Sunday, July 4, 2010

On the Importance of Creativity

People forget how creative they are. So many times, I've heard colleagues say, "I'm not very creative. The creative people are the artists." I don't believe that for a second. I think that Arts Administrators are some of the most creative, resourceful people I've ever met and I believe that's why we are all drawn to the work we do. It's not just about being close to the creativity that makes Art, it's about working in a field that honours that creativity and allows us to think and work creatively to facilitate it.

However, I don't feel that this creativity is limited to those involved in the Arts, in either the artistic or the administrative aspects. In order to fulfill ourselves as human beings and in order for our societies to reach their full potential, we must engage with our inherent creativity. I have no proof that creativity is innate, but I'm sure that, to an extent, it very definitely is. The Arts are the most obviously creative activities of our civilization, but the Arts also serve the very important role of engaging people with their creativity and inspiring them to use that creativity in other facets of their lives. It is by this means that we progress as a society, that we develop flexibility of mind and open new doors. Thus, while the Arts are often the result of creative thought and activity, they are also the catalyst for it in the wider society.

One of the most interesting ways of exploring the Arts and creativity in a broader context that I have seen is the recent symposium in Pécs (pronounced "Pech", with a hard "ch"), Hungary. At this symposium in one of Europe's current Cultural Capitals, artists and mathematicians gathered to discover the artistic aspects of mathematics and the mathematical aspects of art. From what I understand, it has been a great success and an eye-opening experience for all who attended. And this isn't the first time such a gathering has taken place. In 2009, a similar symposium was held at the Banff Centre for the Arts.

Mathematicians aren't people we would normally assume to be creative and yet, a mathematician's capacity for abstract, creative thought can be very similar to that of an artist. And we know that math is not the only discipline where this kind of creativity thrives. Creativity is inherent not only in academia, but can be used, as we know and as many a scholar has said, in every part of our existence.

So why are the Arts - the clearest outlet we have for creativity - still thought of by many as an "extra", as something that isn't essential to people's lives? My theory is that it is because people have yet to connect with their own creativity - even us Arts Administrators, sometimes. I'm not sure how to solve that problem, but I do know that engaging people with the Arts through all of the innovative and creative things that our organizations do, including exhibitions, performances, pre-performance talks, student matinees and in-school presentations, artist in residence programs, and so on, is definitely the way we have to start.

Time for Art; Time to be Creative

Like all of us, I struggle with time - or rather feeling like there isn't enough of it. Perhaps that's why I'm a big fan of Carl Honore. His book, In Praise of Slow, affirms so many things I believe in, and primarily the concept that things need to happen at their own right speed. Sometimes that means that we need to slow down, to give ourselves time to think things through and to be in the moment. More often, it might mean that we need to try to jam less "stuff", fewer things to do, into the time we have. This sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, but the attempt can teach us much.

I believe that working with and around Artists can also teach us a lot about "slow". While it's often necessary to create Art in a short time span, we as Administrators don't hesitate to do our very best to give Art the focus and time it deserves: think of the making of a piece of visual art, or the writing of a book or play. Even when there isn't as much time as we want for creation (the two week rehearsal period, the short deadline, the one rehearsal with the conductor before the first concert or performance), one thing we almost always manage to ensure is a place to focus and at least try to let things happen at there own right speed. When I am privileged enough to observe a rehearsal, I am always impressed by the focus that envelops the room. That room becomes a place where little else exists and the most important thing is what is going on in that space at that moment.

I think that this can happen from time to time for us as administrators as well. It isn't always possible with telephones ringing and other staff members needing to speak to us and constant e-mail, etc. But sometimes, I can get swept up in making a good case for a grant or report, or formulating a detailed strategy, or completing an analysis that turns my previous thought on something on its head. I believe this happens when I need to be creative and when I can access an atmosphere that allows me the time and space to focus (yes, it's true, grant writing can be creative - in the good way that produces original thought). It is this space to focus that can allow our offices to become places where we can carve out space without interruption and - for a time - nothing exists but the Art. Is it possible to achieve this in our harried lives when things move so fast, the demands are so constant, and the resources so scarce? Perhaps not all the time, but I will argue that in some circumstances, it's actually more efficient to turn everything off, shut the door if we can, and just focus. If nothing else, we are then trying to make the best conditions we can for all of us - Administrators and Artists - to create the best Art that we can.