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Q and A with Barbara Spradling

by Emily Williams

November 8,2009

Barbara Spradling was appointed Director of The Innovation Institute at McColl Center for Visual Art in July 2008. Prior to this appointment, Barbara spent more than 20 years as a senior vice president with Bank of America. Barbara also has dedicated her time and energy to a variety of local and national art and human services non-profit agencies, including the Arts and Science Council, Council for Children's Rights, YWCA, Children and Family Services Center and National Alliance of Artist Communities. Spradling is a recipient of the Charlotte Business Journal's Women In Business Achievement Award and the Dolly Award as Outstanding Child Advocate. She is a 2005 graduate of The Innovation Institute at McColl Center for Visual Art.

Tell me what the Innovation Institute is all about.

We believe that everyone is creative. From childhood through adulthood, our educational system reduces its emphasis on maintaining creative abilities and instead focuses on developing our analytical abilities. The workplace reinforces this thinking. So, at the Innovation Institute we operate under the premise that through working with artists, we can help individuals find their creativity again and help them turn it into a habit that they can access whenever they want. The program is designed to discover that creativity inside of you and put it to work in your personal life, work life or community life. We were started by Suzanne Fetcher, President of the McColl Center for Visual Art. She and I had worked together when I was at Bank of America and I served as the Center’s Board Chair at the time. Her vision was to forge a connection around the topic of creativity between the corporate community of Charlotte and McColl Center for Visual Art. Suzanne began realizing that there were elements to the artist’s process that could benefit the corporate arena and vice versa. The McColl Center is in a very concentrated business area with a lot of wonderful artists on one end and the banking realm on the other. So we wanted each of these groups to learn from one another and integrate. Our programs are all based on artists facilitating business executives or teams and steering them towards a creative process through different exercises. We try to help individuals know what triggers their creativity and what sparks that passion.

What is the present status of the Institute’s lifeline?
We have a three-year grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to develop the program into a self-sustaining model. We offer three to four sessions each year for business and community leaders that involves intensive experiential work with artists. We also do team programs, so for example if a business group is doing a strategic plan, the Institute would work with that group and do a series of exercises with an artist to open them up for that planning exercise. Also, our work is not just with businesses. We often do programs with community groups and we just recently finished a one-day program with Charlotte Center City Partners. Also, a third party evaluation of our alumni and the program model was recently submitted. Out of that evaluation, 97% of the alumni said they would recommend the Innovation Institute; 92.5% said that they had made a change in their lives after participating in one of our programs and 79% said they had made a change to their business.

How do you think the Innovation Institute can help Charlotte in the big picture?
The Institute is ultimately here to serve the community. That rests on the idea that if our alumni are out in the community using what they have learned after training with us, then they are making a difference. By the nature of those who enroll in our programs, most of them are already active in the Charlotte community before coming to us. I think that makes sense. So they are using what they have learned not only in their companies but also on behalf of the community’s efforts that they are involved with. We hope they will all collectively move Charlotte forward.

Are there any future plans on the horizon for the Innovation Institute?
Well, we are at the point where we can and want to grow the business significantly! We are not bound by just Charlotte; we have done custom programs in California and Florida and would love to do these programs in other cities around the country. So from a business standpoint we are interested in building enough infrastructure to be able to offer these programs to meet demand for them. We have businesses currently working with us who send an executive to each of our programs so that they are gradually building this innovative skill set within their companies. That eventually shows up within various aspects of the community. You don’t need to move out of Charlotte to find the kind of creative atmosphere you are looking for and that’s what the Institute believes: it’s all right here. We just need to grow it!

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