Creativity For Solving Problems, Not Monetizing

Diane Ragsdale recently made a post about the design and intent of the Masters of Arts in Creative Leadership program she is leading at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD).

In answering the question about why one would study leadership at an art and design college, she writes:

Creativity is consistently ranked as one of the most important skills for navigating the complexities of the 21st century….Creativity was equated in business schools with the scaling of innovations towards the ultimate goal of stimulating economic growth. I didn’t want to hook beauty onto that value chain. I would sometimes quip: This beauty course is not aimed at putting beauty in service of business. My aim is the opposite. I want leaders to put business in service of beauty.


The creation in creative leadership as we are interpreting it at MCAD is based in a foundational premise that there are ways of being, doing, and knowing that are inherent to artmaking and design that are both undervalued by society-at-large and incredibly valuable at a moment in which we are looking at the “end of the world as we have known it” and the need to make a new one

I have often written in opposition to the prescriptive approach to the arts as a way to solve problems, similar to how Ragsdale alludes to the interest of businesses to monetize creativity for the future. Essentially viewing it as a tool to be used and thus if it doesn’t yield expected results within an expected time frame, the problem must be you are using the wrong type of creativity for the job.

As most in creative fields know, it is something you practice over a long period of time rather than learn in a seminar and then go home trying to apply. No one thinks you can become highly effective at an athletic pursuit without a lot of practice, analysis of performance and negotiating bottlenecks. People focusing on employing creativity need to go through a similar process, including possibly getting past a mental wall no less imposing than one a marathon runner may need to push past.

In my post yesterday about improv helping people tolerate uncertainty and reduce social anxiety, I took pains to call attention to the fact the people conducting the study intentionally engaged professional theatre artists to teach improv to students. This is not to say that therapists and counselors can’t effectively teach students to use improv. As the study authors allude to, there is a difference between the approach of someone teaching you improv to fix something about you and the approach of people who practice and teach improv in order to get better at improv.

Yes, the theatre artists likely knew they were there to help prove improv can help people better cope with uncertainty and anxiety, but the whole study gets contaminated if the scientists are frequently talking to them about expected outcomes. So it is likely the theatre artists were jazzed to be getting paid to teach and share about improv for 10 weeks and the prospect that it might provide a model for improving the mental well-being of kids made the experience all the more satisfying.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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