Today my daughter finished off the mural she's been painting with her father and sister on our garden wall. In the centre of a large tree stands a fairy, and underneath the fairy drifts a cloud. She titled the artwork Sitting on Magic.
My daughters are 8 and 4. Next week they return to preschool and full-time school, whence the wonder and terror of these last few months will fade swiftly back into the compressions of a busy routine.
I'm writing as a parent, but also as a creative arts researcher and educator who has spent the last 15 years championing the role of creativity in young adults' lives.
I never quite imagined witnessing the moment where the sector combustion of my twin passions - the arts and tertiary education - would at the same time produce the most robust account of why creative educations should matter.
I know you've seen it. You've probably even been a part of it. We've been awash with reports of the revolution taking place right under our noses. Next to health, food and basic social infrastructure, creativity is what has been been keeping us alive.
People have sung on balconies, TikToked through virtual classrooms, cast themselves in virtual choirs. We've learned about the funky dancing dads and the playful, artful mums. There has been baking and pickling and restoring and self-reinventing.
But this isn't frivolity. It's a form of positive resilience.
For the first time in the history of my children's lives, they have been asked to reckon with time. No, not not enough of it. Exactly the opposite.
They've had loads of time. And just when they thought they were getting up to something by doing what felt like nothing, they've really been practising those vital soft skills that all employers want:
1. How to be purposeful with what is available (resourcefulness)
2. How to use imagination to transform given situations (mental agility)
3. How to act in the moment without knowing the outcome (risk and experimentation)
4. How to listen in to all that surrounds you (collaboration)
5. How to say yes to the "you" who is doing (confidence in communication)
Why are these skills important, and why now, more than ever?
Because creativity - at its core - involves being courageous enough to use action to think differently. It's taking a step and seeing where it will take you without knowing the answer beforehand.
It is learning to listen to impulses, to work with what is available and to transform it into something usable, needed, functional ... or just plain magical (which is also functional, depending on your perspective!).
So while the arts are stuttering around us and the tertiary sector witnesses profound upheaval, it's worth keeping in mind that creativity is not only about producing laughter at the end of a long day, nor the pleasure of a beautiful form.
It's the hardest leap of faith because you don't know where - or even if - you will land.
In my field of performance, we're used to working this way. For actors and performers who work on stage, every second is material - you can't have "dead" time. It kills the moment. Every time.
In performance we learn to witness the small miracles that happen when we discover the outcome as we go. Students aren't taught what to think. They are given the courage to feel and understand how different kinds of thinking take place.
Helping to grow the next generation of artists is a privileged part of my job, but not all that I do.
I'm also helping students from diverse backgrounds - many of whom are training to become teachers, doctors, scientists, engineers, designers, journalists, lawyers - reckon with their creative core.
I'm building an internal scaffolding that gives students strategies for how to create instinctively and responsively, no matter what the context. I'm giving them skills in how to be positively resilient.
This pandemic shows exactly why creativity was ranked as the number one soft skill by the 2019 Linkedin Workplace Learning Report: because crises need agile brains capable of dreaming into existence extraordinary solutions.
And yet we live in a cultural context that demands creativity without being prepared to foster it.
Why? Like all skills on the way to perfection, creativity needs rehearsal. But rehearsing creativity is not about carving out a path towards concrete, absolute or expert knowledge.
It's about learning how to confidently wield the expert position of "not knowing". Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes describes this as "transporting yourself to a world ... at the same time you are creating it".
Making possibilities happen begins with understanding that "as if" is fast on its way to becoming "it was".
So while the arts are stuttering around us and the tertiary sector witnesses profound upheaval, it's worth keeping in mind that creativity is not only about producing laughter at the end of a long day, nor the pleasure of a beautiful form. It is not even about the critical grit of human expression.
It is the fundamental architecture of how we evolve humanely. How we act responsively and with agility. How we communicate with empathy and urgency. And how we feel alive.
Kids see it. Why don't the rest of us?
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