The HeARTbeat Collective has been building community and transforming lives since 2000. Now centered in the Pioneer Valley of western MA, it all began when three friends – two musicians and an environmentalist – moved into a house in Jamaica Plain together and decided to build community there. Inspired by their experiences with fire circles, sweat lodges, and other transformative spiritual practices that can heal and empower people from any background, they created an oasis of universal spirituality and connection to nature in the middle of the city. They led workshops and events and hosted more led by friends, friends of friends, and teachers they invited from around the world. Hundreds of people came to the house to learn the wisdom practices of our global village: chi-gong, Sufi dance, afro-Latin dance, meditation, permaculture, bee keeping, herbalism, folk music, and much, much more. The topics were diverse, but all inspired and educated people in the healing and expressive arts, with a focus on healthy and sustainable relations to the earth and one another – which is still our mission today.
As participants explored new paths and bonded with one another, a large, warm community grew. About 9-10 members lived in the house as an intentional community supporting its offerings, and many more moved in nearby. The community was brimming with dedicated, talented, and skilled members ready to come together and actualize new and larger visions, so founders Jason Cohen, Joel Sindelar, and Orion Kriegman decided to start hosting larger events offsite. In 2003, they led a team to launch the Forestdance
Gathering. For a long weekend, it immersed participants in a creative interfaith gathering, deepening their connections to nature, to each other, and to their own bodies, voices, and spiritual paths. It answered a profound need in those who came, and became an annual event uplifting 60-75 people. In 2009, the Collective launched the first annual Sacred World Interdependence Day to celebrate July 4th with hundreds of people by honoring the independence of the creative spirit and the interdependence of all human life and all life on earth.
By 2008, this thriving community center needed a name and was dubbed the HeARTbeat Collective. By 2011, the HeARTbeat Collective had expanded so far beyond gatherings at a house that members transitioned it to a mission-based event production company distinct from the HeARTbeat House.
Since 2000, the HeARTbeat Collective has produced dozens of Forestdance Gatherings from Indiana to North Carolina to Georgia to Costa Rica, as well as continuing annually in Massachusetts. We have also provided a platform for community members to facilitate hundreds of workshops and smaller events across Massachusetts, attracting thousands, especially from Jamaica Plain, metro Boston, and the Pioneer Valley, as well as many drawn to our events from much farther away.
Ultimately, two of our founders, musician Joel Sindelar and environmentalist and community organizer Orion Kriegman, moved out of the house to start families and follow their inspiration to new places. Jason Cohen, a multi-instrumental singer and songwriter for his band Incus, continued to spearhead the HeARTbeat Collective. During his student years at Berklee School of Music, he’d found that the focus on craft alone stifled his spirit and creativity until they were reawakened years later by fire circles. Leading the HeARTbeat Collective fulfils his passion for bringing people together to experience not only the craft, but the deeply transformative power of the arts and wisdom traditions of the world that are every human being’s birthright.
In 2013, Jason decided to transition from creating a garden oasis in the city to living in connection with the land. He sold the house in Jamaica Plain and moved his family and the HeARTbeat Collective to the mostly-rural Pioneer Valley, while community members in Jamaica Plain continued the tradition there by hosting their own events. Once here, he decided it was time to actualize his vision of a larger festival gathering 1,000 people. In 2014, the HeARTbeat Collective retired Sacred World Interdependence Day and launched the larger annual Unifier Festival, a transformative, family-friendly weekend of workshops on yoga, meditation, spoken word, circus arts, healing, relationship skills, permaculture, social justice, and more. We have also continued to host many smaller events. In 2016, we added One Earth Drum & Dance Company, convening both urban and rural youth in an immersive experience using African and Latin drumming and dancing to become fully present in their bodies, spirits, and personal power.
Our long-held dream of owning and maintaining our own land came true in 2017, when members of our community and Dance New England’s came together to form a trust and purchase Camp Timber Trails in Tolland MA for the use of both organizations. Tucked into the Berkshire Mountains and situated on beautiful Ward Pond, this lush, 417-acre expanse of wilderness is the perfect setting for Unifier, Forestdance, and our future programming.
It was time for the HeARTbeat Collective to officially become a nonprofit. Jason took on the role of Executive Director and we formed a Board of Directors in 2017 and applied to become a 501c3 in 2018. Inspired by a reverence for nature, a faith in global unity and the human spirit, and a belief in the healing power of the expressive arts, we continue to nurture and bring together diverse communities through ecstatic celebration and mindful ceremony. Multitudes of our participants are inspired to go home and launch their own programs, so the transformation ripples outward into the world. We are creating a new culture in which people love, nurture, and celebrate ourselves, each other, and our earth.