The Future of Creativity: Postcard From Chicago

S. Kirk Walsh

The term creative communities often evokes sequestered environments at far-flung artists colonies or graduate school MFA programs. This traditional notion was challenged, expanded, redefined, and reinvented during The Future of Creativity symposium in Chicago.

During the first three days in November, creative visionaries of all walks-scientists, policy makers, arts administrators, performance artists, and other leaders in the arts-converged at the ornate ballroom of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for the event, which was sponsored by the Alliance of Artists Communities, an international consortium that provides support and resources for artists colonies. The purpose of the symposium was to promote creativity as a public policy priority across all disciplines and to develop a series of models and possible strategies to achieve that goal, explained Tricia Snell, executive director of the Alliance and symposium co-organizer.

The conference, which was attended by 160 people, offered multiple perspectives on the meaning of creative communities through discussions, lectures, museum visits, and performances. In some cases, heated discussions were sharply focused on the events of September 11, and prompted conversations reflecting the gamut of opinions about the critical role of creativity amid the current climate of international war.

The diverse roster of speakers included Monica Haslip, executive director of Little Black Pearl Workshop, a Chicago neighborhood art program that teaches kids the connection between business and art; T. Allan Comp, who created Acid Mine Drainage and Art in Vintondale, Pennsylvania, a program that recovers the water and land of Appalachian Coal Country through community involvement and innovation; Bill Joy, chief scientist and cofounder of Sun Microsystems; and Stanley Crouch, jazz critic and writer; as well as several others.

At one point during the third day, participants literally sat on the edge of their seats as they listened to Joy talk about the changing role and very real dangers of technology post-September 11. We have this notion that we can defend ourselves with technology. The reality is thats not going to happen. We no longer seem to be able to manage the progress of science, said Joy, referring to bioterrorism and nuclear weapons. We need to find a new model to replace these old paradigms [of science and technology]. Art can help us talk in an honest way about the risks and choices, and discover new ways to think collectively.

At the end of the final day, a declaration was drawn by a group of respondents and then delivered to the symposium by Roger Mandle, president of the Rhode Island School of Design. Among the ten recommendations were: Seize the opportunity to become citizen activists through community organizations; engage mainstream media into this dialogue about creativity; and integrate the arts and design in school curriculum as well as provide youth with greater access to cultural resources. Finally, Peter Richards, Senior Artist at San Franciscos Exploratorium and co-chairman of the symposium, made a subtle-but vital-recommendation: Invert the title of the symposium from The Future of Creativity to Creativity Is the Future.

For more information about The Future of Creativity, including the complete symposium declaration, visit, a Web site that was created by Street Level Youth Media, a Chicago-based community youth group.