Capacity To Synthesize Creativity

I have been a firm believer in the idea that everyone has the capacity to be creative so I read a piece on The Conversation discussing how creativity doesn’t occur in a vacuum with great interest. In particular, the article discusses Edward P. Clapp, of Harvard University’s Project Zero reflections on a recent Beatles documentary which employed lengthy archival footage of the band’s work creating the Let It Be album. Clapp asserts that songs like “Get Back,” sprung forth from Paul McCartney’s mind in two minutes, as a result of years of social context and the artistic dynamics in the room.

But he also emphasizes principles highlighted by researchers who have examined the phenomena of creativity: in this solitary time, they draw on past collaborations. They also engage with the technologies or tools of predecessors and they “work in relation to an often complex polyphony of current and historical audiences.”

For example, there was a social movement in England at the time to have black immigrants from former colonies to go back to their countries.  Likewise there is a pervasive undercurrent of class distinctions in England which can lead to a sense of imposter syndrome.  Apparently, McCartney’s desire to get back to live touring is a frequent topic of discussion in the documentary.  And, of course, the band was going through a fair bit of conflict and tension during the recording of the album.

Similarly, during the “Let It Be,” recording sessions, the band played/jammed on over 400 tunes of all genres, all of which created a mood and informed how the members and participating musicians were thinking and processing the experience.

“…I had all this music inside…but I could not express it through an instrument”

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the short documentary, Conducting Life, about Roderick Cox, a man who grew up here in Macon, GA who went on to become an associate conductor for the Minnesota Orchestra. Now based in Berlin, he works internationally as a guest conductor.

The documentary recounts his pursuit of music from adverse conditions. He talks about coming home from school excited to practice only to find that his keyboard had been pawned to pay utility bills. He approached Zelma Redding, widow of Otis Redding, for money to buy a French horn for school.

What interested me most was the insight into the career arc toward becoming a conductor. I have often seen documentaries or fictionalized depictions of classical musicians competing for places in an orchestra, but I really don’t recall having seen much about conductors. There is footage of him being coached at the program at Northwestern University and by Robert Spano at the Aspen Music Festival.  It was amusing to watch him get instructed to be a little more expressive in these classes and then see footage of him conducting in Minnesota and other places where he cranks it up to 11+ with such full body involvement that you hope he does yoga stretching before he gets on stage.

If anything I think the documentary didn’t go deeply enough into work he did to achieve his current position. While it does show him disappointed at not being hired at various orchestras, I can’t imagine he was only auditioning at some of the bigger name organizations like Atlanta, Cleveland, LA and Salt Lake City before ending up at Minnesota, though that might have been the case.

Admittedly, in the Q&A after the screening, Cox admitted he was a somewhat reluctant participant in the documentary. He thought it was only going to be a profile piece while he was at Aspen only to find that the director was interested enough in his story to follow him around for seven more years. So he may not have afforded the filmmakers with the access they needed to make a more detailed movie.

The Q&A afterward revealed a very humble, introspective and funny person. He gave a lot of credit to different people who helped him thus far in his career. He made it very clear that while the documentary shows Otis Redding Foundation helping him buy a French horn, the reality was that when he wanted to go to England, Spain, and France to learn to be a better conductor, the foundation helped him out each time.  He also talked about a difficult experience familiar to a lot of people who pursue arts careers where he was auditioning for major classical music institutions and friends were sending him job listings for middle school band teachers.  He was also very funny while being politic in answering about the additional challenges in conducting operas and the fact that people in his hometown can circumvent his management to contract him to conduct.

If you have the opportunity, check out the documentary at a festival or see Roderick Cox at an orchestra near you.


Placemaking As A Space To Process Trauma

Earlier this month, CityLab had an interesting article on the subject of trauma informed placemaking. For the most part, the article focuses on artistic projects which have given communities a place to heal after traumatic events, but also policy and practice enacted by municipal governments to avoid compounding the trauma of those displaced by natural disasters.

One of the art projects, Temple of Time, was erected after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida to provide the community with a place they could access 24/7 to process their grief and trauma. I would encourage people to check out the article to view the images because describing it as a 40 foot tall plywood structure doesn’t do justice to the elaborate scrollwork on what appears to be a Thai Buddhist temple inspired pavilion.

The other project discussed in the article inadvertently evolved into a larger placemaking effort than initially intended. Providence, RI had a building in one of their parks they didn’t know what to do with and had the idea to offer the space as affordable housing for artists.

Together they issued a call for the city’s first “Park-ists in Residence” to steward the property and carry out public engagement, working to reanimate the site and reimagine its relationship with the surrounding neighborhood.


Haus of Glitter had originally intended to use the space to host intimate indoor gallery shows, living-room concerts and salon events. “But with Covid, we found ourselves where people in the community were reaching out for support and asking for help and care during this crisis,” says Matt Garza, a founding member of Haus of Glitter. “And so we threw our old plans out the window.”

Haus of Glitter is the artist collective which became the “Park-ists in Residence” and ultimately ended up becoming a safe space for many groups, offering classes, setting up a community garden, hosting numerous performances, including an immersive opera based on the life of the house’s original inhabitant, “a short-lived naval commander and Revolutionary War figure…dismissed from the Navy, censured by Congress, and deeply complicit in the transatlantic slavery trade.”

The article notes that Haus of Glitter has ended their residence but seeks to replicate their model in other cities. The city of Providence apparently won’t be continuing the residency program, though there are efforts to continue activities at the park space and homestead. However, the project has had an impact on the city:

…the experience has given the city’s arts and culture department, and the wider planning department it sits within, a new frame for thinking about the intersection of place and trauma. And it offers a moving example for policymakers in other cities looking for ways to provide healing spaces for residents.

“Every city department touched this project in some way because of how ambitious and how long the residency was” says Micah Salkind, a program manager with the city’s arts department…

99 Economic Concerns, But Admission Price Ain’t One

In a recent post Colleen Dilenschneider reported that recent research reflects the title of this post.  While inflation is a big concern for people right now, ticket/admission pricing does not seem to be a barrier to participating in a cultural experience.

However, the cost of everything else surrounding that experience is a concern – food, gas, parking, babysitting, gift shop purchases.

While those may impede the decision to attend, Dilenschneider says the research shows that often people are opting to downgrade on these ancillary aspects in order to still have the central experience.

This research suggests that people expect to spend less overall in support of their cultural experiences. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they are abandoning or deferring cultural experiences; instead, they are contemplating economic tradeoffs to align their actual spending to expectations. Think carpooling instead of driving separately. Parking in the garage instead of using the valet. Eating at a fast casual restaurant instead of the Michelin-starred culinary temple.

Dilenschneider cautions arts and cultural organizations against discounting admission as a way to entice purchases because most of the concerns people have are far outside the scope of the organization’s control and are multiple time as concerning as admission prices.  Among those with a high propensity to attend, factors like inflation, the general economy, and financial markets were much greater concerns with much more weight than admission cost.

Taking $3 off your admission prices won’t offset an airplane fare costing $400 more than it did last year. Nor will it reduce the amount of fuel required to visit or improve the ROI for someone’s 401k. More to the point, there is scant evidence that a significant number of high-propensity visitors are even asking organizations to lower their admission costs.


Tampering with your ticket prices in reaction to broad economic perceptions risks doing more harm than good. While admission pricing may be one of the few cost-related factors within our control, the research indicates that it is not a notable barrier for those with interest in attending.

Instead, the solutions are strategic: Keep engaging digitally to motivate attendance. Underscore your credibility with fantastic content. Continue to strive to be relevant. Keep being your inspiring, amazing institutional self, such that the quality of your experience cannot be ignored.