Imagination Conversation Report: National Update–June/July 2010

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As summer gets underway, Lincoln Center Institute’s (LCI) Imagination Conversations initiative is moving full speed ahead. A Conversation took place in West Memphis, Arkansas, on July 14, and another will occur in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, on July 27 and 28. More are planned for the fall in Indiana; Ohio; Colorado; New Jersey; South Carolina; Maryland; Minnesota; Nebraska; and Texas. For details, visit http://imaginationconversation.org. Read on to learn how the project is progressing.

A major focus of several Imagination Conversations and of the overall initiative is the link between imaginative thinking and American economic success in the 21st-century global marketplace. LCI is a believer in the “ICI Continuum” (imagination → creativity → innovation), whereby daring, unexpected ideas are the prime contributors to great leaps in business. As Deborah Wince-Smith, president and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness and member of the Imagination Conversations National Advisory Committee, argues, “knowledge, information, and technology” are highly accessible in today’s world. Therefore, “[economic] rewards will go to those who know what to do with these building blocks for business and innovation once they get them. Ideas, imagination, insight, ingenuity, and creativity have become the most important factors of production. You must out-imagine and out-create if you are to out-compete.”

On October 12, 2010, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Tobias Theater, “Imagine Indiana,” a summit hosted by The Meridian Institute in partnership with LCI, will look at how the arts and culture, specifically, fuel innovation in business and other fields. The gathering will aim to increase Indiana’s capacity to innovate and prosper. Meridian Institute President and CEO Dr. Scott T. Massey observes that “culture is now a major economic driver, not simply a ‘nice to have.’ Why? Culture stimulates creativity, builds trust, and builds confidence for risk-taking. The Imagination Conversations initiative is part of a growing effort to understand the importance of culture in flourishing economies.”

Turning to individual states—Washington State provides us with an excellent example of imaginative leadership. In 2007, author and activist Eric Liu launched Creativity Matters, a statewide campaign encouraging figures and organizations from all sectors to promote the teaching of creativity to students. That same year, Washington leaders partnered with LCI to create an Imagination Award modeled on the one we give to New York City public schools that incorporate imaginative thinking into their curricula. A recent example of Liu’s advocacy is the keynote address on imagination he delivered at the Washington Workforce & Economic Development Conference last fall. Eric and I also collaborated on a book, Imagination First, published in 2009.

The Washington State Imagination Conversation, which took place before an audience of 300 on October 16, 2009, at Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall, featured panelists such as Linda Hartzell, artistic director of Seattle Children’s Theater; Erik Lindbergh, chairman and director of the Lindbergh Foundation; and Dr. Yoky Matsuoka, director of the University of Washington’s Neurobiotics Lab.  (Watch the Conversation here.) The Conversation’s structure was unique. At intervals during the event, attendees broke into groups to discuss one of the imaginative practices that Eric and I advocate in our book, and then reported their discoveries to the whole assembly, pushing the panelists’ discourse in new directions. Co-moderating that day, I saw how rich the experience of audience participation can be.

The Imagination Conversations concept has also picked up steam in Connecticut, thanks largely to the efforts of the International Centre for Creativity and Imagination (ICCI), run by director Steven Dahlberg. The first Conversation there, which took place on April 19, 2010, at the University of Connecticut’s Hartford campus, was moderated by WNPR Connecticut Public Radio’s John Dankosky and featured Dahlberg and me as guests. (To hear the broadcast of that event, click here.) Dahlberg also co-moderated a second Conversation, which occurred on May 24, 2010, at The Studio @ Billings Forge in Hartford.

The lesson of Connecticut is that dedicated individuals or groups that connect passionately with the Imagination Conversations idea can achieve real success and garner attention for the cause. The state has experienced two events in as many months, one of which reached the public over the airwaves. Consecutive Conversations can build on their predecessors’ findings. Far from an isolated occasion, a Conversation can be a catalyst for deeper dialog and exploration.

A recent addition to LCI’s online offerings is the Imagination First practices contest, which challenges readers to come up with their own imaginative practices modeled after the ones Eric and I describe in the book. LCI posts submissions online and, every three months, chooses a new practice that most excites us; its author receives an iPod and other valuable prizes. Imagination First is merely the beginning of an ongoing exchange of ideas to which we hope you will contribute.

The first quarterly imagination practices contest has yielded a winner. Randy Compton, a teacher from Colorado, writes:

“We use a little game called THINK-ETS to stimulate imaginative thinking in kids. The game comes with 15 miniature objects from around the world, which, when laid out, naturally evoke imagination and storytelling in kids. Each of the objects is selected to fit into 15 diverse categories, which are chosen so that they are different in color, shape, texture, and weight. We believe that kids love imaginative play—we know they do, because we hear it weekly.”

Actually, we love imaginative play too, and think-ets sound like something you wind up playing with your kid and then can’t stop. The winner gets an iPod, besides other merchandise. The key word in the first sentence of this notice is “first”—the contest continues! That iPod could be yours. Click here to submit your imaginative practice today!

Click here to view all of the Imagination Conversation Reports.

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