Health and Society

Creativity on Center Stage

CREATIVITY ON CENTER STAGE

New Collaborations in the Classroom and Community. Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge” and “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” He thought that formal education not only ignored creativity, but suppressed it. Hard facts, not fairy tales. The “arts” do seem to be increasingly walled off in their own perennially underfunded or unfunded domains. Too many classrooms, offices, and laboratories foster an atmosphere that denigrates collaboration and selflessness. While achievement is too often understood as springing not from love of productive and thoughtful work, but from narrow personal ambition and fear of failure and rejection. This Think Tank addresses what might be done to put creativity at center stage in classrooms, communities, and lives.

The course begins by examining and encouraging certain thinking habits that seem to be associated with creative people across disciplines: risk-taking, reasoning in the absence of clear answers; honoring the importance of emotions; investigating the constraints and advantages of different materials, social systems, and forms of marketing and public-making. Why are such thinking habits undervalued by most educational systems? Can those habits be taught and honed like any others? The first half of the course addresses these questions through presentations by innovative people involved in the arts and education in and out of the university community, and through “innovative exercises” (art works, writing, performances, teaching strategies, often undertaken collaboratively and/or in unconventional settings). The second half of the course concerns student projects and their outcomes. Outcomes could include creative performances or published work; new programs or venues to develop creative communities both in and outside of the university; new pedagogical methods or means of support for arts education K-12; ways to improve and encourage creativity in traditional “knowledge”-based scientific and technical education; etc.

Creativity on Center Stage Final Report

Faculty

Bruce Dain, Ph.D., History
I went to college to study painting, music, and art history, but the many hoops to jump through and processes of weeding out art students put me off arts education completely, so I majored in history, which was welcoming and allowed you to study basically anything. I had a wonderful adviser and from there I went to graduate school and got a PhD and wrote a book on the intellectual history of race in America. At the the University of Utah, I have become increasingly involved in the honors program and the liberal arts college style of creative learning and collaboration it encourages. Which led me to do art again and seriously to consider relationships between creativity and education. Creativity isn’t a choice or delimited activity, it’s intrinsic to perception itself. Think about how much you bring to, say, reading a novel, how much your imagination fills into the story, how the book becomes very much a collaboration between you and the author. In a very real way, the world is like the same story both written and read by seven billion people. How can we re-imagine education in creative and collaborative terms?

Stephen Brown, Stephen Brown Dance Company
I am a theater artist who, like others in my field, has survived by developing offstage competence in operations, production, and education.

Details: After my freshman year in college, I dropped out to become a dancer. I adored the mix of athleticism and ideas and was soon working professionally in New York City, the worldwide mecca of contemporary dance at the time. There, I picked up a good job with a rising dance-maker named Mark Morris and promptly hated being a figurine in a great mechanic’s glockenspiel.

Fast forward: Dropped out of dance to get a BS at Columbia University; worked in a fruit fly research lab; back to dance instead of grad school; wandered the country performing, choreographing, and living out of a duffel bag; started my own dance company, determined to avoid the glockenspiel model.

Present day: My work at SB Dance has been acknowledged by a NEA grant for New Choreography, the Salt Lake City Mayor’s award, and, more significantly, by a consistent audience of hardcore followers, a loyal band of collaborators, and annual support from many public agencies, foundations, businesses, and individuals. In this part of the nation, SB Dance has the distinction of being the only single artist creation shop—that is, an established arts organization that is lead by one main creator. SB Dance is a resident organization at the Rose Wagner Center for the Arts in Salt Lake City. At the Rose, I am president of the coalition of resident arts organizations and involved with many initiatives in the local arts and cultural community. Lots more at www.sbdance.com

I learned many of my deepest lessons outside of any educational institution. For the most part, they occurred by chance. I call this my “sticky” education—sticky in the sense that I found it through direct contact or experience. As an educator, one of my main concerns is putting sticky experience into the classroom so students don’t have to rely on serendipity– or extracurricular activities—in order to experience deep learning.