Creative Change: Grow with the Flow!


Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

Creative Change

In the arts and social justice world, a plan for expanding impact is more than good business, it’s our roadmap for changing the world. If we want the values expressed in our work to reach our audiences, we need to think critically about how to get our work out.

As Jeff Chang and Brian Komar remind us in Culture Before Politics, the current limits need not be permanent. In their words, creativity is the “most renewable, sustainable, and boundless of resources” with which we can capture the American imagination.

Unfortunately, infrastructure and funding for arts-for-change projects is still nascent. But, as Jeff Chang and Brian Komar remind us in Culture Before Politics, the current limits need not be permanent. In their words, creativity is the “most renewable, sustainable, and boundless of resources” with which we can capture the American imagination and plant seeds of social transformation.

On one level, growth can imply physical and financial increase for projects over time (bigger! more money!) but many of our leaders find themselves sleeping on couches, wearing multiple hats, under valuing their worth and staying up all night (you know who you are…) and thus, facing burn out while scaling up.

The other side of scaling up means that we can find ourselves prioritizing meetings, chasing operating support, and losing track of the nimbleness and creativity that is needed in the face of an election, a disaster, or an injustice.

The late Wilma Mankiller, a hero and mentor of mine once said, “Growth is a painful process. If we’re ever going to begin to grapple with the problems that we have collectively, we’re going to have to move back the veil and deal with each other on a more human level.”

Her words remind me that there is another, more abstract understanding of growth that takes into account the human element: maturation, clarification, deepening.

Finding the time to reflect, learn together, and plan is hard when you’re working in your studio, making ends meet, planning your social media strategy, and all the while seeking to capture the American imagination and speak truth to power.

That’s one reason why our signature event, Creative Change, is a retreat and not a conference. We’ve found that bringing together a cross-section of artists (from grassroots to galleries to Hollywood) with advocates, activists, and funders creates a space where we can begin to lift back the veil and go a bit deeper. We have placed value on time for planning, incubation, illumination, as well as creation and amplification—all elements of the creative process itself.

When creativity sparks it’s exciting and we once again become aware that art and creativity can change the world. We find ourselves in a race to share, grow, link, tweet, and build funding partnerships.

These are all effective, but I’d like to put forward that the very thing that created that spark (time for immersion, reflection, and incubation) often gets left out of our discussions about growth.

Let’s bring in the rigors of the creative process back to our efforts to scale up. Let’s take time for thoughtful program design: clarifying our intentions, creating a roadmap for change, and learning from it as we go.

Let’s place value on immersing ourselves with each other and growing together in order to strategize effectively. Let’s take the time to incubate models that allow for both growth and retraction.

Let’s hold up artists and their process to, as James Baldwin said in his 1962 essay The Creative Process, “illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through the vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

After all, artists and cultural producers are the stewards of creativity. We need to look out for and nurture their development as we plan for growth and impact.