WolfBrown: On Our Minds

Posts tagged ‘creativity’

Staying Young

July 11th, 2011

In certain art forms, age is a sign of maturity and wisdom.  In the field I know best, classical music, I have had the pleasure of hearing memorable concerts by pianists in their 80s (Rudolf Serkin, Menahem Pressler) and their nineties (Arthur Rubenstein and Mieczysław Horszowski- the latter at the age of 99!) Writers and painters can also be found quite active after three quarters of a century.  But there is one artistic discipline where age is almost universally considered a liability- dance.  A dancer is essentially an athlete, and like our sports heroes, they often have very short careers.  So I was delighted to read in the very same week that two of my dance idols are alive and well and active, well into their 70s. Edward Villella, at 75, was back in a Miami Beach gym strapping on his boxing gloves, which, along with dance, were very much a part of his youth.  After his remarkable career at New York City Ballet he founded the Miami City Ballet and has led the group ever since.  Then there is Jacques D’Amboise, a year older than Villella, who is currently promoting a new book which talks not only about his remarkable career at New York City Ballet but also a second equally impressive career founding and running one of the country’s most successful dance education organizations, the National Dance Institute.  What is the secret of these and so many other active creative people who keep going after seven decades or more?  Perhaps it is that they always find new ways to exercise their creative juices – the best prescription anyone has ever discovered for staying young.

Focusing on Creativity

May 9th, 2011

In preparation for the CultureLab convening last week, I’ve been researching interactive technologies used by arts and cultural organizations. I’ve mainly been looking into innovative uses of mobile apps and QR codes (square, two-dimensional barcodes). I emphasize innovative uses because unfortunately, like Facebook and Twitter, some seem to be quick to use these “tools” before having a clear sense of what needs to be built. Remember when Facebook first made its splash into primetime? Many organizations jumped onboard, but without necessarily thinking about how they wanted to engage their audiences or what relationships they wanted to create. The same is occurring with QR codes and mobile apps, as is covered in Group of Minds’ recent report for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

However, there are some really neat ways that QR codes and apps are innovatively being used to engage audiences – including interesting ways to:

  • Access information in new ways: PhillyHistory.org has released an augmented reality app that serves up historic photographs when the user points a phone at specific locations.
  • Incorporate audience interaction into a performance: Progressive rockers Umphrey’s McGee have held events in which audience members, armed with cell phones, suggest themes and ideas upon which the band improvises.
  • Curate a listener’s experience as they walk through the city. Hackney Hear transforms the neighborhood sidewalks of London into artistic venues. Poetry, music, writing, and interviews are served to strollers via their smartphones. The project, to be launched in 2012 for the London Olympics, uses GPS to turn the city into a curated audio space.


Visual arts and history-based organizations tend to be further along the development of QR codes and apps, but the performing arts aren’t far behind- check out this experiment that lets the audience actually shape the artistic content of a dance performance.

Focusing on Creativity

February 17th, 2011

Createquity is a blog written by Ian David Moss, Fractured Atlas’ Research Director. His “top ten” list of important arts policy stories was posted late last year, but if you missed it, it is well worth a read (and not just because he highlights WolfBrown’s work). New ways of measuring impact, new priorities for the focus of public relations and advocacy, new organizational structures, and more- taken together, the ten stories signify a startling degree of change in our field.

Clearly there’s a lot going on. What I find most interesting is the focus on creativity expanding beyond the traditional sphere of “arts and culture.” I notice increasingly complex ways in which people actively claim or reclaim their creative selves: through new performance types, new and unusual venues, and new forms of media, among others. This article highlights the ways in which arts organizations have started tapping into the interest in flash-mobs and the role of social media in their formation. In fact, Clarke Mackey’s Random Acts of Culture focuses on “vernacular culture” which gives priority to engagement and tends to focus on participation more than our customary European forms do.

As someone who works on planning for and with local arts agencies, I see this expanded focus on creative participation as a major step forward for our field. Of course the message about the creative economy is being heard (perhaps a bit too loudly, according to some). But I hope we can think more broadly about creativity and its impact on education, communities, and our lives in general.

How would your community – or your local arts agency – look if there were a stronger focus on supporting and enhancing access to creativity?


When a popular national magazine like Newsweek declares that there is a new ‘crisis,’ I do what many readers do.  I turn right to the article, and then automatically become skeptical.  When the article proclaims a ‘creativity crisis,’ my antennae become even more fine-tuned.  What is a ‘creativity crisis?’ And how do they know there is one?

Regardless of my skepticism, the article, based on a half century of research by E. Paul Torrance and others, raises concerns about the creative competency and competitiveness of our workforce.  Historically, Torrance’s creativity index has been a good predictor of young people’s creative accomplishments as adults, and after many years of seeing the creativity index rise in the U.S., it is now on the decline.  This is bad news for business, as a highly creative workforce helps us to be competitive in world markets. According to Newsweek, this decline may have reached crisis proportions.

The article makes me wonder about the basis for such conventional creativity tests designed 50 years ago.  These tests most likely do not measure digital forms of creativity (e.g., re-mixing and sampling music, electronic “curating” of photo albums) that are currently such a large part of the creative life of young people.  Could it be that their innate creativity is simply utilizing new tools and being expressed in unconventional forms?  I have always tested high on traditional creativity tests but my seven-year-old grandson is far more creative when it comes to digital activities.

The overall message of this article is one we can all agree on: there is a need for a different kind of educational approach in this country that is not solely controlled by standardized tests and strict curricula, but rather is based on identifying and solving problems with a hands-on approach, and is available for everyone.


Creative Cultures

January 14th, 2010

Fred Starr is one of those rare Renaissance men who is a profound thinker on many topics, an active musician, and a man of the world.  Formerly President of Oberlin College and of the Aspen Institute, he gave one of the great speeches to a gathering of the League of American Orchestras some years ago diagnosing the problems of the field. He also chaired the Advisory Committee for the Knight Foundation’s ten-year initiative to assist symphony orchestras.  Currently, he is chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International. Whenever he writes something, I know it will be interesting. One of his latest pieces discusses Central Asia from the 9th to 12th centuries – a period of time in which the region was the focal point of science, art and philosophy. For those who worry about whether the United States of the 21st century can retain its dominance as a center of creativity and innovation, this article is a great read.  No society can expect to hold a dominant position forever, he argues, but, based on the experience of Central Asia, there are many forces that can influence the rise and fall of a creative culture.  In this time of simplistic formulations and prescriptions for fostering a creative workforce, it is refreshing to have the long view.


One of the things I love about assessing an initiative is hearing stories that, taken together, offer up a richly textured and meaningful narrative. One I encountered recently speaks volumes about the lifelong impact that studies are likely to have when kids are given opportunities to be creative. In this case, two Minnesota seventh graders were asked to come up with a project for National History Day – a contest conducted by the University of Maryland in which a half million participate annually. The topic: triumph and tragedy. Having learned from her older sister’s fiancé, a history buff stationed in Okinawa, that the U.S. rounded up and interned Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, Michelle Reed was stunned and invited her friend Carly Gutzmann to find out why. Alert to their own contemporary environment, the two recognized immediately it as a “huge act of profiling” and were appalled that no one seemed to know about it. After doing a year’s worth of primary research they produced a documentary. But they also spawned an amazing chain reaction in deciding to make an origami paper “crane” to honor each of the 120,313 incarcerated. You can read more about the girls’ efforts here and here and get a sense of their peer’s creativity here. The lesson learned? “It’s all about not being a bystander,” says Michelle.

Creative Communities

January 23rd, 2009

On January 11th at the annual conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Syracuse University, gave a fantastic speech about how presenters, universities, and communities can work together to achieve a higher purpose of creativity. Her remarks punctuated a gathering of grantees and other presenters who are involved in the Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and administered by Arts Presenters. WolfBrown is evaluating the initiative. Cantor sees new possibilities for interconnecting people, programs, ideas, and spaces through the arts. I was particularly interested to hear of the giant outdoor video screen that has been installed on the exterior of an old furniture warehouse in Syracuse, which will be illuminated from nightfall to 11:00 p.m. every night of the year to showcase videos made by artists, students, and community members. The overarching idea is a radical redefinition of the role of the arts presenter, from a booker of touring artists and attractions to a catalyst for creative development.

When and Where is Creativity?

January 9th, 2009

There is a spate of new books that suggest that we re-think what we mean by creativity. Malcolm Gladwell’s volume, Outliers: The Story of Success, points to the environmental elements – family, opportunity, and luck – that determine whether a person’s raw talent can turn into realized creativity. Sparks by Peter Benson speaks to engaging the hidden talents in all teenagers – out of the conviction that there are many forms of talent and creativity that go unrecognized. Finally, Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element describes how people who have located the passion for creativity within themselves can frequently unlock it in others. Each one raises important questions about the role that arts and cultural organizations could play in breaking down the stubborn correlation between a young person’s wealth, class, and access and the likelihood that her gifts will be discovered and cultivated.

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © WolfBrown: On Our Minds. All rights reserved.