Creativity in the Midst of the Coronavirus

Guest Correspondence

BY DR. LARRY THOMPSON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY SEP 26, 2020

It was just five months ago when I last wrote about the importance creativity and the coming Creative Age. I think most would agree that, in those five short months, our world has been turned upside down.

Everyone has had to adjust to a multitude of changes that range from wearing face coverings and physically distancing from friends and loved ones to becoming adept at remote learning and working. Gone, at least temporarily, have been things we had always taken for granted – going to school, going to the movies, having fun at sporting events and even just going out to dinner with friends.

Schools, including Ringling College of Art and Design, have had to reimagine their instructional and student engagement plans while implementing measures to help maintain the health and safety of their students, faculty and staff. How do we deliver in-person courses in a physically distanced environment? Here at Ringling, we use adjacent rooms, repurpose large rooms for smaller classes and leverage technology to offer virtual and remote instruction. Another area to consider for residential campuses like ours is managing student life and the residential experience in a time of limited gathering sizes. Once again, creative thinking helped us craft virtual and online programs for new student orientation that included things like virtual coffee houses and for future student engagement efforts to help build community for students who are learning here in-person and remotely from around the world.

The physically distanced world the COVID-19 pandemic created over these last six months has shown us how incredibly important creativity is to every economic sector. It has played a crucial role in keeping us informed, engaged and connected during a time in which we have had to change everything about how we work and live.

If ever creative thinking was needed to solve problems, it is now. And we have seen its impacts all around us. Virtual amusement rides. Videos to help us understand how to keep ourselves and each other safe. Concerts via Zoom. Disney specials showcasing artists performing from home to bolster the spirits. Conferences, educational and social events delivered remotely. Even watching Zooms to see what someone’s living area looks like. We have seen amazing creativity over the last six months and it has helped to keep our worlds turning.

According to Mitchel Resnick, professor of learning research at MIT Media Lab, director of Lifelong Kindergarten research group, and founder of the Scratch project, “The coronavirus crisis highlights the growing need for creativity in today’s society,” and that although “situations like the coronavirus pandemic [hopefully] will be rare… the need to deal with unexpected challenges is becoming more and more common. It is becoming the new normal. In today’s fast-changing world, people are confronted with a never-ending stream of unknown, unexpected, and unpredictable situations. The ability to think and act creatively is now more important than ever before.”

Bas Korsten, global chief creative officer at Wunderman Thompson, asserts creativity can help get us through, and out of, this pandemic. “Creativity in the ways we communicate when we can’t be physically together; creativity in the ways the world’s best universities and pharma companies collaborate to come up with a vaccine for the virus; creativity in the ways we make living with our mothers-in-law work; creativity in the way we use humor to flood each other’s social channels; creativity in the ways we show support for the healthcare professionals, teachers, supermarket employees and everyone else who is risking their health to help us through this. Creativity as a potent source of survival is everywhere.”

I have to say I firmly agree with Bas Korsten when he says that combining the “holy trinity of creativity, technology, and humanity is the only way forward.” We have seen this trinity carry us through the last six months, and I have no doubt it will see us through this pandemic.

Dr. Larry Thompson is president of Ringling College of Art and Design.

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