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Mark Sheridan Rabideau

Assistant Professor of Music, University of Wyoming
Fellow, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Executive Director, Artists Now
Posted 3.1.2008


You've made a name for yourself through your work in creativity education, creativity pedagogy and social entrepreneurship. Can you describe how you view creativity in the context of music and the Arts in higher education?

The challenge for higher education today is to create a pedagogical model that prepares our students to think of themselves as “change agents” –
individuals who pay attention to the world around them and think creatively and collaboratively in order to develop innovative solutions. What artists and musicians bring to the conversation is a deep awareness that creativity emerges from tenacity and resilience in the face of difficulty and disappointment. My contribution is to try to unite these two experiences of creativity in the interests of pursuing concrete projects that improve the social good. In pursuing this project, I have found myself relying not only on the insights of artists and educators, but also entrepreneurs and inventors.

I am currently in the initial stages of a long-term collaborative project with Richard E. Miller, Chair and Professor of English and Paul D. Hammond, Director of Digital Initiatives, both of Rutgers University. Our overriding goal is to be at the front of the transformation of the Arts and Humanities in the 21st century, which we see as involving the repositioning of creativity, curiosity and collaboration at the center of public education.

What can higher ed do to nurture the creative process in students and faculty in the context of Arts training? How is the structure of Arts training in America both helping and hurting the creative output of students?

I am optimistic about the future of Arts education, because I know that the work that needs to be done can be done. Currently, like most degree programs within the academy, the Arts are increasingly professionalized. Students are given a limited range of career trajectories and are funneled through curricula that keep them busy/dizzy enough that there really isn’t time to think bigger thoughts, let alone explore a career path that would bring together their own unique talents.

I think if those of us active today within the teaching of the Arts were to be honest about the percentage of time we spend overtly teaching our students about the creative process, we would find ourselves longing for a new model.

Most serious research on creativity is conducted either by cognitive psychologists who trace the arc of the creative process, but do not offer recommendations toward teaching us how to think and act more creatively, or by business scholars who research the leadership aspect of fostering creativity, but do not teach us to be more creative in our own work. Teaching individuals to be more creative, with a focus on serving the social good, is the contribution I hope to make through my life’s work.

Can you cite an example of how you make creativity education "real" for your students?

Absolutely. I am involved in the developing a course with colleagues Richard Miller and Paul Hammond at Rutgers University called Creativity and Collaboration, which is being piloted this year as a one-credit course and is scheduled to launch as a three-credit course beginning in the Fall 2008. The pedagogy we have established for this class aims to get students to engage with the three inter-related, inter-dependent processes involved in creating, articulating and actualizing a vision.

Creating Vision

All creative projects begin by grappling with serious content in a profoundly engaged way. This defines the difference between creativity and narcissism. Out of such engagement emerges the identification of a need or gap or opportunity that best matches an individual or a team’s collective ability to create a solution (problem-finding).

The serious content we had our students engage with during the first half of this semester all related, in some fundamental way, with Black History Month. This content included a series of events the students were to attend, as well as self-directed research projects online to collect a broad array of digital materials that could then, collaboratively, be re-mixed as a visual essay that engaged some aspect of the challenges Americans face on the fortieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Thus, we’ve had our students attend lectures and artistic presentations reflecting on these matters, some of which argued for compassion and hope and the relevance today of figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King and others of which sought to place King’s “I have a dream” speech within the context of our current history in the making – the inevitability of having either a woman or black Democratic nominee for the presidency of the United States.

Engaging seriously with this material challenges both students and teachers alike to fashion a vision of the best way to proceed.

Articulating Vision

We create collaborative opportunities for Rutgers students to articulate their own ideas through the resources of the
Writers House ) – a new media space that facilitates the articulation of creative thought through multi-media composition, involving sound and music, moving and still pictures, prose and spoken word.

At this point in the course, we’ve created a prompt for our students that models how serious content can come to life within this
creative, collaborative environment

This video prompt is meant to provide the students with a model for the essence of creative multi-media composition—connection. Here, in collaboration, the instructors for the course have drawn together common materials in the course—a lecture provided by Clem Price, a distinguished history professor at Rutgers, music by Beatrice Reagan, who lectured at Rutgers during Black History Month, a selection of King’s “I have a dream” speech referenced in Price’s lecture—to create a prompt to which the students must compose a response. In this context, then, the articulation of vision comes about through overlapping acts of connection—between word and image, image and sound, idea and structure.

We’ll know in a month or so how the collaborative teams in the course respond to this prompt. At this point, we’ve worked to get them to engage seriously with serious material and we’ve helped them to see that making connections between instances within that material leads to the articulation of a position or a vision that can, in turn, be explored by being tested out in practice.

Actualizing Vision

At the same time that we had our students in New Jersey embarking upon this project, we simultaneously organized outreach into public schools in Highland Park, New Jersey and Laramie, Wyoming. The contrast of geographic and demographic profiles between the communities in which I hold my dual academic appointments provides endless opportunities for cross-institutional collaborations. Rutgers University is located in the Northeast Corridor and the most densely populated part of the United States, as where the University of Wyoming is located on the frontier and with fewer residents statewide than the county in which Rutgers is situated.

In Highland Park jazz legend Dr. Eddie Henderson and renowned poet Dr. Evie Shockley, in a Meet-the-Artist performance, collaborated on the topic of Exploring Creativity in Time and Place: The Harlem Renaissance. This community event not only provided the opportunity for residents to witness two acclaimed artists crossing traditional boundaries of genre to help better explain the African-American experience, but also raised more than $7,000 to bolster the libraries African-American holdings amidst a recent budget shortfall.

In Laramie we worked with kindergarten and first-grade teachers to help their students write their own “I have a dream” speeches. Digitally captured, these speeches served as part of a larger event within the school’s celebration of Black History Month; bringing together in one space music, new media presentations and poetry from the Harlem Renaissance.

Creative ideas always gel and come off without a hitch when they’re just ideas. To bring creative thought into the world is entirely something else. The projects that I engage in with my students must always take shape in the world – a world that presents obstacles that must be overcome along the way, a world that by definition is attracted to the ordinary and less comfortable with the extraordinary.

What students learn while actualizing their ideas, on any scale, is that failure is an inevitable consequence of the act of invention, that tenacity and resilience are required throughout the process, and that the world can be changed in ways big and small.

While the Black History Month project is taking place within the context of a one-credit pilot course, I have had students in three-credit courses author successfully funded grants that, for example, resulted in the construction of a digital recording studio; the invention of an arts organization that has continued to thrive 5-years later with an annual budget of 80K; and launched a campus record label that produced a full length CD each semester for nearly three years. What this demonstrates is that giving students access to the moment of invention can be channeled in ways that results in transformative consequences for the students themselves and the communities to which they belong.

How do we develop metrics for creativity education?

Let me begin by saying that assessment assumes that failure is less than a learning experience, that we should only test students on what we and they know they can do, and that rubrics developed prior to ever meeting a student can capture the level of curiosity they bring to a class. I imagine you can guess where I stand on assessment, rubrics, and teaching-to-the-test in our "Leave No Bubble-Test Behind Age."

What I want to see is real impact. I believe that the classroom needs to be transformed into a space that allows students to grapple with intellectual content as they actively participate in the generation of local solutions to the social problems that are already defining the future into which they will graduate. By getting students to embrace the creativity of both the artist and the entrepreneur, we are preparing to empower them to meet the challenges of our day – and to see themselves as players who can change the world for the better.

My metrics have been the relationships I have had with students that continue long beyond bells ringing and feet shuffling, grades electronically being submitted and the bemoaning of the same. So, for me, I define success as movement beyond the boundaries of the classroom and into the timeless realm of doing good. Let me provide an example.

In the fall of 2005, within the context of an arts administration class I was teaching at Millersville University in Lancaster, PA, I challenged students to identify a need, gap or opportunity and then articulate and actualize a creative solution. One collaborative team decided they wanted to work on behalf of NYC jazz artist John Farnsworth. John is a brilliant musician who has enjoyed enormous success within the city, but like so many other artists wants to extend his reach nationally. So students from this regional teaching institution collaborated with a commercial radio station (Smooth Jazz 92.7), an upper-westside jazz club, and some of the most accomplished jazz artists of our day to produce Live from Smoke-- a radio show that aired to more than a quarter-million Central Pennsylvania residents each week. While the planning for these projects occurred during the course, the realization of each one of these projects occurred during the spring after the course had been completed, when the students were beyond the reach of the grading system and when there were no credits to be gained from the experience.

The students were so engaged in the experience of making a difference they approached me the following fall with a plan to produce a CD that would capture some of the most exciting moments from the three-show series. Live from Smoke: Monday Nights with John Farnsworth was released in 2006 and features among its credits jazz legend Dr. Eddie Henderson, Joe Farnsworth, arguably the greatest living drummer, and former Art Blakey music director and trombonist Frank Lacy.

Amazingly, the students were not yet done with wringing all they could from this experience of creating collaboratively. The next project, The World is a Classroom: A social entrepreneurial pedagogy for the digital-age, is a documentary, not about the project, but rather about the educational process itself. The documentary articulates not what the students did, but how they did it. Students were here investing in their own educational experience.

The World is a Classroom went on to win First Prize for Promotional Videos in the National Broadcast Society’s Freedom States Competition (currently in the national finals).

I encourage your readers to view the documentary on YouTube in its 32-minute, full-length version to better understand the depth and breadth of this undertaking.

Part I Part II Part III Part IV

Social Entrepreneurship is a recent concept. Can you describe your view of the term?

As The World is a Classroom argues, entrepreneurs see needs, gaps and opportunities and invent creative solutions for financial gain. Social entrepreneurs are similarly focused, but they see needs, gaps and opportunities and invent creative solutions with the goal of increasing the social good.

What our cross-institutional collaborative team is seeking is to build on its early success with developing an Arts and Humanities-based social entrepreneurial pedagogy. The goal of this pedagogy is to inspire undergraduates to move beyond the act of acknowledging the existence of social problems and on to the pursuit of viable solutions, however partial, to those same problems. As we conceive it, this pedagogy embraces the civic-mindedness of service-learning, the high intellectual and performance standards of the academic community, and the open-ended creative energy of the entrepreneur, the inventor, and the artist.

We believe the Arts and the Humanities can be transformed into a space for providing undergraduates with direct access to the creative side of problem-solving and thus how to lay the foundation for an entrepreneurial relationship to the future.

Have you worked with students on a social entrepreneurship project?

Yes, however, primarily, but not exclusively, through the Arts. And in my work I have experienced some of the most remarkable moments of success and endured some of the greatest disappointments of my teaching career. I vividly remember contacting a colleague during an early effort to enact a social entrepreneurial pedagogy, a course that was failing desperately, and when I asked him to help me understand why a particular group of students seemed to be so uninterested in changing the world, he simply replied, “so what you now know is that some people really do just want to work the cash register.” This comment both softened the pain I took on, as I embraced full responsibility for my students’ failure to respond to what must have been ineffective teaching, and taught me that students need to not only learn that they can change the world, but that they need to embrace the compassion it takes to care to do so.

How can social entrepreneurship ideals/actions inform arts entrepreneurship education, and do you see this as important to arts entrepreneurship education in the future?

Arts entrepreneurship is essential in preparing the next generation of innovative thinkers within the Arts and is a pedagogical model, independent of others, that will play an ever-increasing role in the future of education; primarily because the field needs to respond to contemporary economic and cultural realities. I think those within the profession who are skeptical of this fact need to simply listen to some of their students talk about the anxiety they experience when envisioning what the profession holds for their future.

I grew-up wanting to play trombone in the Chicago Symphony. Can you imagine how many other kids playing the trombone had the same dream? I practiced, went to a terrific undergraduate program, and then went on to study with Frank Crisafuli, trombonist with the CSO for 50 years. During my first year of study with Mr. Crisafuli he retired and a young man from Australia won my job. Because I of my singular focus on performing with that orchestra I was presented with a difficult question: Was I planning to wait another 50 years before I began living my dream?

So why was my dream so narrow if the Arts, by definition, are about seeing possibilities? And what can we do within the academy to prepare today’s students to think more broadly about what possibilities lie ahead and the role they will play in the invention of their own hopeful future?

I address these questions in a recent article within the International Trombone Association Journal (January 2008/Vol. 36 Number 1)

"What is important to remember for those of us devoted to the arts and human expression, as well as preparing the next generation for its role in the invention of a better world, is that we must have a voice in shaping this future.

Institutions [that] accept the daunting responsibility of preserving the significance of the past also struggle with recognizing the relevance of the present. This idea has particular significance for those among us preparing emerging musicians for a market that is dramatically different today than it was 20-30 years ago. There is a profession-wide scare in the decline of orchestras, university tenure track positions continue to become converted to adjunct lectureships, and even the once powerful record industry’s world’s end is portrayed in an apocalyptic view of the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine (June 2007). So the question presents itself: When will the music profession begin taking responsibility for preparing future music professionals for the world in which they will live and work?"

Artists rely on artistic expression to share the most profound ideas. So to address my optimism about the future, I offer your readers the following poem and brief documentary, both featuring the ideas of my colleague Richard E. Miller. Worlds End opens his celebrated creative non-fiction work, Writing at the End of the World (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005). It also serves as the title for a recent talk portraying a hopeful future for the Arts and Humanities and the role creativity and the entrepreneurial-mindset will play.

Worlds End

It is the end of the world.
And the work that lies ahead will involve,
as it always has and always will,
from moment to moment,
the building of new worlds.
Worlds end.
And worlds begin.

How do we bring the social entrepreneurship ideal into arts training?

I love this question. At the nexus of the social entrepreneur and the artist is the shared goal of innovation. For the social entrepreneur, that innovation moves an idea forward where others have failed, creating entities for sustainable social good. As where artists seek to articulate ideas that are unable to be fully understood outside of the artistic realm, ushering beauty into the world. It is this intersection between social entrepreneurs and artists that has served as the impetuous for the launch a two-year investigation into the role creativity plays within the academy.

Seeking to reposition creativity at the center of 21st century education, a cross-institutional group of scholars are engaging in an interdisciplinary dialogue carried out during a four-conference series. “Creativity, Curiosity and Collaboration” will feature a continuing dialogue lead by keynote speaker Richard E. Miller - Chair, Department of English, Rutgers University, and author of As if Learning Mattered: Reforming Higher Education (Cornell University Press, 1998) and Writing at the End of the World (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005).

In response to an educational system that is increasingly assessed with rubrics and tallied on bubble sheets, the series engages institutions of higher-learning from diverse perspectives – Millersville University, a teaching institution in rural Pennsylvania; University of Wyoming, a research intensive university on the frontier; and Rutgers University, a Carnegie I research university in the Northeast Corridor – to re-envision the future of public education. Among the outcomes of this dialogue will be a digital textbook, Doing Good, co-authored by Paul D. Hammond, Richard E. Miller and myself.

I am hopeful that among the many outcomes, this dialogue will generate language that better serves educators when articulating the role of the Arts within the broader context of education; language that circumvents default comparisons to other academic subjects – particularly math and the sciences; and language that embraces the belief that the Arts serve as a connection to the interiority of the mind and foster a better understanding of the human condition.

Artistic expression begins with the ability to identify the extraordinary and move through the creative process to usher beauty into the world, positioning creativity and beauty as the seeds of hope. Simply reading the newspaper provides ample argument that there has never been a more compelling moment to foster creativity, beauty, and hope.

The Future is Now, a presentation created by Paul Hammond, was delivered to the Board of Governors, Rutgers University and speaks to the role creativity will play in “building towards a larger vision that involves re-imaging the Humanities for the 21st century”. This presentation posits, “the real function of the Humanities is to engage in the act of creativity, moment by moment, to improve the quality of the world we live in”.