Let’s Get Creative Alberta

This is a blog about creativity. It’s about what makes us tick, and what could very possibly make us – all of us – amazing.

But I have a considerable back story. It’s everything that has led to this point, how it has shaped, led, and ultimately taken me on this journey I’ve embarked on: for myself, my family, my kids (your kids too), and, selfishly, my little corner of the world – which, much like Columbus discovered (actually he never really did, but more on that later…) that there are no corners of the world. No corners, no straight lines, no boundaries. None.

So bear with me on the back story to the actual journey which began one year ago today. I’ll try to offer it in small-ish bites, after this initial, inaugural introductory blog (aka – long)

IT BEGINS

My daughter was diagnosed with autism the same week my mother was diagnosed with alzheimers.

Armed with computer and some pretty considerable research skills, I started my journey to find out not so much the ‘what’, but the ‘now what’.  And guess what: it’s not exactly charted territory – again with the Columbus analogy.

What I did find though were some substantial insights and research by some pretty significant players, including Dr. Oliver Sacks (Awakenings).  His latest publication Musicophilia was the one that hit home hardest. And I could relate – being a musician – to the explanations about not just how, but why brains tick the way they do, especially – here’s the kicker – on music. (For a great demo, take a look at this video featuring Bobby McFerrin: Science/Creativity:our brain on both. Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale http://youtu.be/Hodp2esSV9E)

Now (with the sole intention of shortening the tale as much as possible without losing the gist, and most definitely not espousing a cure for either autism or alzheimers): My daughter, now 9,  is a straight-A student with a kajillion friends, and truly an amazing musical talent – as I write this I’m serenaded through the closed door by a frighteningly accurate impression of the Jennifer Hudson ‘Dreamgirls’ tune.

As for my mother – she may not always recognize her four daughters, and she may mistake her purse for a cat, but she remembers every single word and note of the Norwegian National Anthem (in Norwegian), and some pretty obscure Freddy Fender tunes as well.

I discovered first-hand that there is definitely something to this “artistic, or “creativity” stuff as I struggle to define it.

ENTER THE STATS

Autism and Alzheimer’s are extreme cases – neatly packaged in a way by their diagnosis.  And, I’ve discovered, to receive a diagnosis of anything is often the only starting point to a path of wellness, or, at the least, coping.

What about a bunch of symptoms that receive no diagnosis at all? Or, worse yet, are denied or ignored by virtually every ‘authoritative’ voice, perhaps by the only ones who have it within their influence to do something about it.

(Tangent: At this point I am reminded of our province’s oh-so-childish denial of any “scientific” findings of the ecological damage from the oil field mining on the Athabasca river, which if it continues, we may have to re-name De Nile; definitely not just a river in Egypt…)

THE TIPPING POINT

Here’s a question: If you found out that 35% (or, more likely closer to 50%) of the entire population of your province would receive the diagnosis of autism or alzheimers (or virtually any other possible pathology), would that concern you?

Give this some thought, I’m not intending to be flip here. I’m not asking if you’d jump off the couch to ‘do’ something about it – this is not a call to action – this is to honestly gauge your rate of unsettled-ness.

Now, if we spin it another way, how would it rate if you found out that, conservatively, 35% of this province’s youth will not graduate high school? Probably somewhere between ‘somewhat disconcerting’ and ‘outrageously unacceptable’ I’d predict.  And what if you found out that these statistics were intentionally skewed to appear lessconcerning’ than they actually are?  If you knew that the 35% figure was derived not from the standard 3-year high school completion plan, but increased to a 5-year standard (grade 10, 11, 12, 12, 12…?) and, that it only started counting the students once they began grade 10.  This means that we don’t even count a single student who drops out of school after grade 9. These numbers are considerable, and mighty unbalanced (more on this later).

Concerned yet?  Here’s some quick math: Each year our province sees around 60,000 students enter grade 10. And if I went in and told each class that 35% of them had no hope in hell of finishing high school, that would make 21,000 people every year who do not, will not have a basic high school education.  Would they believe me? Because it’s the truth.

More math: that’s 210,000 every decade. That’s 420,000 more adults out there (I really don’t know how many there are currently – and it doesn’t look promising that our federal census will help me out here…) by the time I retire.  A half-million more people in my province who will in some way impact some aspect of my life in its later stages (read: when I’m most dependent on them). And yours – unless you plan on heading south for retirement (I toy with the idea myself), which would be even worse.  Because, get this – here’s the kicker – we (Alberta) have the second best educational system in the world. Yup. Like an amusing Monty Python song, we’re second only to Finland.

But wait, there’s more: that’s only the students who don’t graduate. By this point in my life I have learned that it’s seldom black/white with these issues. There is a huge swath of student population out there who fall somewhere in between.  Ever-so-slightly higher than dropping out. These are the disengaged, disinterested, disconnected, disillusioned youth who make up much of the rest of the entire student population.

(And, if you are actually concerned by now, I invite you to have a look at this petition. Sometimes a signature is the most powerful agent: http://www.gopetition.com/online/35101.html )

I’m concerned. And not only about how my retirement is going to shape up to be, but because we (our province) seems to be squandering the most amazing natural resource of all: people. And until we start behaving like this is a precious, prized commodity (though I’m not entirely comfortable defining humans this way), we will lose. And we will lose big.

BACK TO THE JOURNEY

When I reduced it to a question of ‘how do we then try to engage students’, it became much more chewable.  This was the easy part – so I thought. Because many have been bringing this exact question to the international spotlight: Sir Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink, Seth Godin, Mihaly Czikzentmihalyi, the voices of TEDtalks, and many many people who “get it”, as I’ve now begun to categorize people.

So with these inspired and motivating voices, I’ve made it my (as yet unpaid but all-consuming) job to see what I can do to help.

And, much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I’ve encountered and gathered many like-minded peeps along the way. These peeps have become my mentors, friends, and fellow troops with whom the bond has become like brothers-in-arms (and, yes, there are still considerably more ‘brothers’ than ‘sisters’, much to my husband’s chagrin…). Educators, administrators, political consultants, social policy influentials, artists, media members, and politicians, even a senator or two – it really is heady company, and I am honored to be their ‘Dorothy’, and we’re calling ourselves Creative Alberta.

And this contingent of Creative adventurers will be traveling to Oklahoma City this November, for the 2010 Creativity World Forum (http://stateofcreativity.com/), an international convention where, among other things, the 12 International Districts of Creativity convene (these districts include Flanders, Catalonia, China, France, Scotland, Germany, India, Finland, and Italy) and discuss best practices in Commerce, Education, and Culture throughout the world.  Of course, all those involved in bringing the ‘Creativity’ issue to the international spotlight will be speaking: Sir Ken, Dan Pink, Carol Coletta, David Edwards, and more – the list is impressive.

Oklahoma City is the only North American city to be designated one of the International Districts of Creativity – and, guess what – they are inviting our Alberta contingent to meet and discuss the possibility of becoming the next North American District of Creativity.

And maybe, with the strength of this global perspective, we can begin to address all kinds of challenges we face here in our own “corner of the world”, and obliterate the notion of corners, borders, and boundaries, and bring it all back to the more than 35% of our at-risk kids, and the other 65% who just plain need it.

Thanks for reading – I’ll continue blogging on the various and marvelous initiatives in place right now, including some amazing Alberta schools where we’re implementing an Arts Integration pilot, some specific programs within these schools, and the insightful people in our own land who are enabling and empowering these Creative shifts. (I name names!) TO BE CONTINUED

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About HaleySimons

I am a musician, educator, and co-founder/director of 'Creative Alberta'; an initiative to establish Alberta as a world-renowned center of creativity in commerce, culture, and education.
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6 Responses to Let’s Get Creative Alberta

  1. Will says:

    Wow, I listened to you on You Tube.

    Being an envious “UN-creative” I don’t actually understand what I’m missing. All I know is that I am missing something in my life. It’s also difficult to know that artistic creativity is something my kids aren’t getting in our home. We simply work too hard at the means to stay alive. All around me I see this value that work and stoicism are values to maintain. Expression through music and poetry and prose is “weak.”

    That attitude makes me feel a bit empty and lonely inside… especially because I can’t do much to change it. I’m stuck in a community of labouring, hockey-playing folks who somehow cannot break free of an old grip of Calvinism (or something).

    I’m glad you are doing what you are doing.

    Thanks.

  2. Peter says:

    Haley, this is an interesting blog and I will be following it with interest. I’m an active musician and keenly interested in the District of Creativity idea for Edmonton (or even Alberta). I’m also a working stiff (so I can support my music habit) who’s not too many years away from retirement. Once that happens, I will be able to put some serious time into a worthwhile project. I would love to get involved with this endeavour in whatever modest way there might be for me to make a contribution. Best wishes!

    • HaleySimons says:

      Peter, thank you for this. I am flattered and honored by your interest, and I look forward to your future involvement with Creative Alberta in whatever capacity we would be fortunate enough to have you.

  3. Pingback: Dr. Haley Simons challenges notion that music, dance & painting a waste of time | ArtRubicon Visual Arts Magazine

  4. David says:

    Sadly the “hard subject” point of view is rampant… closely related to “back to basics”.
    http://www.photolife.com/blog/?p=2265#more-2265

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