Platforms for creativity #2

Monday, March 30, 2015

In my last post, I mentioned the talk on Platforms for Creativity that I co-presented with David Gauntlett in Dundee in January. Having had more time to reflect, I now want to capture a few points that I/we made in the talk, that aren't written down elsewhere.

In talking about 'platforms for creativity', we were thinking about initiatives that support people to creatively express themselves - from the perspective that these activities have many benefits in terms of openness, connectedness, well-being, social change and sustainability. (You can read our discussion about the links between creativity, sustainability and social change in our blog posts on sustainability and small steps.)

Our starting point for the Dundee talk was a list of eight principles for building platforms for creativity, which David came up with after working in collaboration with three different media organisations. All of these projects aimed to create digital platforms through which people could 'contribute their own creative expressions within a structured environment'. You can read the eight principles in this blog post, originally written in April 2012.

In our talk, we discussed the idea of platforms for creativity and then a number of initiatives which could be described in this way. One of these projects was my Knitting Circle, part of the Keep & Share Knitting Tent which has popped up at various summer music festivals over the past few years. Although David's eight principles had been written in relation to digital platforms, when I first heard him talk about them I realised that they applied just as much to my 'real world' Knitting Circle as to online environments. This helped me to see my own project in a new way, and think about how I might amplify the positive characteristics of the experience. (You can read a bit more in this post from July 2012.)

Other examples of platforms for creativity that we discussed - and which the eight principles could also potentially apply to - included the many workshops using Lego that David has run over the years (notably discussed in his book, Creative Explorations); the fabulous Smörgåsboard project by Melanie Bowles and Kathy Round, which supports people to design their own printed textiles; the Global Cardboard Challenge, which simply invites children to create amazing stuff from cardboard; and De Chocoladefabriek in Gouda - a fantastic, multifaceted, creative civic space.

In discussing this diverse range of examples, we realised that although platforms for creativity often involve tools - physical or digital things that support making - there is an important role for elements which are often less tangible and visible: tasks and spaces. In the case of the Global Cardboard Challenge, for example, the 'tools' are commonplace; the 'platform' is essentially the open task which invites people to participate, and the online space where they can share their creations.

We also discussed the workshops I carried out as part of my PhD research, where I supported a group of amateur knitters to try out a range of re-knitting techniques, and eventually to creatively rework an item from their own wardrobes. This project can be seen as a platform for creativity, because the participants went beyond what they had previously thought possible, in terms of their ability to design for themselves and make confident creative decisions. 

The workshops took place at my knitwear studio, which was seen as being a creative physical space. More importantly, the structure of the project offered a conceptual space in which the knitters were given 'permission' to be creative: to experiment, to make mistakes, to try out ideas - and to 'waste time' in doing so. As one of the participants observed:

Well, that's been the thing about these workshops, and the space between them, is... I'm getting permission by being here. To play around with things, and it's not wasteful to spend time doing things and pulling them back.

It's a freedom that you have, but you don't know you've got.

At one of the early workshops, I asked the participants to gather inspirational materials that they might subsequently use to design with. I wasn't sure how they'd respond - would they find it tricky to find stuff? But at the next workshop they turned up with piles of fantastic inspiration! Intriguingly, they'd managed to gather all of this from within their homes - suggesting that, in this case, they already had the physical 'tools' which would help them to be creative. Through the structure of the project - the permissive space and the specific task - I'd enabled them to see things they already owned through a creative lens, with new potential.

At the end of our talk we concluded that platforms for creativity can take many forms, and vary in scale - but that all are about creating opportunities. They need structure, which can be created through tools, tasks and spaces; and successful platforms are underpinned by a sense of invitation, or even permission.

With all this in mind, I'm now wondering: How simple can platforms for creativity be? How much can we incorporate pre-existing tools, rather than inventing new ones? What are the qualities which create that sense of permission? And might it be possible to frame elements which initially appear rather fixed - such as a conventional knitting pattern - as a platform for creative exploration?

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