QSL Remarks: Thoughts on Creativity

Last week I had the great pleasure of getting to speak to the members of the Quincy Service League.  This organization was always supportive of the programs I worked for in Illinois, so I was glad to join them for a virtual meeting as their guest speaker.

They let me choose the topic I wanted to speak about.  With all that’s going on in the world right now, I wanted to address the importance of creativity.  My remarks are included below.  On that note, I’m so proud of what Destination Imagination has launched in response to the pandemic.  For those who are curious about what I’m working on now, it’s a great time to give it a try during our first ever virtual tournament!

Hello and thank you for having me – I’m thrilled to be here with all of you this evening, and I’m so glad we were all able to make this work long distance.

My name is Kelsey Celek.  Some of you might know me from my work with some of the fine arts organizations in Quincy.  Tonight, though, I’m actually speaking to you from my new home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where I am now on the staff for Destination Imagination.  I’m happy to tell you all about my new job, but I realize that’s not why I was invited here tonight, so I’ll be brief –

Destination Imagination is an international competition where students work in teams to complete a project that’s designed to reinforce the four Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creative problem solving while engaging them in STEAM-based educational content.  (That’s my corporate spiel – how’d I do?). But the kids who participate get to learn new things and create a presentation and interact with other kids from around the world.  It’s super cool.

And while that might sound a little different from the work I was doing in Quincy, to me it’s the same thing.  Destination Imagination creates opportunities for young people, and is grounded in some of my core beliefs about that work – which is what I want to address tonight.

But first, a story.

Early in my teaching career, I was leading an activity where I had asked my class to create their own character.  I’d given them a worksheet with questions about their new characters –  stuff like picking where their character lives or what their favorite food was – nothing too crazy.  After a minute of letting the kids fill out their worksheets, I look over and notice that one of the kids is crying.  

I’ll never forget this boy.

So I go over and sit with him and I ask him what’s wrong.  He tells me, “I don’t know what to write.”  And I assure him that there’s no wrong answer, that he gets to pick, and he just cried harder.  He told me it was scary to do that.  He told me that when he played video games, all he had to do is know what button to push.  And it occurred to me, as I spoke with this little boy, that he had yet to learn the value and the power of his own creativity.

This story has a happy ending, by the way.  Three weeks later, the same kid performed onstage in a play.  He told me that he liked doing the play with his class because – and I quote – “this play is ours, and no one does it the way we do”.  Lesson learned – and it didn’t take him long to learn it.  I’ll never forget it.

My takeaway as his teacher was that our society massively undervalues creativity.  We treat it like it’s something that just happens – like the lucky few are born creative, they have the gift, and the rest of us just get to sit back and watch.  Think about it – how many times have you said or heard someone say “Oh, I’d love to do that, but I’m not creative”  “Oh, that seems fun, but I’m not a creative person.”  And while that sentiment might be comforting to some, it’s just not true.

Because the truth is, creativity can be taught and can be learned.  Yes, it might come more naturally to some people, but that doesn’t change the fact that creativity can be taught and be learned just like any other skill.

But somehow, when we’re talking about creative pursuits, we get into this “all or nothing” mentality.As if greatness is the only acceptable goal.Have you all seen the new Little Women movie?There’s this great scene where Florence Pugh tosses her paintings aside, saying “I will be great or I will be nothing at all.” Great movie, terrifying sentiment.

Because that kind of goal is only focused on the final product.  And creativity is rooted in the process.

There’s so much to be gained in that process.  Depending on what you’re creating, you might learn how to work with other people.  Or how to be resourceful with your materials.  Or how to work on a budget or a tight schedule.  Or, you know, how to paint or write or dance or whatever you’re pursuing.  

Mostly, though, the creative process teaches us how to overcome obstacles.  There’s so much trial and error involved in creating something, it’s excellent preparation for when we face obstacles in our real world.

I think we’re seeing that now more than ever.  Think of all the creative solutions you’ve seen over the past few weeks.  People making masks out of all kinds of materials.  Entire school districts being moved to online learning.  In my office, we’re figuring out how to do a GLOBAL EVENT ON ZOOM.  It’s been an outpouring of resilience, and it would not be possible without creative minds on the case.

By the way, for today’s young people, focusing on creativity is also extremely practical.  The US Department of Labor predicts that 65% of today’s children will end up taking jobs that have yet to be invented.  We have no idea what those jobs will entail.  The best way to prepare them is to help them achieve that creative mindset so they are able to collaborate, communicate, think critically, and solve problems in our complex world.

Once we see the value of creativity, how do we keep it going?  How do we inspire creativity in our communities?

Good news, ladies, you’re already doing one item on my creativity to-do list.  The fact that you offer support to so many local organizations not only helps them keep the lights on, but allows them to focus on creating these kinds of opportunities for our young people.  That’s vital; I thank you from the bottom of my heart for instilling that as part of your mission.

When the pandemic is over and we’re all able to be in public again, I hope you’ll attend as many creative events as you can.  Go to the art exhibit opening, go to the symphony, go to Blues in the District.  Just by showing up, you are saying that those pursuits have value.

There’s another way you can support creativity in your community, ladies, and it’s a big one.  It’s one I’m working on for myself.  Let’s change the way we talk about creativity. Creativity is not some mystical land open to the lucky few.  So let’s stop treating creative projects as something “extra” or “fun”.  Let’s not say that we are either creative or we’re not.

Creativity is for everyone who’s willing to try.  Especially if you have young people in your life – they need to see you trying, and failing, and trying again.  It’s good for everyone.

I look at my students, I look at the kids who participate in my organization’s programs across the globe, and I see this limitless capacity to create.  You give them some cardboard and duct tape, they can make anything.  They see possibilities everywhere.  

But somewhere between  their age and adulthood, we start to lose that capacity.  We stop seeing those possibilities, and I don’t know what causes the change.  But my goal in my work is to help young people retain that creative ability for as long as possible.

We all have that capacity.  We all have creativity.  It’s just a matter of finding it for ourselves.

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