Stop and Hear the Music

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Erik Wahl - Inspirational Keynote Speaker, Graffiti Artist

As Erik Wahl works at the intersection of creativity and business, he’s constantly aware of the creative opportunities that often lie right in front of us. Often, these opportunities are right in front of us and we miss them.

During Erik’s presentation, which many of you have witnessed, he highlights that as we’ve grown up we’ve been taught that we’re less and less artists and instead taught specific functions for society’s purposes later on. During this transformation we became less aware of our own creativity and our ability to make something beautiful out of our surroundings.

On a seemingly random morning in Washington D.C. in 2007, a thousand people proved that they were unable to acknowledge something beautiful in their surroundings. They missed something great. All they had to do was think outside of their usual morning routine and they would have been better for it.

Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Post about what happened:

“It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job. L’Enfant Plaza is at the nucleus of federal Washington, and these were mostly mid-level bureaucrats with those indeterminate, oddly fungible titles: policy analyst, project manager, budget officer, specialist, facilitator, consultant.

Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape:

  • Do you stop and listen?
  • Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet?
  • Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite?
  • Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good?
  • Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you?
  • What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?

On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”

Here’s what happened:

About erik wahl

As an internationally recognized graffiti artist, author and entrepreneur, Erik Wahl redefines the term “keynote speaker.” Pulling from his history as both a businessman and an artist, he has grown to become one of the most sought-after corporate speakers available today. Erik’s on-stage painting seamlessly becomes a visual metaphor to the core of his message, encouraging organizations toward profitability through innovations and superior levels of performance. His list of clients includes AT&T, Disney, London School of Business, Microsoft, FedEx, Exxon Mobil, Ernst & Young, and XPrize; Erik has even been featured as a TED presenter. The responses received have been nothing short of incredible, with standing ovations to prove it. Learn more about Erik, watch videos, and connect with him at