A Culture of Creativity

January 31, 2013

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Here we are….on the last day of the first month of the New Year.  The month of January connotes new beginnings and a fresh start.  It is also designated as International Creativity Month—a time to remind individuals and organizations around the globe to capitalize on the power of creativity, which many of us believe to be vital for our personal and professional success in this age of accelerating change.  January is a time in our collective psyche when we universally resolve to make positive changes in our lives, in our workplaces, and in our communities.  It is the great “do-over month” when we draw a new self-portrait and give ourselves permission to create healthier, more sustainable habits.  Our imaginations are chock-full of infinite possibilities, and these ideas activate our creative capacities, which in turn, puts into motion actions that manifest the new portrait.  It is a powerful, transcendent truth and every human being has the capacity to excel in this arena.

In recognition of International Creativity Month and in celebration of our imaginations and inherent capacity for creativity, the Dodge Foundation asked its monthly bloggers to share our insights into how creativity intersects with our professions.  Our readers know that our regular bloggers represent diverse fields including sustainability, the arts, education, media and journalism, the environment, poetry, philanthropy, nonprofit best practices, cross-sector collaborations and creativity.  Each month, my fellow bloggers share their insights and opinions on a host of issues, and I am consistently grateful to them for enlightening my world view.

This month, I’m especially excited to read their essays detailing how creativity intersects with their work.  For those of us at Creative New Jersey, we are keenly interested in learning how organizations, schools and communities can become stronger, resilient, and more sustainable by embracing creativity.  And while creativity might mean something different to each one of us, I do see some common themes emerging from this month’s posts.  Generally speaking, I think we all agree with the definition put forth by Dodge Program Officer Wendy Liscow in her Celebrate the New Year with Creativity post:

Personally, I believe that thinking and working creatively changes the conversation, and I am hopeful that collectively we can begin to define what a Culture of Creativity looks like for New Jersey.

As I reflect upon this month’s essays, the idea of embracing the unknown emerges as an essential component of creativity.  Debbie Galant writes about “jumping into the unknown” in her post, It’s Time for Journalists To Learn Math which defines the burgeoning concept of data journalism and the recent conference HackJersey.  Rachael Faillace spoke of the “blank agenda” in her post about the recent Creative Rahway: Call to Collaboration.  And Allison Trimarco tells us that “familiarity with the status-quo can be a creativity killer” in her post, Does Structure Inspire Creativity?

In Wendy Liscow’s second January post Philanthropy and Prometheus, she reminds us of the two life enhancing gifts from Prometheus:  fire and blind hope, the second of which describes optimism in the face of the unknown.   And she elaborates on the Creative Leadership Teams being established in some of New Jersey’s schools.  “These teams are working to establish cross-discipline teacher collaborations and generate student learning opportunities that require critical thinking, creativity, and analytical skills.  The schools have some terrific “What ifs…” including:  What if teachers and children felt empowered to make mistakes, make adjustments and try again?  What if teachers and students didn’t search for single answers but instead explored complex problems that didn’t have predictable outcomes and required innovative solutions?”

Dodge Program Director Martin Farawell also shared his thoughts on the relationship between education and creativity.  He artfully unpacks for us the limitations of “teaching to the test” and describes how this is “narrowing the focus of education to questions with predictable answers”. He further states, “This ignores the most important questions we will have to answer: the ones that will determine the quality of our lives and our character.  These questions have no predetermined answers.  They are part of the unknown.  For these, we need creativity and imagination.”

A structured, decisive approach to creativity is also explored in several blogs, such as in Laura Otten’s Board Recruitment: It’s Not Just Paint By The Numbers, and Donna Drewes’ Linking the Arts and Sustainability: Creative Communities.    We learn that creativity is often intentional and that for some, it takes the form of a cross-sector approach – one that integrates diversity in order to achieve sustainable results – such as Creative Morristown and Greenable Woodbridge.

We also celebrate and explore creativity as it relates to the arts, and Ann Marie Miller’s post The Creative Edge That is NJ Arts and Lawrence McCullough’s post Sustainability and Creativity Perfect Together:  Creating AWE (an Arts from Waste Experience) reminds us that our Garden State is ripe with countless numbers of exceptional artists and arts organizations.  New Jersey’s artists and arts administrators are highly-skilled and have trained extensively throughout their careers, and the quality of life in communities throughout our state is enhanced because of their work.  By nature, artists are drawn to the exploration of the unknown, and generally speaking, they refuse to allow a fear of failure to prevent them from engaging in the act of creation.

So what have I learned from my colleagues’ blog posts this month?  Well, it’s clear that our leaders in the arts, education, sustainability, the environment, nonprofit management, and philanthropy are all embracing creativity as an essential component for achieving success; in fact, they are down-right Promethean!  They are boldly creative and imaginatively original and are using creativity to their advantage.

Creativity takes courage.  Creativity takes intention.  Creativity takes commitment.  Creativity comes naturally if we surrender to its transcendent properties.  And creativity can be a guiding force as we begin to think about rebuilding and re-imaging a better New Jersey.

Elizabeth Murphy is the Director of Creative New Jersey.  She is also currently assisting the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers with their coordination of the Post-Sandy Philanthropic Response in NJ.

Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.

Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.