Why the Caribbean Needs a Creative Revolution


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Creatives are known for the outcome of their creativity, but this is a call for them to tap into th A talk given at the Rex Nettleford Arts Conference 2011 at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and the Performing Arts.

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  • What if I told you that you these truck tires could improve your children’s math skills?
  • Or that you could use hip hop to reduce juvenile delinquency?
  • Or better yet, What if I told you...you could reduce road fatalities with the power of mime?You’d think I was crazy right?
  • You’d probably be right, but as crazy as those ideas are, are they any crazier than thinking that you can do the same things over and over again and expect to get a better result?That’s the definition of insanity, yet when it comes to tackling some of our biggest problems, that’s essentially what we’re doingEspecially when it comes to econ dev, we try the same tactics and methods year after year and when they don’t work, we think we’ll maybe we’ll put someone else in charge, or throw some more money at it, or give it another few years… thinking that maybe this time it’ll workTo me that’s crazy.
  • - so maybe the problem isn’t necessarily who’s in charge or how much money we’re putting in which program, but that we’re just looking at the situations all wrongWe’ve been staring at the problems so long that maybe what we need to do is look at them upside down and stare at them cross-eyed.That’s what I want to talk to you about today, not the cross-eyed part, but the upside down part…because in order to radically shift the way we approach our problems we need people like you…People who don’t think the way normal people do…(I mean that in the best way)You’re not normal, and that’s a good thing…
  • Our ability to look at the same things everyone else looks at and see something completely different is what makes you so vital to this,It’s not just the outcome of your creativity, but you’re creativity itself that’s a severely untapped natural resourceThe challenge for us is that…
  • we’re usually using that ability within our own creative space. =================Artists & designers – look betterWriters & musicians - stories sound better
  • Dancers – make us feel physically inadequate
  • We all use those skills in various waysI want you to see is how useful we can be when we apply those same creative problem-solving skills to contexts we’re not used to playing in
  • Let’s say you’ve been asked to be a part of a task force at the ministry of transportation, specifically in charge of dealing with the problem of road fatalities.  There are 3 options on the table:1. there aren’t enough road signs…2. the problem is there aren’t enough police on the roads3. there aren’t enough street performersWhich do you choose?Conventional Wisdom says you should probably pick a or b, right?. But why? is it because they’ve worked really well in the past or because that’s just what we’re used to doing?
  • While you’re asking yourself that, ask this, So what would happen if you picked C?We don’t have to wonder..In the mid 90s the mayor of Bogota Columbia did and here’s what happened
  • What he did was hire the street mimes of the city to shame the motorist caught speeding or violating traffic laws.As a result Bogota saw a 50% reduction in road fatalities. It turned out Columbian drivers were more deterred by embarrassment than speeding fines
  • Who was this crazy mayor? AntanasMockus:- no prior political experience- son of a Lithuanian artist...not a slave to fashion.Because he didn’t have a political background, he wasn’t burdened by conventional wisdom so he was open to trying new and crazy ideas. Like walking around downtown Bogota dressed as his alter ego Super Citizen.
  • ORduring one of the times the city had a water shortage, he did as most politicians do and went on national TV to encourage his citizens to use less water when they showered. But he took it 1 step further and actually showed them HIMSELFResult of that crazy stunt: 40% drop in water usageNow I can hear your objections alreadyYou’re thinking, sure those crazy ideas worked for him, but they won’t work here.
  • Probably not, could you see ____________ wearing these tights? But that’s not the point
  • But the point isn’t to try and import solutions from other cities, but come up with our ownWith people who know the particular local ideosyncrasiesusing one of our most overlooked natural resources... the creativity of our people.
  • Another objection I hear you thining is “we won’t always have the benefit of a crazy leader like Mockus in gov’t.” But there’re still real impact we can make as creatives on a grassroots level.
  • Where I live, Juvenile delinquency is a huge problem - usual methods for dealing with this issue? Lock ‘em up, put them somewhere we don’t have to see them.
  • Another big problem we have is eWasteEver wondered where all those computers and cell phones go when we’re done with them? “Dump ‘em!”Just like the kids, we throw the garbage where we don’t have to see them anymoreOut of sight out of mind
  • So we have computers being thrown into the landfill and kids being thrown into the social landfill.Either one of these is a huge issue to tackle, but to try and tackle both at the same time would be crazy!Let me introduce you to some crazy people...
  • Meet Tony & Davena Jordan - started a non-profit All walks of life (AWOL) - arts based after school program for at risk youth.- Where conv wisdom says take these kids out of sight, Tony & Davena did the complete opposite, they're putting them center-stage. Literally.
  • They teach the kids about the theatrical arts, and put on a hip hop play each year (this year’s was based on Shakespeare’s sonnets)- they teach the kids about poetry and hold open mic nights- they teach them about sound design and at the end record their own Hip Hop albums- even creating festivals for them Savannah Urban Arts FestivalJust a multitude of outlets fro the kdis to express themselves creativelyResult: 22% drop in juvenile arrests over the last 3 years
  • So Juvenile Delinquency (check)But wait there’s more
  • Remember I was talking about the ewaste problem, Well a part of their program involves taking old PCs from the school system or the city gov’tthat were on their way tothe landfill
  • And training the kids on how to refurbish them. They’re actually in the process of earning Cisco certification so that the kids can have some sort of professional qualification once they graduate from their program
  • Then what do they do with all these refurbished computers when they're done?
  • They give them to needy families in the community. Even offering tech support and continued maintenance after the fact
  • so for those keeping score at homeTeam Crazy Ideas has successfully tackled:Juvenile delinquencyeWasteWorkforce training ANDproviding access to technologyAll through a resistance to just accept conventional wisdom.
  • But maybe you’re not as ambitious as these guys. few people are. So how about tackling 1 issue
  • So how about another big one, like Education?So building on the success of yourYou’re the minister of education and you’ve been tasked with improving the common entrance scores of our primary school students.Where would you spend your time & effort? A – build more classroomsB – buy more textbooks orC – build playgrounds out of old truck tires-----------------------Conventional wisdom tells us that A & B of course are the best options, since that's what we've been focusing on decades, But, of course you know where this is going right?
  • SO what would happen if we picked option C?A group of industrial designers and architects did just that.they came up with a series of interactive group game that taught kids math, all they needed were a bunch of tires and some dirt...How did that work?
  • Well 1 such game they came up with - using numbers and math symbols, the teacher would yell out a number, the kids would need to sit on the appropriate tiresBuilding on that success
  • And it spread to other countries in the Caribbean and even Africa,Results:higher test scoresstudents more engaged with the subjects, retaining more and understanding moreBecause they’re having more fun learning a subject that’s usually very tire-some
  • …like any revolution there needs to be a manifestoSo here are the 3 points I want to leave you with:
  • 1. Like those designers who created the Learning Landscape Network- don’t allow your lack of experience in a field convince you that you have nothing to offer that field.they had no experience with primary school education yet they jumped head first into an initiative that's helping kids around the world.
  • Like Tony & Davena (AWOL)- don’t let the size of the problem convince you to not even tryy.Because hard doesn’t mean impossibleI’m sure there are a lot of ‘good reasons’ why teaching kids about shakespeare or poetry won’t keep them out of prioson, but for some reason it’s working, and we’d never know if they hadn’t tried…
  • and like our friend SuperCitizen, don’t be blinded by Conventional Wisdom.Who would’ve thought that mimes could reduce road fatalities or a man in yellow tights could improve the safety in 1 of the most violent places in the world. Conventional Wisdom would’ve told you, that you were crazy, but the thing to remember about Conventional Wisdom, is that
  • Almost always the former… very rarely the latter
  • Why the Caribbean Needs a Creative Revolution

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