Connecting Arts Education, Creativity, and Innovation

Posted by Kathi R. Levin, Mar 16, 2011 2 comments

Kathi R. Levin

In today’s struggling economy, there is renewed emphasis on the importance of creativity and innovation. Most of us in the arts automatically think of creativity and innovation as essential to our “brand” and they are.

But, “ownership” of creativity and innovation in today’s evolving worlds of social media communication, a shifting economy, and the global marketplace also feels like “code” for successful entrepreneurism.

In the education sector, where there is a clear federal emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) creativity and innovation relate to these fields, with examples of American ingenuity drawn from NASA, the automotive industry, and other technological developments of the 20th century. We cannot be sure that when people speak about creativity and innovation that they have even considered, let alone are thinking about, the arts.

According to a 2008 report from the Conference Board, there is overwhelming consensus from superintendents (98 percent) and corporate leaders (96 percent) that “creativity is of increasing importance to the U.S. workforce.” Of those corporate respondents looking for creative people, 85 percent said they were having difficulty finding qualified applicants with the creative characteristics they desired.

In this study, “School superintendents rank arts study as the highest indicator of creativity, followed by experience in performing arts/entertainment. Employers rank arts study second, topped only by self-employed work, as an indicator of creativity.” (Ready to Innovate, 2008).

So why does it seem that the arts and arts education are “outside the loop” in some of the policy discussions of building the skills of creativity and innovation in the next generations of students?

How do we clarify and strengthen the connection between learning in the arts, creativity, and innovation?

If creativity and innovation are buzzwords included in the dialogue about the ways we need to educate students to compete in the 21st Century, then why would the arts not be central to this discussion, rather than peripheral and even subject to elimination entirely?

Perhaps it is generational. We need to realize that an entire generation of policy makers and leaders may not have had the arts in either their K-12 education or their lives either in school or out of school. And their children may not be having the arts in their lives in a rigorous way that builds widespread understanding that the arts can be assessed.

As a community, we also sometimes tend to “set ourselves apart.”

We like to say that we different, we are unique (a term to use very carefully, in my opinion), and that is not always well-received. But generally, we really aren’t against having students study and achieve in science and mathematics.

We are in favor of students having a breadth and depth of experiences in all areas, and we’re focused on access to high quality arts education for all students, not only those who are interested in pursuing a career in the arts.

We’re not always making the connection that the creative process in the arts parallels the creative process in science – seeking knowledge to solve problems based on testing hypotheses to explore a concept or idea, or exploring how materials can be used, capitalizing on mistakes or improvisations (what happens if I try this?) identifying trends and, as an innovator, ultimately “breaking the rules” so to speak.

Another reason is that other subject areas in the curriculum – and life, for that matter – do involve creativity, ingenuity, and innovation.

Creative writing, for example, has been claimed at times by language arts educators as well as the arts education sector. To arts educators, it is writing as an art form that counts because to us it is the arts where there are a variety of outcomes for individual human expression, and there isn’t one right answer.

After laying all of that out, I pose these questions.

Why don’t we be more proactive in using the words creativity and innovation overtly when we talk about the arts and arts education?

Can we encourage educators to set expectations for students that let them know that being creative and innovative is an intentional outcome of studying the arts, or do we continue to “keep it a secret?"

Author Daniel Pink has brought these factors into the public discourse.

Can we create a movement so that educators capitalize on this work to discuss ways in which creativity and innovation are learned through the arts and that creativity and innovation can be taught, learned, and assessed?

Have we really honed the best ways to let non-arts people understand how the arts teach creativity and innovation?

Do they think creativity and innovation in the arts and arts education is actually only synonymous with self-expression?

2 responses for Connecting Arts Education, Creativity, and Innovation


BJ Adler says
March 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Right on, Kathi! Well said!

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March 18, 2011 at 10:50 am

You make excellent points, ones that I feel I have been quietly shouting for years. Let's hope that our educational leaders will come to understand how problem solving in the arts can support innovative problem solving in STEM :)

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