[2 June 2007 - Duluth News Tribune - Opinion by Steven Dahlberg] There is a common perception that creativity is simply about art and artists. Yet it was an artist, Joseph Beuys, who said: “Everyone is an artist.”
As the Duluth-Superior area proceeds into the Knight Creative Communities Initiative, it’s important to consider how to engage everyone’s creativity — not just that of artists or the creative class — in community and economic development.
Creativity matters in business, education, nonprofits, government, arts and neighborhoods. It matters for children in school, for professionals in the workplace and for retirees in the community.
For more than 15 years, I’ve been working internationally in the field of creativity, advocating for the importance of creative thinking and helping people unleash and harness more of their inherent creative abilities.
Yet my creative endeavors began in Duluth as a teenage entrepreneur, a freelance writer and photographer and a political junkie. I am delighted to know that the Duluth-Superior area was among just three cities chosen by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to work with economist Richard Florida.
In my work, I’ve repeatedly seen people discover through creativity what gives them purpose and meaning and then begin to translate those desires into concrete realities. As a result of this insight, I’ve been exploring how we might be more intentional about helping people become better creative thinkers and do more of what gives them a sense of purpose.
This is engagement — doing what we love, what we are good at, what gives us meaning, what makes us happy and what uses our strengths. Tapping into this is what the KCCI is all about.
The Duluth-Superior area, like many regions, faces the challenge of engaging as many people as possible in creating a positive community. The risk of not doing this is creating a community with stagnant job growth, environmental losses, schools that resemble factories and people who flee the decay or stay because they don’t care.
Creativity is key to engaging people and can be pursued in many areas.
We can deliberately teach for creativity — helping students learn how to think in new ways, develop their strengths, imagine alternatives and generate ideas.
We can develop cultures of creativity in organizations, where everyone’s creativity is encouraged and valued and leads to transformational innovations in products and services.
We can link entrepreneurship, research and creativity so that people know how to translate great ideas into real businesses, producing more jobs and a flourishing community.
We can help pre-retirees and seniors use creativity to identify their purpose and ways in which to express this in their community. Many are living longer and healthier than ever before. “Checking out” of the community after full-time work isn’t an option.
We can get citizens involved in the democratic process by applying their creative thinking and problem-solving. Creativity provides a process for dialogue, better understanding and integrating diverse viewpoints.
We can shape economic development opportunities that are based on explicit creativity goals, along with traditional objectives. We need to learn to consciously talk about development in a creativity context.
We can use public art to beautify public space, and to involve community members in conceptualizing and creating the art itself.
We can engage nonprofits and faith communities not only in serving their communities, but actively imagining and creating them as well.
Any community in America can pursue these opportunities. Whether it’s cities like Duluth, the inner city of North Minneapolis or the former New England mill town where I live now, the challenge remains the same: How might we deliberately apply our creativity, engage in personally meaningful activities and improve the quality of life in our city or neighborhood?
My experience growing up in Duluth in the 1980s incorporated three of the “Ts” that Richard Florida describes: talent, tolerance and territory.
My talents of today were seeded in Duluth — in schools, at the public library, in small businesses, in political involvement and in volunteering. Plus, I benefited from mentors, teachers and parents who recognized and encouraged my strengths and talents.
In Duluth, I first learned to appreciate the value of immigrants and the importance of social justice. I became open to diverse ideas, arts, creativity and politics.
Duluth instills an authentic sense of place, blending its unmatched natural assets with built amenities — from hiking, skiing, picnics and the lake to more recently added amenities such as the Lakewalk, coffee shops and cool entrepreneurial businesses.
Hopefully, May 2007 will be a turning point for the Duluth Superior Area — where the creative capacity of each individual is recognized, the future is imagined together and the common good is enhanced through collective creative expression. The time is now to transform the raw materials of the past 20 years into the vibrant creative community waiting to be born.
Steven Dahlberg is a native of Duluth, a writer and principal of the International Centre for Creativity and Imagination, a creativity consulting firm based in Willimantic, Conn.