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Overcoming Barriers Through Creativity and Imagination

These days, my mind has been wandering towards issues around capacity building. As arts groups struggle to increase outreach, expand programs and audience-base, and create a sustainable organizational structure for the future,  frequently cited challenges boil down to shortages of time, people, and money. Additionally, as Alan suggested in our last issue, another significant challenge many organizations face is a lack good information about their audience (i.e., research). Even if they get that information, they often find themselves  limited in their ability to transform research results into actionable initiatives.

However, things are not as bleak as they may appear. Applying creative and imaginative thinking can help arts groups overcome these barriers with innovative solutions.  Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s short piece in the Teachers College Record defines the difference and interconnectedness of creativity and imagination in assisting innovative thinking: “Creativity is the ability to use resources in new, clever, or unpredictable ways to solve a specific problem,” whereas imagination is the skill that allows for solutions to bubble up by  inventing a new space, or lens, through which to view the problem. Imagination, they argue, plays a larger role in problem solving, but both are important for their different approaches. I have been learning about arts groups’ inventive audience engagement strategies, and have seen many overcome the staff/time/money challenges. Here are two that I would like to share with you – one more creative, the other more imaginative (as defined by Thomas and Brown):

  • Creative approach: The Brooklyn Museum wanted to record and share visitors’ reactions to “The Black List” photography exhibition, and didn’t have the time or staff to record and edit videos. Instead, they set up two webcams at a simple kiosk so visitors could record their responses directly to the museum’s YouTube page without any staff involvement.
  • Imaginative approach: South Coast Repertory Theatre (SCR) was concerned about the dearth of theatre criticism, and so imagined an environment in which criticism flourished,  and where audience members were encouraged to think critically (i.e., become “citizen critics”). They recruited “Facebook Ambassadors” (audience and community members who are particularly savvy Facebook users) who would post thoughtful comments about an SCR performance to their Facebook page. They then went one step further and invited local bloggers to attend and write reviews on their blogs.


Both examples demonstrate employing creativity and imagination to develop innovative engagement tactics. What are you seeing out in the field that is novel in regards to engagement activities? Please share your thoughts and comments by clicking on the link below.

Also see A New Culture of Learning for a full-length work on this subject by Thomas and Brown.


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3 Responses to Overcoming Barriers Through Creativity and Imagination

  1. Jerry Yoshitomi says:

    Great post! I’m thinking that future communities of practice should strive to become networks of imagination.

    I will admit, though, that it took me 3 readings to fully understand their two page article. And have finished chapter 1 of their book.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Thanks Jerry!

    Yes, the article was a bit challenging. Starting to understand what the authors mean by creativity is taking the familiar and making it strange (using known tools in new ways) and imagination is taking the strange and making it familiar (“inventing” a new world so that the solution makes sense – arises naturally). All good dense stuff.

    And I like the networks of imagination idea!

  3. Susan Richer says:

    Thanks for the interesting post – wanted to share this imaginative platform for increasing critique, review, reflection and discussion on arts an culture in Queensland, Australia:
    Critical Mass is a multi-author blog featuring posts from 40 bloggers representing a range of experiences.

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