It's all about the STORY!

Posts tagged ‘arts’

Do you want to travel for free (or at least really cheap)?

I think humans are in deep need of three things. These things are dangerously rare as we concentrate evermore on the everydayness of hectic lives and responsibilities–chaos, confusion and emergencies–chores, deadlines and all sorts of gadgets and media that serve as distractions from feeding our minds, bodies and spirits with all that keeps us craving more and more of the greatness around us and in us.


What are the three endangered things?

  1. Adventure
  2. Imagination
  3. Creating

I challenge you to find one thing a week–or even per month–for you to do alone or with a friend or with your family that offers you a sense of adventure or sparks your imagination or allows you to create something–anything.

This could be as simple as reading a book, visiting a museum, volunteering in an organization, planting a garden or taking an art class. You could travel locally to a neighboring community and be a tourist for a day. Try hiking or yoga or just daydreaming on the beach–maybe a late-night stroll. Skip the high-priced family reunion across the country this year, and instead book a room in a beachside Florida motel and reunite with your own family 1 on 1 (and you get to run home for that camera you forgot to pack).

Go out and explore your own back yard! Follow your cat around the neighborhood, if you can keep up. Invite your friends over for a seasonal fruit and veggie tasting party. Create a comic book using stick figues and a pencil or finger paints. Buy a hammock and daydream or write a short story. There’s so much to see right in front of you, you can be an adventurer for the cost of the mere courage it takes to dare see the world through a fresh set of eyes! You can be an artist with just the thoughts in your head and the skills of a 5-year-old.

Go do something right here. Right now. I dare you.

America’s education system is broken. Here’s how to fix it.

America’s youths are in trouble. They are about to inherit a complete disaster. We not only broke government and our economy; allowed big corporations to go rogue gangsta, encouraging them to eat up every small business in nearly every industry; permitted several whole industries to become federally mandated organized crime (insurance, agriculture, etc.), we’ve disallowed youth to develop the tools–critical and creative thinking/problem-solving–required to fix the broken thing we’re giving them. Likewise, we have denied youth the knowledge, experience and resources needed for America to continue to sustain their position as a world leader in innovation, creativity and cultural capital.

Our current education system kills creativity, and replaces the development of critical thinking skills and applied education with solely valuing standardized testing outcomes. Tests? Test scores are the most valued outcome for today’s youths spanning elementary school through state-run universities. Test scores not ony determine whether youths with graduate from colleges in their field and progress in grade levels from elementary through secondary schools, the combined test scores of students help determine how much money a public school will get to pass on to their students. The better the test scores of the students, the more money the schools get. Supporters of this policy call it capitalism. I call it extortion, racism and classicism.

Even with all of this testing, too many American students are graduating from colleges with poor writing skills, poor math skills, poor knowledge of history, geography and sciences and applied critical thinking skills. Q.E.D. testing alone does not accurately assess the quality of a student’s education. We have many over-educated students entering the workforce who are barely capable of performing the job functions required of entry- to mid-level professional positions. This is inexcusable and a pure abuse and neglect of the collective knowledge our country has regarding best practices in education, differing learning styles and intelligences.

America’s leading minds in education, philosophy, psychology, globalization, communications, sciences, the arts, interdisciplinary studies and futurism have the answers to fixing our broken education system. Collectively, they have the answers that would lead to designing an education system that will produce students who know how to seek out and find success based on their particular skills, interests, talents, composit of intelligences and learning styles.

This will not only lead to cultivating and nurturing students who are uniquely successful in their own brand of “work,” it will revitalize America’s lead in the global community as thought-leaders, innovation designers and culture instigators. Students could have the opportunity to be a product of the best minds today and can help lead the world of tomorrow in a revolution of open-thinking, creativity and collaboration. But only if we teach them how.

If executed without regard to poison spread by special-interests and traditionalists, America may actually develop a generation of thinking, confident, empowered professionals who are as at ease in group development as they are in independent studios. They will have learned the secrets to balancing collaboration with independent thought; leadership minus hierarchy; coaching- and mentoring-figures versus authority; cooperation and celebration of greatness versus cut-throat “win-at-all-costs” competition. They will see the altruistic result in development as the goal, celebrating successes towards the mission and experience authentic shared accountability for any set-backs.

Impossible? As an absolute, certainly. As a general rule, it is quite possible. American businesses have already developed and experienced such successful models and replicated them. Yet, this is still a great minority of business practices for the very reasons mentioned above. What would serve to develop more of these models, and more forward-thinking young people in our culture to lead the way to this type of model?

A brand-new look at interdisciplinary studies is needed, at the core. The arts (visual, performing, literary, new media) are a most effective vessel to introduce youth and adults alike to applied interdisciplinary studies and to help cultivate creative critical thinking and problem-solving skills. There is also the potentiality of immersing wide generalized  and focused specific concepts from limitless disciplines: science, social science, mathematics, engineering, communications, anthropology, technology, etc.

Wake County, NC students practice for Odyssey of the Mind 2010

This is not to say that education should do away with teaching “basics,” but instead it should seek innovative ways to teach the basics by combining it with a mixture of other disciplines.

This allows for immediate applied knowledge, for students to see the inherent links in subjects, how one enhances the other and is interdependent on other subjects. Age is not a deterrent from this type of critical learning. Children learn how to measure and count while cooking–they see an immediate applied link between arithmetic and cooking. Children learn about history while learning to read–instead of having them read about Sam and Ann, have them read stories of historical significance–short, overly simplified, but an introduction to something meaningful such as Henry Ford’s car. Have them learn at a young age how to collaborate in teams and combine this with independent work to increase the overall team project. Help them “get” the concepts of shared accountability, good sportsmanship, team leadership and celebrating team successes over individual competition. The earlier these critical lessons begin, the more natural these concept become to the students as they begin developing their own ideas about leading and teamwork.

Why the arts as a vessel? They are a perfect interdisciplinary medium: Music–mathematics, languages, diction and science; Theatre–literature, history, speech and debate; Painting–mathematics (scale and measurement), social science, anthropology, communications, chemistry and history; Dance–sports, history, anatomy and physiology; Literature–sociology, history, social sciences and communications; New Media–communications, technology, engineering, mathematics and science. <– Just to name a few.

More than this, the arts allow for a creative approach to all of these subjects. They allow students to approach all of these subjects with their own brand of critical thought and experimentation while still guided by teacher-mentor-coaches to ensure that students understand the “basics” as they learn to identify and build on their strengths and weaknesses. Testing in this frame will consist of assisting in identifying personalities, talents, strengths, learning styles and less developed areas. Grading will consist of whether the student applied all of their strengths to the greatest benefit of the projects assigned, whether team or individual, and will take part in a shared portion of a group grade to promote the concept of shared accountability.

Moreover, students need to learn how to use web-based systems as communication tools–social sites and freeware: Wiggio, Project Pier, Basecamp, Mind42,, MINDOMO and Prezi, for example. This is the future–using freeware and web-based solutions in creative ways to communicate and to cultivate and share knowledge. Brining teams to the forefront of thought-sharing and mining collective intelligence for problem identification and innovative solutions. Can America dare to take a risk to think about education differently? The world has changed immeasurably over the past few decades, but what we teach, how we teach and what we expect from students has not changed at all to meet the vastly different demands of our culture. Will America dare to change? Will America dare to be great?


Note: You will notice that I have not cited my sources here to back up my claims. This is an opinion article, but the facts do exist. What I am asking for, however, is not for you to merely fact-check my claims. Frankly, I can produce “facts” that would support nearly any claim I might like to make in any direction on any topic. Instead, I’m challenging readers to judge this writing based on their logic and their own knowledge, a thought experiment. And I invite you to conduct your own research; come to your own conclusions and present your own ideas. Utopia needs your thoughts, my thoughts, our passion–not merely regurgitating thoughts and opinions of others with greater titles who may or may not agree with us.

A message to St. Petersburg, Florida: what economic development SHOULD mean to the city.

Hello St. Petersburg. This is a personal note to my city: Yes, you are my birthplace, my definition of home. You were the landscape of most of the greatest moments in my life and most profound experiences. You raised me, taught me about life, love, disappointment, forgiveness and redemption. I know you well. You know me well. I’m worried about you.

Central Avenue

Your downtown area has come a long way since my childhood, but not without cost.

You’re much more beautiful than I remember–landscaping, building renovations and a really cool strip of art galleries, restaurants and shops streaming down Central Ave. First Fridays were a brilliant idea. Even with all of this, your arts culture is quite understated. Possibly more understated than in the 70s and 80s when it was still just a toddler, learning how to walk on your city streets.

Then, people were on fire about possibilities and growing the culture. There was a successful, dedicated, for-profit local arts magazine, and people were excited to volunteer, promote and fund-raise for the arts. They were passionate about attending concerts, exhibits and shows. Now, well, things are a bit less passionate–a community more difficult to motivate and patrons and benefactors are increasingly challenging to cultivate.

I understand the economy is nothing short of frightening. I understand that the arts may not be top on the list of priorities and initiatives to charge revitalization and business sustainability in St. Petersburg for its citizens. I get you. I really do. I’m asking you to try to put all the fear aside for just a moment right now. For just this moment, think only in terms of possibilities and opportunities. Think about vision. What do you see? I challenge you to consider that he arts may very well be the one thing that matters most in St. Petersburg RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW.

You need to improve education: the arts are an immeasurable vessel to introduce youth and young adults to applied interdisciplinary studies and to help cultivate creative critical thinking and problem-solving skills (I’ll write a separate post on this next–I promise). You need to attract big talent in business, commerce, investing, entertainment and design: just give them a reason to be here. Give them a place where they, their families and their peers will be fed and inspired. They’ll come, and they will help you solve any additional problems that may come with a sudden spike in population, because they know how to solve problems and they want to stay and invite others.

Why is St. Petersburg the best place to do this thing? At the start, you have two–TWO incredible museums, the likes of which no other Floridian city can compare: 1) St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts & 2) Salvador Dali Museum.

Let’s be clear–the value (artistic, monetary and historical) standing collection in the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts is nothing less than a priceless prize. The collection is so exquisite, just in its standing collection alone (e.g. Monet, O’Keeffe). Very few museums today would ever be able to afford a collection like this–one that we are blessed to have right along our waterfront.

Salvador Dali, a consummate leader in the Surrealist Movement, he later moved into scientific and religious subjects and finally into the classic style, his mastery of painting technique is not criticized. Never confined to a style nor artistic medium, Dali also left behind sculpture, film, performance art and photography for us to enjoy. The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg houses the most comprehensive collection of Dali’s work, and the museum has an incredible reputation of continuously finding innovative ways of exhibiting and showcasing this extraordinary art.

Not to mention, St. Petersburg, you have a sensational presence of galleries, a concert hall, small theatres and outstanding resident visual and performing artists and arts teachers. All of these treasured buildings and art collections mixed with incredibly talented people–ah, the people. Yet, the world still does not think of St. Petersburg, Florida as a substantial creative locale–a place to be culturally fed and nurtured with small-venue opportunities for artists and aspiring artists to learn and practice, hone their craft and debut the next BIG thing in the arts. Why not?

St. Petersburg has everything it needs to be the primordial ooze of artistic development–to cultivate and nurture outstanding, world-class visual and performing artists. It has all of the elements needed to be the birthplace of progressive artistic and cultural movements.

Concerned about cost? It’s free! Well, at least low-cost, and certainly fodder for prime grantwriting opportunities (wink, wink, nudge, nudge): National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities on just the federal level alone.

St. Petersburg waterfront

Already, you have the urbanized conveniences needed within your city or very close-by: fine dining and casual dining, some 24-hour businesses, nearly every service and large-chain is well-represented in most neighborhoods. It is a hot competative sailing destination and lauded fishing locale. Let’s not forget, also, the spectacular coastlines, beaches and sunshine. This is Florida. This is St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg, what we are lacking is a targeted, unified vision; an organized, passionate movement; and sincere belief that this will come to fruition–that this is the destiny of St. Petersburg’s future. So, what will it be, St. Petersburg? What do you have to lose by trying and giving it your all? What would you have to gain? Will you share in the vision? Will you dare to be great?

A word on Ken Robinson’s TED Talk: Schools kill creativity.

American education is foul. There’s no doubt. We value things that don’t matter, promote things that are harmful and measure things that are worthless. In spite of this, as a nation, we tend to be a little bright and quite creative.

This is an accident and only because we are a rebellious lot. If we did as we were taught, however, we would be merely mindless drones spitting out disconnected facts, laced with convenient inaccuracies and fearful of developing anything that could be categorized as innovative or cutting-edge. Schools would have deemed this all dangerous anarchy. Well, if progress and questioning the validity and effectiveness of all that’s preached to us is anarchy, all hail anarchists!

Does school kill creativity and therefore progress, innovation and forward-thinking? Yep. It does.

Look, it’s true. But it’s not the whole story. I grew up in the folds of the fine and performing arts, and I was exposed to powerful fine and performing arts education. However, I know that my story is unfortunately unusual, and even with this environment, it was still difficult placing a high value on the arts while surrounded by traditional school values–I didn’t fit in there. I was still a bit of an outcast and fantastically misunderstood.

Radical change is needed if we have enough insight to recognize the critical need to nurture and effectively educate the creative class and creative capital in our culture. It is the creative mind that will solve problems, believe that change is possible and throw convention and barriers away to make the impossible reality.

Watch this from Ken Robinson who says that schools kill creativity. He’s right! What do you think?

Sir Ken Robinson

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