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The beauty of Vienna has inspired artists for centuries. Yesterday, it inspired philanthropreneurs. 

The 2017 Philanthropreneurship Forum convened on January 16, 2017 in Vienna, Austria, under the theme “Generation Impact: Harnessing the Power of Giving”.

The idea of spirit of place derives from an ancient and widespread belief that particular locations in the world are occupied by gods or spirits. Genius loci is the Latin expression for the spirit or guardian deity of a place and is a phrase that has been adopted by many Cultures and languages. It is the distinctive character or atmosphere of a place with reference to the impression that it makes on the mind. Contemporary ‘geniuses’ may come and go, but the idea of genius will not let go of us.

Somehow, genius abolishes both the time and the place of its origin. Therein lies one of the most fascinating aspects of masterpieces; they can only have been created in the time and place of the creator, yet through their very originality and specificity, they have become universal. No longer do they remain attached to a specific location, but are widely appreciated across all boundaries.

Thus the relationship between place and genius is incredibly complex. Certain questions emerge; for example, is there a connection between our surroundings and our most innovative ideas? Is there a reason why a certain place in history creates genius? And what role do powerful leaders play in fostering and advancing genius?

Vienna has long been considered a genius loci, most notably in the area of the music and the arts. Many of the world’s greatest composers originated, lived or worked in Vienna throughout their careers, finding it not only an inspiring place to create, but also one receptive to new ideas and concepts of innovation. The art critic Clive Bell states: “the essential characteristic of a highly civilized society is not (only) that it is creative but that it is appreciative. ”Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn moved to Vienna because the habitat met their particular needs. As these composers were shaped by Vienna, they also shaped Vienna for centuries to come. This reciprocal relationship has been noted and aided by leaders throughout the history of the city and Vienna’s musical flourishing shows us that enlightened leadership can help spark a golden age.

Many films show how beauty and genius are often related and how Vienna had its own soul that inspired these amazing artists. The city has a long history of cinematic depictions, including such great names as Alfred Hitchcock, who showed the city in Waltzes from Vienna in 1934. Milos Forman, in his 1984 film Amadeus, presents a fictionalized account of the life of Mozart in his early career, depicting his early advancements in music and the power others wielded in his development. In 1994, Bernard Rose depicted the source of much of Beethoven’s inspiration in the film Immortal Beloved, as his secretary attempts to uncover the identity of the film’s namesake. A similar biographical treatment is given to Schubert in Fritz Lehner’s Notturno in 1986. Ken Russell examines the life and ideas of Mahler in his film of the same name, showing the spiritual ideas that underpin his work. Finally, from the realm of music, the rise of Strauss is shown in The Strauss Dynasty, from the time of being unknown to a star composer.

The work of symbolist painter Gustav Klimt also attracted the attention of filmmakers, eventually becoming the subject of the film Klimt directed by Raul Ruiz in 2006. Often the works of composers overshadow the achievements in other mediums, but Klimt’s work stands on its own as groundbreaking within the symbolist tradition. The artist went to visit Ravenna in 1903 . Since that time the gold, already present in earlier works, acquires greater expressive value, providing the main palette of color in his paintings.

The influence of the Viennese masters can be seen in pop culture and many films today, proving the enduring popularity of this particular genius loci. The music of Mahler can be heard in such diverse films as Death in Venice, Children of Men and The Tree of Life. Stanley Kubrick included Strauss’ symphonies into his groundbreaking film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Vienna also serves as the backdrop for contemporary classics, such as Richard Linklater’s 1995 film, Before Sunrise. Aside from incorporating beautiful music and cultural references into their works, these directors are deliberately accessing a culture of genius that explored topics diverse enough to be applied creatively in all places and times.

Thus we arrived again at the concept of Genius Loci and the ability of one place to produce astonishing creations. As Orson Welles aptly muses in The Third Man, Italy existed under the tyrannical reign of the Borgia popes and managed to produce the Renaissance in Florence, one of the most renowned cultural events of the western world. Vienna is no different in the golden age of its artists, the effects of which continue to this day. The question becomes, for Vienna and elsewhere, when will the next great Genius Loci emerge?