When the Sikhlens Foundation was founded over 25+ years, it focused on art, heritage calendars, lectures, and interfaith outreach programs. . Post 9/11 Sikhlens inaugurated a film festival to increase the awareness of Sikhs amongst mainstream Americans. For the last seven years the foundation has collaborated extensively with Chapman University. Our first involvement was with the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.
Through “Project S”, (“S” stands for “Sikhi”) undergraduate film students travel abroad to film six to eight Sikh-themed films. “Project S” is a two semester course, plus the summer in between. The Spring Semester is focused on pre-production, Summer Semester involves on site filming, and Fall Semester involves post production. The “Project S” courses are taught by Dodge faculty and provide the student with course credit. It is a unique program – no other campus has anything like it. The classes have previously gone to Thailand, Malawi, and the UK. The work-in-progress films are shown at our film festival in November and final versions were completed and screened on the Chapman campus in December.
An ancillary program to “Project S” is “Destination S”. This program involves Dodge graduate film students and alumni. They have traveled to various destinations around the world–India, Canada, Africa, and various European locations, to film Sikh-themed films. Professor Jeff Swimmer has accompanied the “Destination S” program to Nepal, Malaysia, and the UK. Through our collaboration with Dodge we are now providing Digital Voice training for our youth, during which they learn the basics of filmmaking.
As part of film festival programming we became involved with the Leatherby Libraries. Sikhlens collaborates with the Chapman Libraries in showcasing our heritage by utilizing their facilities and programs for exhibitions and lectures. Our annual film festival is also the launch of a 120 day Sikh exhibition open to the public at the Leatherby Libraries. Last year’s exhibit highlighted the life of Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind (Dr. Ji), known as the first Sikh from America to join the US Army during WWI and then winning the fight to become a US citizen. Previous exhibits included “The Great Wars-Never Forgotten 1984” and “The Last King”. This year’s exhibit is entitled “Sikh Turban and Identity”. The exhibitions are seen by thousands of students coming to study in the library. Books, paintings, artifacts, and historical anecdotes are included in these fascinating exhibits. After their conclusion at Chapman University, the exhibit travels on loan to other institutions before returning to the Library’s permanent collection. We are working to expand permanent Sikh collections with books, artifacts, and private and antiquarian collections.
Last year’s Opening Night also featured the ribbon cutting of the Sikh Story room in the Leatherby Libraries. It is now a permanent room where students can meet, study and be educated by Sikh stories. There is even a display that indicates the gurdwaras in the area and advises visitors on how they can arrange a visit. This “study room” concept has been pioneered by Chapman University.
The Opening Night dinner of the film festival is hosted at the Fish Interfaith Center. Also in conjunction with our Sikhlens Foundation, the Center hosts the University’s annual Vaisakhi Celebration (Punjabi New Year) in April. Other theology based events that we have been involved with include sponsoring the attendance of six students at the World Religion Conference in Salt Lake City. Langar (free meal) services are held at Fish four times a year. Lectures are also held throughout the year. This January we subsidized a sixteen-day trip to India where Chapman students studied Religions of India, with a focus on Sikhism. This interfaith trip will now become an annual event.
Our most recent involvement has been with the Center of Performing Arts (COPA). Sikhlens sponsored a concert at the Musco Center for the Arts last November as part of our annual film festival. Through this involvement, it is our goal to sponsor a Performing Arts scholarship in conjunction with COPA. This scholarship would provide a student the opportunity to learn about Sikh music and performing arts.
All of our programs have met with much enthusiasm and success. We continue to move closer to our goal of awareness of Sikhs amongst mainstream Americans by exposing them to our unique heritage.