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Righting the Ship - Putting Creatives at the Helm

by Sarah Gay

July 9,2010

Recently a pair of lectures in Uptown Charlotte highlighted the need for creative types, and creativity generally, to be employed in driving our societal adaptations to the huge changes we’re collectively experiencing. On June 8th, Daniel Pink (hosted by the ASC) and William McDonough (invited jointly by Charlotte Center City Partners and UNCC School of Architecture) delivered, respectively, a clarion call to lobby powerfully for arts in education, and a profile of a whole scale movement toward sustainable design. Pink's research emphasizes creativity as a critical component of brain and cognitive development, required in an era of paradigm shift; McDonough's creative thinking and innovation has revolutionized integrated, intelligent design and procedural approaches by mega-corporations and governments. Both inspiring lectures underline how brilliantly Charlotte can reposition itself, if it takes the opportunity now, in a fluctuating and malleable time, to enlist its own power-pack of artists, artistic thinkers, and creators. Infusing their energy and insight into our industry creation, urban development, and cultural growth can revitalize our civic direction.

This is, admittedly, a nerve-wracking time. Fluctuations in the economy, the productivity of our major industries (or lack thereof), the demand for adaptability and new types of labor base, and changing assessments of desirable and responsible styles of living, governance and production—along with giant demographic shifts globally in the makeup of educated, professional workforce—are all challenging our notions of core values and security. Pink, a noted expert on innovation, motivation, and left- vs. right-brain thinking, demonstrated this with anecdotes and graphs highlighting (for example) Asia’s growing presence in, and the accelerated mutations of world markets; and how out-of-touch our higher-ed system’s focus on ultra-specialization is with current business trends, which are demanding holistic, interdisciplinary systems-thinking and above all, non-routine personalities.

Architect and designer McDonough could be aptly described as non-routine. His work spans 30 years of promoting solar power and green roofs, examining natural ecosystems and applying their functionality, and finding ways to translate such tenets into a code that manufacturers can use for making every element of a process symbiotic, non-toxic, and beneficial in its impacts. His ability to understand and facilitate dialogue between widely variant topic experts—zoologists, chemists, urban planners, CEO’s—has resulted in global corporations like Nike, Steelcase furniture, and Wal-mart seeing the business sense in, and agreeing to adopt his ‘Cradle-to-Cradle’ principles (outlined in his book of the same name) which work toward a healthy mode of building and producing. Even the governor of California has committed to requiring these principles in industrial practice statewide.

It’s no accident that this transformational dynamo is an architect—a discipline rooted in creativity—and a dreamer/designer whose early education broadly incorporated arts training with sensibility: roaming redwood forests, watching friends exchange compost for flowers, taking time to exult in the beauty—and the sense—of the natural world. Training in sensibility, encouraged in every art form, is anything but luxury or ‘fluff’; it is what translates into the ability to change the world in a positive direction because you can perceive—and synthesize—the elements of your unique vision.

Artists—those used to seeing differently, to embracing complexity—are those often best-equipped to sense the opportunity inherent in change; to frame what some decry as turmoil, instead as a roiling of possibility, like the turning-over of a compost heap: within the simmering mélange of decay and molecular breakdown lies the nutritive ingredients for regeneration, a chemical transformation, new growth—it needs only tiny seeds of new ideas. Charlotte has a burgeoning artist community and appetite for artistic output, as witnessed in the massive attendance at varied and dynamic arts events in town. Our designers, artists, architects, poets, writers, actors, filmmakers, musicians—many of whom are, like others, currently out of work and therefore available—are all trained visionaries. They can help business managers, analysts, and policymakers shift their way of viewing things through workplace exchanges, workshops, consulting, creative retreats, etc. This, in turn, can facilitate the innovation we need in markets, in business strategy, in our citizen-interactions, in our approaches to designing our public and private spaces, and in what we decide to grow of our collective identity. These resources must not go untapped. Accessing the ‘right brain’ of Charlotte’s population now could make every difference in how we leverage our metamorphosis.

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