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Rants & Raves: Anchor launches project to inspire

January 16, 2005 . Encore . Page 1E

By Steve Penhollow, The Journal Gazette
WPTA-TV anchorwoman Janette Luu has won a $25,000 award in Visa's Ideas Happen contest.
The contest, which attracted thousands of applicants nationwide, is designed to extract grandiose but doable ideas from contenders in three categories: entrepreneur, community and self-expression. Luu was one of four winners in the self-expression category, and now she has a packet of cash to give her high-minded concept some infrastructure.
Luu was raised Buddhist, which is an atypical thing to be in northeast Indiana. Fort Wayne might be the City of Churches, but there is a certain structural and suppositional sameness to worship around here.
Luu says people tend not to know much about Buddhism. Some assume it is very different from Christianity when that is not the case, she says. So her Ideas Happen idea has to do with putting people smack dab in the worlds where non-Christian religions flourish.
"You walk into a room," she says, describing what a Buddhist immersion experience might be like. "It's pitch black. You are surrounded by video screens. You see a glorious sunrise. Monks are chanting. You smell incense."
Luu's creative partner Matt Stuart, with whom she has mounted two Pop Filter events, says media coverage of religion tends to focus on differences.
"The idea is to make someone experience something," he says. "What this won't be is a Disneyland tour of world religions. It's really about creating new experiences; shared experiences.
"It's about having people from different faiths come together and experience something.
"This is what we need right now," Stuart says. "You can't show an educational film. You can't show a passive exhibit.
"You have to bring people together and have them experience something together."
Since Luu was informed that she won the award, the project has increased considerably in scope and ambition. Stuart says the pair envision having to take over an entire building, either in Fort Wayne or elsewhere, in order to do justice to this virtual visit to various birthplaces of faith.
"Originally we were talking about doing a one-room traveling exhibit," Luu says. "Now what we're talking about sounds like a museum."
Scholars and religious leaders must be consulted. Additional money must be raised. Sponsors must be courted.
Stuart says he wouldn't be surprised if the budget exceeds $1 million eventually. But Stuart says a project so inarguably worth doing is worth doing right.
"There is nothing like an immersive experience," Stuart says. "It can't be downloaded. It can't be copied. It can't be ripped off."