hearts, and minds change for the better when this happens. A recent project features a boy inspired by an awesome little boy I know with ectrodactyly. It’s important that he sees a kid who looks like him.
ESALEN: What changes are you hoping to affect in the world with your art?
DW: I’m hoping to be one of those artists whose work brings people to very difficult, but necessary conversations.
ESALEN: What was a typical day at Esalen like for you?
DW: During the week, I’d wake up around 6 to do some journaling, novel outlining, and meditation. Throughout the day, I’d spend time in the gardens, by the water, in the Lodge, writing, thinking, creating, and just breathing. I spent late nights in the baths.
ESALEN: What kinds of new rituals/practices did the pandemic inspire you to create?
DW: I began morning journaling, walking and biking to clear my head to let new thoughts enter, and intentionally connecting with others.
ESALEN: What explorations will you carry forward that grew out of your residency?
DW: I’m working on exploring and creating transformative spaces for others who don’t have access to Esalen. What I gathered there should be shared with the folks I’ve come across who simply need a breath.
We’ll be announcing our three new artists on July 20, 2021. Want to know more about the Artist in Residence program? Email us: email@example.com.