A Culture of Belonging
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A Culture of Belonging

Born on one of the world's most remote islands, she moved away and earned a fortune. Then Zita Cobb returned to transform Fogo Island into a socially responsible, sustainable art project.

Ms. Cobb, what is the vision behind your Shorefast Foundation?

In our work, we are always seeking to answer the question of how traditional communities fit into the modern world. How can we hold onto our roots while at the same time participating in the globalized world in a meaningful way? We also want to strengthen our community through knowledge.

What does that mean, in concrete terms?

We use the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) approach, which takes advantage of a society's strengths and potential to promote development. We wanted to start with art because it is a way of thinking and knowing. In this remote place, with its unique landscape and culture, creating a set of contemporary art initiatives seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do.

How can we hold onto our roots while at the same time participating in the globalized world in a meaningful way?

What was your next step?

We also wanted to create businesses that would contribute to economic and cultural resiliency – businesses that make sense for this place and would reinvest their profits in the community.

What businesses did you choose?

Hospitality is one of Fogo Island's natural cultural assets, so building a world-class inn – the Fogo Island Inn – was an obvious decision. And architecture and design have an important role to play in creating objects of beauty and function that also reflect our human relationships. They make an important contribution to a culture of belonging, as we call it – a culture that belongs to the past, present and future.

Fogo Island is approximately the size of Brooklyn. If we could spend a week on the island, what should we make sure to see and do?

Fogo Island has seven seasons. We call them winter, pack ice, spring, trap berth, summer, berry and late fall. The best thing to do is to spend time with local people who have unique knowledge of the island. All guests at Fogo Island Inn are paired with community hosts who give them a tour of Fogo Island and share with them what it is like to live here. Specific activities depend on the season, but the most important thing is sharing knowledge. Whatever the season, Fogo Island is a singularly powerful place located in one of the remaining great wildernesses – the North Atlantic Ocean. It reminds us of our own place in the natural order, which is so much greater than ourselves.

What kinds of visitors come to Fogo Island?

Fogo Island isn't a place people come to by accident – they want to come here. They are interested in nature and the local culture. And they don't mind a bit of a struggle to reach this destination.

Do you see yourself as an example for other wealthy individuals?

All of us should be involved with and contribute to our communities. And if you aren't yet part of a community, you should find one. It's the best lens to view the world and your own place in it. It helps us discover what is truly important.

What values have guided you throughout your life?

My old boss used to say, "The most important thing is to keep the most important thing the most important thing." I grew up in modest circumstances, but all of our needs were taken care of. I was always aware that it's not healthy to have too much.

Fogo Island is located 15 kilometers northeast of the coast of Newfoundland and has approximately 2,700 inhabitants.