“If I could tell you what it meant, I wouldn’t have to dance it.”—Martha Graham
In theory, brainstorming should be a great way for groups to arrive at an idea that is better than an idea that an individual could have come up with alone. The only problem: brainstorms often don’t actually do that. In a big group the ideas of a few people who feel confident enough to share their half-baked musings with everyone tend to drown out the rest. Yale researchers actually found that brainstorming can reduce a group’s creativity. So when collectively designing something, instead of brainstorming, try artstorming! “Artstorming” invites participants to jump directly into the unmediated experience of creation, engaging the full spectrum of our creative intelligence. Better ideas, and often amazing creations, result.
When artstorming, instead of a blank wall where people write up ideas from the group, everyone stands up and starts improvising together with all the tools at hand. Instead of theorizing about what would look or sound good, they try it out in the laboratory of the group. It starts with physical movement (proven to enhance creative output), then some form of improvisation (word association, or improv theater games) which prepare the brain to take risks.
Artstorming is really useful because it:
- Makes space for multiple intelligences and fluencies: Artstorming creates space for the spatially, kinesthetically and musically gifted folks, who might be alienated from a verbal brainstorm.
- Invites people’s full selves to be present: By engaging the full spectrum of our creative intelligence, artstorming taps into parts of ourselves that might be snoozing most of the time, and invites them into the room. They will be sorely needed in an arts action.
- Supports creativity: In an artstorm, people’s honest expression of the feelings and ideas that brought the group together in the first place are safe to come out and play, so more expression happens.
- Is counter-hegemonic: That’s right. Hakim Bey asserts that through the industrial revolution we have become increasingly alienated from our direct experiences with each other and with our art. Artstorming is an opportunity to reconnect ourselves, our art, and each other.
To design an arts based action using an art storm, begin with the simple question, “What art could we use to effectively tell X message to Y audience to achieve Z result?” (X,Y and Z are figured out prior). Use a brainstorm (not all brainstorms are bad) to list all of the different art media possible, including both visual and performance arts. Next, break up the room into groups that will artstorm using one to three media of their choice to develop their message. After ten minutes, have each group report back and give each other feedback so each can arrive at a focus for the next stage. At this time you can also allow people to switch groups if they’d like. Now the real artstorm begins, focusing on a single idea from the first round with a group of people who all want to make it happen. Invite each person to take a turn experimenting, with minimal verbal feedback. Eventually, groups will hit on an idea that works and morph into a group-led process of artistic co-creation.
Potential pitfalls: Some people may find an artstorm a truly terrifying experience. Don’t force people to do it or assume everyone in the room is comfortable working this way. Ask at the beginning. For those who declare a great discomfort with spontaneous creative work, give them a different role, say, offering verbal feedback to ensure that the groups are staying on-message.
Coming upUPCOMING EVENTS
Currently none scheduled
April 28, 6:30 PM PRESENTATION: Action Research Community Reception and Recognition, AERA conference. In the Grand Ballroom East, Grand Hyatt, San Francisco
Oct 6,7 WORKSHOP: Theater of the Oppressed 101 at the Center for Political Education, San Francisco. A follow up to Popular Education 101.
May 16,23 WORKSHOP: Participatory Action Research for educators and organizers at the Center for Political Education, San Francisco. Registration is open here: www.politicaleducation.org
June 3 WORKSHOP: From Forum to Action; Participatory Action Research grounded in Theater of the Oppressed At the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference, Berkeley. Register here: http://www.ptoweb.org/
dates tbd, 11:00-5:00 April 28-31 WORKSHOP: "Practices in Youth-Led and Theater-Based Participatory Action Research" & PRESENTATION: Youth-Led Action Research to Heal the Streets 9th Annual Action Research Conference at the UCSD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences San Diego, CA
March 28-31 WORKSHOP: "Exploring the Intersections of Whiteness and Femaleness" White Privilege Conference Albuquerque, NM
Feb 21, 6:00-9:00pm White Noise Dialogue to explore why so many people socialized as white and female are in helping professions. San Francisco.
Feb 27 & March 3, 11:00-5:00 WORKSHOP: Popular Education 101: Theories and Practices for organizers. At the Center for Political Education, San Francisco. A remixed and re-offered version of Paulo Freire 101 offered last Spring.
Oct 15, 10:30-12:00 Neighborhood Safety Summit, Laney College, Oakland. Last year's Heal the Streets youth fellows and OPD officers will talk about their mistrust of each other, and what to do about it.
Oct 18, 6:00-9:00 White Noise monthly dialogue, San Francisco. People socialized as both white and female talk about Cultural Appropriation www.conspireforchange.org
July 21 Chicago, IL, PTO conference Workshop: Harvesting Knowledge for Collective Action: Youth-Led Participatory Action Research at the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference
July 23, 24, 30, 31 @ 4pm San Juan Bautista, El Teatro Campesino Free Performance: Popol Vuh, Heart of Heaven
August 4-7, 2011 Portland, OR, Aero Conference 2 Workshops: Participatory Theater for Educators & Youth-Adult Partnerships: Practicing Youth-Led Participatory Action Research
September 3, 4, 5 @ 1pm San Juan Bautista, El Teatro Campesino Free Performance:Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven, Seven Macaw & the Magic Twins