The Imagination Summit at Lincoln Center Institute
According to executive director Scott Noppe Brandon of the Lincoln Center Institute, organizer of the second international Imagination Summit, “imagination and creativity plays out in everything we do. How do we incorporate it into learning?” Educators, foundation heads, innovators, artists and writers all came together from different parts of the world to explore the answers.
A panel of innovators shared their experiences with using an imaginative approach to solving problems and coming up with solutions.
Architecture for Humanity
“Innovation is a spark but creativity is a journey,” said Cameron Sinclair, the CEO and co-founder of Architecture for Humanity, an organization that helps communities in need.
Sinclair, a London native, explained that he became an architect because of bad architecture. “I looked at what was around me and I said, how can we change this?” Sinclair had one goal in mind: create better communities for those in need. With only $700 in his pocket, Sinclair left London for New York City.
It was in New York that Sinclair’s idea for Architecture for Humanity began. After only 12 years since the inception of Sinclair’s concept for Architecture for Humanity, the organization is currently working on 400 projects in 44 countries. Two million people are either living or working in structures developed by the organization today.
“We take these really creative architects and embed them in the communities. The community designs with us and we pay them,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair doesn’t quit until the job is done. Sinclair has a theory he calls urban acupuncture, which entails reconstruction beginning at the heart of the problem — the most dangerous and violent section of a city, and begins with positive change there. Citing a particular area of high crime in Africa where people were “raped, killed and dumped,” he said the organization began developing the area until there was a decrease in crimes and a 200-percent increase in perceived safety. Sinclair made it clear that this perceived safety is extremely important because “if people perceive safety, they congregate. And the more people get there, the safer it is,” he explained.
He expanded upon how similar events have taken place in Sri Lanka, Brazil, Rwanda, Kenya, Afghanistan, Lesotho and more. Each country had a different story, attesting to the creativity of his team.
Fifty percent of all Architecture for Humanity projects focus on post-disaster care. His team is currently working on the reconstruction of Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, and also played an instrumental part in post-Katrina efforts.
“Architecture is where life happens,” Sinclair concluded. “This is the vessel of life — what architecture is really about.”
Tony DeRose is a senior scientist and lead of the research group at Pixar Animation Studios. He and his team won an Oscar for the studio’s 1999 short film “Geri’s Game,” about an elderly man playing chess in the park.
“At Disney, Pixar is about inspiration and relevance and working with colleagues,” he said. He brought this sentiment to the Young Makers Program to give kids a chance to do just that — create, imagine and invent. The first Young Makers Program was held in the Bay Area in 2010.
Kids involved with the program work with a mentor and present their project at the Maker Faire at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
DeRose and his two sons worked on several projects together and he knew it would be a great experience for other kids. Thus the Young Makers Program was born.
Other local Maker clubs branched out throughout Northern California and over 20 clubs with 100 young makers and 50 adult volunteers participated at the 2011 Bay Area Maker Faire, where 40 team projects were created and presented.
DeRose said that the open-ended nature of the program, which encourages kids to think up an idea and put it into practice using science, technology engineering and math skills, makes for great teachable moments. The mentors encourage the students to come up with creative solutions to problems.
DeRose hopes to start more clubs around the country and that other kids to participate in community building.
“They will have to master technologies that haven’t been invented yet,” he said. “It is crucial to focus on clarity, innovation, invention, the importance of learning on one’s own.”
Charles F. Wald
U.S. Army General
General Charles F. Wald, a retired United States Air Force four-star general, was the final speaker on the panel. Stating that his goal “is to eliminate my job,” Wald framed America’s creativity challenges in light of our increasingly global world. Speaking from his experience of visiting 140 countries, Wald noted that our relationship with other nations is bound to become more complex. Americans must engage in this increasingly global world, “like it or not,” he said.
Remarking that necessity and creativity are closely connected, Wald said that the challenge we face as a nation is to “create environments where people feel creative.” General Wald shared the story of a 44-hour mission from the United States to Afghanistan, from October 6th to 7th, 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks.
Wald said the mission was a technological feat, with data from the plane streaming at high speeds from the air to Langley Air Force Base and Norfolk, Va.
The General used the story of the flight to demonstrate the necessity of imagination and creativity. Ward, noting that the military is not perceived as innovative, averred the importance of creativity in all areas of life. He concluded his comments by saying that creativity must be an integral part of public education.
Kiran Bir Sethi
Design for Change
The Design for Change School Challenge, which started in India and has gone on to impact students in over 300,000 schools in 33 countries, had a humble origin. Kiran Bir Sethi’s son came home from school one day, crushed that an essay he had written was not well-received at school. She said the lack of choice students have for their educational career leads to a lack of creativity, empathy and imagination.
She started the Design for Change contest to give children in India —and now across the globe — the opportunity to use their creativity and imagination to envision a better world and put ideas into action. What started with her son now has involved 25 million children being able to say, “I can,” she said.
“We took the imaginative process and demystified it so it became accessible, replicable and, I think, sustainable,” she said.#