"Creative Thinking" Project In the Home Stretch

Above, artists discuss creativity at the symposium, "Brainstorm."

The University is on track in implementing its “Creative Thinking” initiative, under the auspices of the College of the Arts’ Office of Arts and Cultural Programming (ACP) and the Research Academy for University Learning (RAUL), and to offer a groundbreaking Creative Thinking course for all students in 2012.

The course is the culmination of a Creative Campus project, which the ACP initiated on receiving a highly competitive two-year Creative Campus Innovations Grant of $200,000 with an additional $53,000 for discretionary ACP projects in September 2010.  The grant is awarded by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Montclair State is one of only six universities from a pool of 163 applicants to have received the grant.

As part of the grant, ACP designed the Creative Campus project to support increased interaction between the artists who perform on campus through the Peak Performances series at the Alexander Kasser Theater and the students and faculty. The course component of the project is copiloted by the ACP, which produces Peak Performances and is headed by executive director Jedediah Wheeler, and RAUL, led by Dr Ken Bain, director.

“ACP applied for the grant because I wanted an opportunity to deepen the campus' awareness of my office's relationship with the entire campus and, in doing so, emphasize that the arts play an ongoing role in the creative lives of everyone, in all disciplines,” explains Wheeler.

The grant will facilitate the participation of visual/theater artist Robert Whitman; artists from the UK-based company Wayne McGregor|Random Dance; and iconic American director Robert Wilson, all of whom have committed to residencies at Montclair State from 2010-2012. All three of the visiting artists are known for their interest in multidisciplinary creativity.
The outcome is to be the Creative Thinking course designed by an interdisciplinary faculty working group. The team of eight Montclair State faculty members includes Jerry Fails, Computer Science; Harry Haines, chairperson, Communication Studies; Mika Munakata, Mathematical Sciences; Tiger Roholt, Philosophy and Religion; Debbie Saivetz, Theatre and Dance; Marissa Silverman, Cali School of Music; Ashwin Vaidya, Mathematical Sciences/Physics; and Yawei Wang, Marketing. Wheeler, Carrie Urbanic, ACP’s Cultural Engagement Director, Sarah Bishop-Stone, project coordinator, Cigdem Talgar, RAUL’s Associate Director, Julie Dalley, Assistant Director of RAUL, and Dr. Bain, who’s also vice provost for University Learning, round out the committee.

The working group’s aim is to create a multi-disciplinary course on creativity, informed by the famous course and program developed by the artist, educator and author the late Paul Baker (http://www.bakeridea.org/), that produced many creative people in a wide variety of fields. Baker, a renowned theater director who taught at Baylor and Trinity universities in Texas, wrote The Integration of Abilities: Ideas for Creative Growth (Anchorage Press, 1977).

Using the methods Baker laid out in his book as inspiration, the team has collaborated extensively on designing a course that inspires creativity and looks at how it can be integrated into myriad disciplines to ignite ingenuity, innovation and critical thinking.  The visiting artists have served as a resource during this development process, by working with the faculty group on ideas for the course as well as participating in workshops with students and panel discussions about creativity, including last April’s Brainstorm symposium.

“I chose the artists because of the way each approaches creating new work,” explains Wheeler. “Robert Whitman is deeply intuitive and spontaneous. Wayne MacGregor has developed Choreographic Thinking Tools to open his work to new possibilities [and] Robert Wilson was a protégé of Paul Baker whose work serves as an inspiration for the course itself.”

Wheeler added that others will be featured to round out the course.

“Annually, artists, scientists, writers, etcetera, individuals who exemplify a facility with what Dr. Ken Bain calls ‘adaptive expertise’ will be part of the course itself,” Wheeler said.
Bain, who took Baker’s course as a student at Baylor, will be the lead teacher of Montclair State’s pilot course, scheduled to be offered as a three-credit elective during the 2012 summer session. The ultimate plan is for all incoming freshmen to take the course as part of their general education requirements.

Gaining an understanding of—and confidence in—their creative abilities can enhance not only students’ academic performance but also their personal lives, and can serve them well long after they leave school. Bain said he hopes to see the course become, over the long term, “the heart of an undergraduate education” at Montclair State and, potentially, serve as a model for other learning institutions.

Visit the blog about the Creative Campus initiative at Montclair State University.

Some information in this article was contributed by “Montclair,” the magazine of Montclair State University.