Pushing the boat out: Creativity in the Open
Kamloops. Creativity in the Open. Out in the open. The Wilderness stretches as far as the eye can see, and there is water in the valley, snow on the distant mountains, etched clouds above, and wonderful smiles to surround us on the TRU (Thompson Rivers University) campus here in Canada. It was an opportunity to push boundaries and explore. My appetite for learning is large and this was a feast.
The convergence of beautiful surroundings, people, thought, has been magic over the past few days during the Creativity in the Open event, organised by Tanya Dorey. It has been a privilege to share so much with these people. It started as a conversation at an online meeting between academics from diverse fields – a curriculum designer, a biologist, a philosopher, and a musician. It was our ‘play-date’ where we could talk and snatch a precious few moments to know one another better than text-base interactions allow. (there’s a story connecting that meeting to the event that just happened, and that will be in the collaborative magazine Kintsugim issue coming out in about a week)
There is an inherent joy for me, in being at a place and an event where creativity is valued, welcomed, and fostered. I knew that I came bringing something that would be new for people – playing instruments and giving them the tools to make some recognisable sounds in a short space of time. Working together in different ways than the everyday desk environment provides, and using a different medium to convey creativity – sound. I would be pushing people, but there were also opportunities for people to push me.
The opening session
began with individual presentations of projects and outputs from presenters spread around the outside of a room to create a swap-shop environment with everything from 3D printing kickstarter projects to open textbooks and annotation projects to collaborative publications about learning with students to creativity in schools and using play-doh and animal imagery to give form to concepts. The offering was rich.
director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at TRU, led us in a task to unpick elements of creativity in our lives and work. She gave us a sheet with prompts, based on categories from research to help get people thinking. I was a bad student. It was interesting that being given a sheet with labels and lines (even dashed suggestions of lines) made me feel a rising heat inside me. I sat there, just near Catharine – I wasn’t aware that she was the presenter when I sat right next to her – and I couldn’t write. For me this was the start. I was not quite pushing the boat out yet, but I’d been shown the canoe and someone was handing me a paddle.
This was process. I was engaging – I found words forming inside me, but they didn’t fit the sheet we had been given. I turned my page sideways and wrote across all the boxes (typing it as my printing is pretty iffy):
Being told what to do, how to think, how to process makes me recoil. I fight it. It is when those strings loose that I am willing to engage with process, willing to dedicate the time to detail- only if I see it coming from me. Not otherwise.
I control the release of my creative output, but it is always waiting, like a spring in the ground, to come out.
I didn’t engage in the way the sheet was set out, but then the creativity we value seldom is what we expect. Otherwise it wouldn’t be creative.
was in the afternoon, and there were lovely moments. I don’t want to talk about it really- I’d rather reflect on the wider picture. I will share a moment – there weren’t enough instruments for everyone (we cleared out the local music shop completely with a dozen) and at one point Brian gave up his cello to allow Linda a chance to have a go. I handed her the instrument and she had a crash course, and in 2 minutes played us a tune. Those 2 mins from the live-streamed session are here. It is amazing what you can do when physical and mental impediments are removed from learning.
began with a virtual and live session that brought together participants form the US, UK, Europe, and those in the room.
- We began with a physical warm-up led by Sherri Spelic which was wonderful. Even Felix the dog and Alan from Arizona joined in online (Brian’s pic below). She got us moving and sweeping the tension out of our bodies and faces before moving on to some Brain Gym activities. (This is a CC licensed Brain Gym resource I give to my students to point them in the direction of learning more…). I love Sherri.
- We moved on to discussing and debating a manifesto for online teaching, and then to
- using sound as a stimulus to create words and images. My group used more sound: I recording the words of Mary and her laughter as she reacted to the audio clip, and Rajiv wrote a poem – about Coyotes and Crickets. The audio was provided by someone half a world away from me, and the way we were able to bring people together through not only different media, but in time and space was lovely. Here’s what we made:
Rajiv Jhangiani and Chirstina Hendrick’s workshop
challenged us, in small groups, to come up with words for concepts, and then individually to draw the concepts, with only 30 seconds per topic. This really distilled the understanding of imagery and concept. Our topics were help, risk, spring, permission, and power. Looking at all the different representations of each brought home commonalities, and also gave an equal voice to alternative perspectives – that are sometimes not heard amidst the ‘typical’ answer.
This segued into translating these pictorial concepts into physical representations. We were tasked with using our bodies. Rajiv asked each person in the group to come up with an action for one of the five concepts, learn one another’s ‘moves’ and then string them together into a choreographed sentence. He taught us a short sequence that acted as a top-and-tail and we worked on putting it together so we could perform it to one another. EVERYONE participated. That was so lovely.
In the early morning as we set up chairs, Rajiv was teaching me little movements, which I ate up (not saying I could do it all well, learning new cross-body coordination is a challenge for me, but oh I loved it!). It was a fun thing to do in the extra time. He taught me this little upside-downish thing that was a cross between a kick in the air and scorpion pose in yoga, but not that crazy. Learning that was a convergence for me because only the day before I was talking to Tanya’s daughter about her gymnastics and was saying how I couldn’t quite do my handstands yet – and it was about trust and balance and letting myself feel my hips over my shoulders. Rajiv did not know any of that or that I’m working that, and for me it is about permission to let go, awareness, and use my body. -So why this diversionary story about something that happened before the day started? Because as the groups got ready to do the dance moves together at the end of the workshop, he put out the chairs and said – Laura, this comes at the end. At that point the music had already begun.
I thought OH MY and YAY, and I am sure my hear-trate jumped a mile and a half with excited anticipation. It’s the difference between ‘I think I can’ and knowing ‘I will’. This was like a Royal dinner of learning for me. Here’s our 4 min dance Oh I have a lot to learn, but man was that fun.
We ended the day with a music jam led by Brian Lamb
where everyone had a chance to play with beats and loops on phones and tablets while Brian took on the role of DJ and mixed them all together. I floated in and out with cello lines while people experimented with the technology. The group would never have been so receptive if they were told to improvise a musical composition, but to be given ‘toys’, everyone wanted to play.
Throughout the Creativity in the Open event, there were opportunities to push the boat out a little further, but nobody was being thrown over the deep end. These were 2 seater (metaphoric) canoes we were in, and if you wanted an 8 seat raft, well that could be arranged too.
There was more, of course, but that would make a very long post indeed. The final Kamloops performance of Breaking Band was epic. Oh that da da da song!
I am grateful for the welcome, openness, connection, and opportunity for growth. Thank you to Tanya for having the idea of the event and organising everything, to Brian for hosting and sharing his music, to Irwin for singing with me at the pub, Jon for recording it all, and the other presenters and delegates for being such generous human beings. I now have 24 hours before I leave, and I am also grateful for the time to reflect before joining the dots from here to my own work, teaching, and life across the ocean.
(featured image taken by me on Sunday 22 Oct. 2017)