Dear Will,

I’ve spent the week mulling over your comment from my last (first) blog – and I promised that my next blog (this) would be dedicated to you. And I hope I can include in that dedication everyone and anyone who has ever questioned their own ‘Creativity’ or talents, or envied those of others.

Bit of background: you and I met last fall at a convention called RebootAlberta in beautiful Kananaskis, Alberta.  There were a few hundred people there of all stripes and flavors, all gathered to discuss the future of our Province;  among them, politicians, professionals, activists, advocates, artists, and others; all passionate people, and I believe most of them self-professed ‘Cultural Creatives’.*  And you stood out with your Mack jacket and uninhibited speaking style, and I automatically, mentally plunked you into the – surprise –  ‘artist’ category.

So to hear you label yourself an “UN-creative” was, well,  surprising. And saddening.  And I don’t believe you – I’ll tell you why.

How comfortable would you feel walking into a classroom of kindergarten children in your town and randomly singling some out as ‘creative’, others ‘un-creative’?  Even if little Johnny’s stick-man was nowhere near little Chloe’s replication of the Mona Lisa, would you be able to say with 100% certainty that little Johnny was, in fact, “un-creative”?  I’m betting you’d be mighty uncomfortable with that kind of definitive label, and likely even more uncomfortable being the one doing the labelling.

So when does this happen? How do we move from the belief that all children have an innate creative capacity (a belief I will defend to the death), to the pronouncement that some of us are ‘creative’ and some of us, well, play hockey? (which, for the record, I am not proposing are mutually exclusive).  What happened to Will’s innate creative potential? Did it atrophy from disuse? Did it get teased and intimidated into hiding? I’m pretty sure it hasn’t disappeared Will, in fact I’ll bet on it. Anyone who has the chutzpah to initiate a Poetry Festival in his own hamlet of hundreds is most definitely, unabashedly, 100% ‘Creative’.

And if we’re on the same page believing that everyone has this ‘Creative’ capacity, can we not then assume that this is an innate way of thinking, being, and living?  Then, the question becomes, not “are you creative”, but “how do we as a society nurture and become stewards of our creativity”.

It’s the ‘How’ that interests me most: How can we enable this shift toward the “Conceptual Age”, as Daniel Pink has called it, and not just empower the ‘expressives’, or artists, but really tap into this gold mine of potential: our youth.

And I believe I have a pretty great starting point as suggestion.  There are entire systems of education that exist on our continent where kids are not just engaged (that should be the minimum), but enthralled by what they’re learning – get this – at school.  I can tell you stories (or, as this is the video age, show you videos) of classrooms of five-year-olds using polysyllabic “dollar words” in sentences and stories –  kids who have never even been able to read or write before – because they got to experience ‘language’ through opera – and often in languages not their own;  classrooms of junior high students enthused about physics through their work with gifted mime artists and the graphic plotting of intricate physical movements; classes of pretty cool high school kids moved to tears during their study of the Holocaust through their creation of masks portraying both victims and perpetrators.  And poetry – think of the thousands of children who will become what we value so highly in our land: ‘critical thinkers’, just by asking “what does this poem mean to you?”.

Because once we all agree on the value of ‘Creativity’, and are ready to implement these pretty strong tools of engagement in education, then, finally, we can go about the actual task of getting on with this nurturing and cultivating because, frankly, we don’t have a choice – if we want to do more than just “survive” and plod about the next few decades, creativity must become an overarching mindset for our community.

And ‘Art’, Will, becomes a choice. So the good news is that you can most definitely do something about it.  You can be the first one in your hamlet to be strong enough to be “weak” and express yourself, whether in song, or prose, or poetry, or welding, or gardening, or teaching, or inventing, or even hockey-ing. Try on that feeling.  Its the feeling of being an ‘artist’ instead of just a cog – ’cause it’s one or the other.  And your labouring neighbors may or may not go along with you for the ride, but they may surprise you – they may also be host to these”lonely” & “empty” feelings you say you’re experiencing, and may truly wish for an end to the ”’work-myself-to-death-from-morn’-till-eve-cause-that’s-the-respectable-way” cycle.

It’s all ok, as long as we can, at the end of the day, say that we’ve done our best to not only not extinguish any of these pretty fragile sparks (as you can attest to), but that we’ve actually ‘created’ (there’s that word again) an environment where they are first assumed to exist, and then nurtured.

Your kids won’t have to “get” – like a daily dose – any artistic creativity in your home, because they’ll know they are the artistic creativity in your home, as are you, and the fun will begin.  Permission to be creative granted.  Let them surprise you – they will.  And likely you’ll surprise yourself more.

Please keep in touch Will, and likewise I will blog next with details of some exciting new initiatives under way with our Creative Alberta Society.

*to see whether you’re a Cultural Creative: http://www.cambridgestrategies.com/index.php/cultural-creatives

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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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7 Responses to Dear Will,

  1. Will says:

    Haley,

    Well… this year our poetry gathering will be rather smaller than I wanted… but it’s still happening within our library group. After putting on two speakers this spring and summer… I just ran out of juice.

    Thanks for the permission to create. You have me wondering myself, now… why I think that way about myself… and how and when it happened.

    Maybe Ken Chapman will let me do a poem at reboot… now that I have permission to be creative. It would be like a coming out.

  2. Rob says:

    Haley:
    First…let me wish you well on the blog.

    What you’re describing in your first two postings is much like what my two boys get in the York Region School Board at a special program called Arts@Baythorn.

    Arts@Baythorn provides an enriched, Ontario curriculum-adherent, integrated arts education. It is not a performing arts program; rather, it teaches by integrating music, dance, drama and visual arts into every subject . Its teachers are among the best in Toronto, its programs are assessed by other educators as equivalent or better than the Board’s gifted programming, and its graduates do extremely well when they move on to secondary school and university.

    Here’s a link…http://www.baythorn.ps.yrdsb.edu.on.ca/arts-program.htm

    With cousin-ish love and respect (as the boys would say)

    • HaleySimons says:

      Rob – Thanks for your well-wishes. (And perhaps I should include a caveat that since neither of us is from rural Appalachia, the “cousin-ish love” reference is completely kosher.) I look forward to hearing more about Baythorn, am thrilled to learn about it, and am inspired to provide knowledge of and access to this type of programming across the SES gamut. I am particularly impassioned about the positive effects of this type of arts-integration program on our most high-risk and vulnerable student populations and wish for its benefits to be felt by all. Would love to come visit, see everyone in action.

  3. muffinofsky says:

    Haley it was certainly exciting to read your blog, your writing is very motivational and inspiring. I am not sure where your endeavours will take you, and those you work with, but I think the important thing is to get the conversation going, and the right things will follow. Gerald

  4. Hello Hayley,

    I enjoyed your first two postings and will follow along. As a public school trustee in Edmonton, one of my priorities for 2010-13 mentions creativity — specifically, I have stated that I’d like to see “an emphasis on citizenship, creativity, critical thinking, and communication.” Practice in and encouragement for all of these areas will hold ALL students in excellent stead … for life!

    The question becomes, as you say, HOW we move that forward at an institutional/government level. At a recent meeting I talked about “three lessons learned” during my first term as trustee. Two of them were “policy making is significant” and “we pay attention to what we measure.” So, with respect to creativity, what sort of policy would set the framework and provide the direction for the Superintendent, schools and staff to create safe, happy places where kids can be creative? And how would “we” (school boards on behalf of communities and the community itself and staff) measure how we are doing in providing opportunities for creativity in classrooms/schools/homes/communities on a regular basis? Perhaps the school examples you reference above are in districts that have such policies/measures in place. Or maybe they just are… due to impassioned and CREATIVE! staff Do you know?

    Any ideas you have about being creative about policy and measures of success would be great! Thanks! Catherine

  5. brazenteacher says:

    I wish you wrote more. You are great at it. Engaging… few seem to catch my attention out there anymore. Now don’t you feel special. Kudos 🙂

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