Faculty Fellow in Creativity
Department of Theatre and Dance
Wake Forest University
As professor of Creativity, how do envision your role in the Fine Arts units and Wake Forest University's campus-wide entrepreneurship efforts?
My role is one of invention, the visionaries on faculty and the administration here at Wake Forest who dreamed up the position and strategically gave it a home base in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and my own - but with equal weight in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts. The initial call was for someone with a background in the arts and creativity who had the experience and abilities to teach creativity across disciplines. Historically as a self-identified interdisciplinary artist who has taught for 20 years while pursuing her artistic, professional career with gusto and has also been an entrepreneur, this was a quality challenge! The invention piece can be attributed to several relational factors. I'm inventing my role in a position that didn't exist before I arrived in August, 2005 and the best of creative and entrepreneurial behavior is generally born of invention, or at the very least, resourceful innovation. Also, given the border crossing that occurs on a daily basis, from department to department, domain to discipline, idea to action, invention is the necessary condition of my role.
That said, the idea of constant invention can be taxing and even threatening, so the metaphor of a bridge is an apt one in further describing the complex nature of my role. I am a bridge between, not so much fine arts areas and the entrepreneurship program (now a full-fledged minor - Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise or ESE), but a bridge whose name is creativity offering vibrant connections between all the liberal arts areas and entrepreneurship. And of course, a good bridge is approached from divergent locations and is well traveled.
Can you describe the courses you teach and how they've been received by students?
I began by teaching what might be called a 'soft entrepreneurship' course, which was really conceived more as a full-on creative process exploration seminar as part of a broad First Year Seminar program. Its title is Border Crossings: Creativity in the Mix and the Margins and engages students in the study of innovative artists whose work has arisen over the past 50 years from a broad array of fine arts arenas, from contemporary opera to performance and installation art to multicultural theater practices. The key to this class has been in looking at the quality of creativity that comes from the maverick, the border crosser and the dynamic interface between previously separate art forms that merge and yield new hybrid possibilities. The young students that encounter this class are definitely coming away with a new sense of agency so far as individual, artist-like thinking goes and no doubt have never had an experience like this that enables them to not only respond to creative propositions, but to propose and even perform or execute them themselves. This is the beginning of a self-directed cultural citizen.
The other course I’ve developed is called Foundations in Creativity and Innovation and sets the stage for the new ESE minor. The following is from the course syllabus: "This course is intended to broaden the notion of what creativity is, what conditions foster it and how one can access and develop creative actions that stimulate value for self, community and society as a whole. It is an interactive seminar that reflects the spirit of creativity itself: complex, innovative, exciting, mysterious, shockingly on target and profoundly transformative. Consequently, we will attend to current creativity inquiry, research and development in a variety of ways in order to reveal the range of this vital human experience."
The focus is explicitly on process more than product, proposals instead of programmatic ventures. However, alongside the emphasis on the experiential, I foster an environment for a 'critical creativity' to unfold that sharpens critical thinking and adapts it to larger, embodied imagination processes, and depending on the student - their orientation, their particular interests - concrete projects or programs inevitably come into existence. Ultimately, I'm committed to helping the students create new ways in which to view the world and innovate ways through which to transform it; whether subtly or directly, communally or in individual strokes – there is room for every voice. I think this kind of inclusiveness, this kind of attention to process rather than programmatic results, allows the students the gift of time, of quality exploration of ideas through consciously taking on lively and rigorous forms of creativity, gets them questioning assumptions about it and most certainly offers that fruitful encounter with a diversity of ideas and approaches that are brought to the table through the interdisciplinary mix of students and course materials.
Here's a student response after having taken the first "C & I" course: "This class allowed me to grow in ways I never have in a classroom before. It was so cool to explore areas of my life, thoughts, ideas, feelings, and such that I had never had time or desire to deal with before. Your class really stirred up a lot within me, its hard to place a finger on exactly what that is, but I do know that I have a new--better--mindset after having taken the course with you. Also, I want to commend you on your professorship (is that a word? well... it’s creative!) you were so open to anything and everything without being judgmental, and the learning environment you created was awesome." And at the end of the pilot class last spring, the students presented me with an "Excellence in Entrepreneurship" award for the most creative course development, so something meaningful is getting transmitted here.
What has been the faculty response to your efforts? Are they noticing more "creative" students?
In brief, faculty response has been quite positive. While the notion of entrepreneurship is sometimes a complicated proposal as a course of study in a liberal arts environment, the idea of creativity, as investigated through research and practice, is more readily embraced. Given this, I felt the imperative to establish conditions that could provide a vehicle to discuss these issues through looking at the myriad forms of creativity. So I conceived of a cross-campus community forum called Cook It UP! - a multifaceted series of events to stimulate discourse and to promote ways in which to cultivate creative practices that would benefit individual incentives and cross-disciplinary collaborations. Central to these events is the staging of the conversation around invited WFU faculty members from divergent disciplines - Biology/Music, Chemistry/Theatre, Political Science/Physics and the most recent, a trio - Film/Philosophy/Economics (with a distinct social entrepreneurship twist), to name just some of the partnerships. As I said, these conversations are open to all students, faculty, staff, and even people from the local community and other colleges.
But the 'where' is one of the key innovations - I shifted the site from a traditional academic setting to an unconventional one where students from my 'C & I’ course collaborate to create culinary and environmental designs for each event. So the common area of a dorm (w/ kitchen in close proximity) offers the kind of space that can be dramatically transformed, immersing the participants in a heightened state of receptivity and creative exchange. See the photos for an idea of the ambitiousness of the design teams. I have no doubt that this kind of quality involvement from the class is already translating into parallel and ensuing work the students are doing elsewhere on campus. I am quite sure they are empowered to be more imaginative, more enterprising. As for concrete response on this from other faculty, at the finish of the second semester, I'm starting to get a pulse. I can say that many of the faculty that have been guests speakers, are especially excited by the prospect of getting out of their 'silos' and having this kind of diverse encounter. They are piqued by the idea of investigating what creative practice looks like (especially when they have never identified it as such) in their own research, professional work and teaching.
You're based in the theater department. What has the response to your efforts been from the other fine arts departments?
Theatre is a joint department that includes dance - then there’re the art and music departments. We are all located in Scales Fine Arts Center, so that proximity makes for good communication and awareness between our respective areas, and even recurring collaborations on such things as musical theater productions. My background (MFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and professional life as an interdisciplinary artist (performing frequently in new music contexts), affords me real working knowledge of issues and perspectives across disciplinary divides. So my efforts both working within the fine arts context and with the e-ship program have been welcomed. This spring, for instance, I’m thrilled to teach a contemporary performance production course out of theatre/dance and cross-listed with both art and music. It has been supported by other campus entities such as the Creativity and Innovation Fund from the Pro Humanitate Center for its community outreach component as the subject of the course and performance project is utopias. The university community as a whole appreciates and encourages the kind of ambitions exemplified in such an enterprise.
There is a particularly strong and growing commitment from art department faculty for the entrepreneurship program as the nature of art production lends itself readily to entrepreneurial modeling. Also, a sculpture faculty member, David Finn, was an early champion of the Kauffman Foundation proposal and he is developing a design oriented seminar that will be taught next fall. Another instructor, Jennifer Gentry, who is also an entrepreneur with a graphic design and medical illustration business, will be teaching a parallel ‘C & I’ course with me this spring. We have had such a HUGE influx of students signing up for the minor – at the end of the first ‘official’ semester we are close to 70, making it suddenly one of the largest minors on campus.
WFU has a strong commitment to Entrepreneurship in the liberal arts. How do your classes fit with this ideal?
Important question, because I feel it reflects a kind of sea change going on within several cultures at once – higher learning, business, innovation in the light of globalization. So, a little context to set the stage: Wake Forest University is nationally recognized for its high caliber liberal arts program (the business schools rank high as well). The forward thinking folks that mapped the entrepreneurship program here made a couple of important decisions: the first was to position it within the liberal arts college, not the business school, and the second was to feature creativity as central to the mission of the program which was named the Office of Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts. This name clearly identified entrepreneurship or entrepreneurial studies as a burgeoning field of study absolutely appropriate to the liberal arts mission of the college. This conscious alignment distinguishes Wake Forest among the “Kauffman 8 campuses” (the eight schools that received first round funding from the Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation to establish flagship programs in entrepreneurship). It also distinguishes it from other, already existing university programs of entrepreneurship, which have been historically located within business schools (despite the fact that most entrepreneurs are a boundary defying collection of folks with completely unpredictable backgrounds).
The growing scholarship on entrepreneurship from business and other perspectives outside that world, psychology and sociology for instance, has contributed to expanding definitions and shifting perceptions about the term. Amidst all this flurry of interest, activity and scholarship, the creativity piece has been identified as a key indicator of quality and success of entrepreneurial innovation in particular. Research on the breadth of creativity, of course, has been a lively, if not elusive aspect of human behavior for decades, and some of this scholarship has dovetailed with and increasingly complexified notions of creativity. The creativity seminars that I teach at Wake Forest necessarily bring these various streams together in a synergistic way that I feel affords the opportunity for students from a whole host of disciplinary orientations to gain experience and skills necessary for a deeper creative engagement. The integrity of the class depends upon this depth of critical, exploratory investigation of creative processes which lends credibility and depth to entrepreneurial processes and validity within the context of a rigorous liberal arts environment. The class is exciting because students from political science, art history, physics, English, history, theater, economics, communication and others have access to the challenge of a creatively inspired imagination and the critical actions that unfold from it. Creativity, then becomes more than a bridge, but rather a catalyzing force – born of conditioning processes, procedural practices, flexible principles – that propels one forward into uncharted territory.
What are the metrics you use to evaluate the production of a creative student?
Ah! Such an important question – and challenge, particularly when the thought of creativity is appealing and downright seductive on the one hand, it is also held suspect as a ‘field’ due to its overly generalized and/or subjective qualities. It is also conventionally viewed as discipline-specific, that is to say – the arts, thereby requiring encompassing technical knowledge and socially sanctioned talent. These popularly held ideas of creativity present a deterrent for both the student who does not consider herself ‘creative’ in the common sense and for the instructor who is attempting a construct that allows for a diversity of perspectives. Consequently, in my case, the so-called metrics used to evaluate the production of a creative student in the conventional sense of the word – theater or art student, let’s say – is only somewhat useful when faced with evaluating students who have had very little or no background in the arts and therefore little exposure to quality creative processes. The typical history or finance and accounting student, will only have popular culture models of what creativity is in terms of a product.
So, it’s quite interesting and did I say this already, challenging to not only create an environment that is conducive to creative behaviors (easier to do), but to craft evaluative processes and procedures for such a widely divergent group of students, many of whom do anticipate moving towards an entrepreneurial solution to post-college life. This past semester (my second teaching the course), I instituted more ways in which the student could evaluate their own project process and outcome based upon some useful models. For me this does two things: allows the student to enter into an ‘artist-like’ process by spurring a quality of concentration and attention to the process, and enables them to take on greater agency as self-evaluators. We used a phase model of creative process by Arthur Cropley (education, psychology) so that the students could gain a sense of detailed stages of the experience, rather than just a generalized play-time kind of experience. We also adhered closely to generative feedback models for critically responding to others projects and then applied that to personal projects – challenging assumptions, uncovering hidden or unintended meaning, etc. So far as my evaluative procedures go, I am evolving and refining them both in the set-up of projects and in what for me are fairly skillful ways of discerning imaginative engagement, innovation in process and quality of commitment, honed over 20 years of teaching students and others in creative production.
What student successes have you seen?
For me, success is relative. If by that you mean, the establishment of entrepreneurial enterprises, then it’s too early to say. Although, I had a student athlete and sociology major last spring who, along with a fellow student, began the process of getting legal and financial support to found a non profit organization called Pro Life – a ‘give back’ program to assist ‘at risk’ urban youth. I generally see success in terms of personal realization of the capacity to open up to a broad spectrum creative engagement that can integrate, in a dynamic way, with a matrix of concerns and interests.
For instance, I have a current student who is a history major, a Chinese and entrepreneurship minor, who is African American with strong belief in social justice. This class is providing her with a rich skill set that responds both to a need for ‘whole person’ activation and for innovative approaches to navigating complicated circumstances. The Wake Forest student is special, in that we have the Pro Humanitate mission here fostering socially purposed applications of their learning to the ‘real’ world. But even the students who wanted to develop a T-shirt business (how can that not yield some sort of economic success on a college campus?) clearly took on my challenge of critically examining and yes, philosophically supporting their concept and design solutions. Here the success was measured in a thorough grappling with more than market analysis; they took on an investigation of the cultural formation of identity and a careful design process that did result in a quite an innovative idea.
Around the country, business schools are reaching out to the fine arts for creativity education. Do you see business students in participating in your efforts?
As I mentioned before, the minor in Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise is a liberal arts minor, thereby offering, arguably, an easier stepping stone for the ‘unconventional student.’ However, the relationship of entrepreneurship to the graduate business school at Wake has long been established, and is recognized around the country. So the pattern of linking entrepreneurship with the business school was historically there, but only recently have creativity components been added. (I taught the first module in a Creativity and Feasibility class that Stan Mandel offers in the Wake MBA program last spring). Even though a conscious decision was made to place the entrepreneurship program in the liberal arts undergraduate college, the Calloway Business School was integrally involved.
That said, in the second semester of the course offering and the first in which it is a required foundation course for the minor, it is still a strong cross-disciplinary mix, but this time around with a few more business and economics students. They are mostly juniors and seniors; at the lower level, there are still students from an array of disciplines such as communication, religion, history, theater and so on. About a third in the class (out of 20) have declared the ESE minor. I believe, that the course will continue to appeal to a cross-section of students and to students who don’t necessarily sign on to the minor. I think all the students see that philosophical, cultural and practical aspects of creativity are absolutely relevant and critical for today’s world. With rapidly shifting centers of power (particularly economic) occurring, the business world is of course identifying that creativity and innovation are essential to remain competitive while most hard sciences see technological innovation as critical and the social sciences and humanities know that by envisioning and creating new models of livelihood linked with innovative models of community – both virtual and real – that meaningful, humane future(s) are possible.
Do you see creativity education in higher education expanding in the future?
I certainly hope so. Creativity is complex, compelling and absolutely necessary for the radical imagination to remain alive, and enable society as a whole to move forward through individual leaps and bold communal strokes. Creativity is relational; engendered through personal formation in collaboration with others (both direct and indirect) and generally leading to positive, proactive outcomes. It reflects back and impacts beyond its measurable acts. For these reasons alone, higher education should not only embrace it in the liberal arts mission, but pioneer its study and practice. In the larger picture, the re-valuation of creativity and its role in building a vibrant, humane and sustainable world seems to be a cultural imperative. The liberal arts mission in this country is at a crossroads as the changes in the world and our country bring new and ever-complex challenges – from the diversification that immigration and fluctuating values brings, to the challenges of its relevance in response to monumental forces stoking conflict and strife. In today’s global environment, the freshness and vitality that creativity brings to whatever arena it’s allowed to flourish in, signals the promise of humanity in concert with its ideals.