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How Creativity Strengthens Community

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ArtsSmarts, a non-profit helping schools across Canada use the tools of arts integration, recently announced its plans to explore the larger issue of the role of the whole community in fostering creativity.

Through their annual confab this fall, entitled "Cultivating Creative Communities: Arts, Education and Spaces for Successful 21st Century Learning," the effort asks "how (can) arts-in-education programs serve as catalysts for reimagining spaces that cultivate creativity and innovation?"

The concept of teaching the curriculum through the arts -- arts integration -- is not new and has been a staple in many educational programs in America for some time. So it's not surprising that Canada, through its many provinces, established arts integration as a vital and necessary part of the nation's educational strategy over 20 years ago.

In a way, it's not fair to compare the U.S. with Canada.

They are different countries and of a different size. The U.S. does have The Right Brain Initiative in the Northeast, Arts for All in Los Angeles, Big Thought in the Dallas area and the A+ Schools Program in North Carolina, among other initiatives.

It is too early to tell how America is responding to President Obama's Committee on The Arts and Humanities report called "Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America's Future Through Creative Schools." It unveiled the Committee's thinking about the important connection between art and culture and creativity, and promised an agenda for reinventing education in America.

Yet few countries have embraced the powers of the arts, and particularly arts integration, as an essential ingredient in fostering engagement and as Dana Gioia, former Chair of The National Endowment of the Arts, once said, nurturing the "pleasure, beauty and wonder" of learning.

Creativity is clearly a core competency for Canada's ArtsSmarts, a skill most in demand by employers around the world.

Among other findings the Obama Committee came to after over two years of study and research was that "arts integration" works, and that the "field of arts integration' (could be accelerated) 'through strengthening teacher preparation and professional development, targeting available arts funding, and setting up mechanisms for sharing ideas about arts integration through communities of practice. In this recommendation we identify roles for regional and state arts and education agencies as well as private funders."

Arts Integration, sometimes referred to as arts infusion, is about interdisciplinary education using the tools of the arts. As a unique consortium of arts organizations expressed it in a report called "Authentic Connections" such interdisciplinary work in the arts enabled students to "identify and apply authentic connections, promote learning by providing students with opportunities between disciplines and/or to understand, solve problems and make meaningful connections within the arts across disciplines on essential concepts that transcend individual disciplines."

Canada, believing that a mechanism for sharing ideas about arts integration through communities was essential, formally established ArtsSmarts in 1998 concentrating on art integration exclusively.

ArtsSmarts, importantly, is an organization that relies heavily on its partners and their communities of artists, teachers, parents and students, to work collaboratively in establishing programs in the schools. Perhaps for this reason, ArtsSmarts sees itself more like the Chicago Arts Partnership in Education (CAPE), which likewise, involves everyone in unique collaborations depending on the interest and desires of each community.

The organization has formed 16 key partnerships active in all 10 provinces that work with a total of 110 community partners and organizations. Together with their partners they have

"impacted the lives of over 475,000 students, 21,000 educators, 8,500 artists and 2,800 schools in 300 communities across Canada. In 2010-2011, our national network of partners completed 282 projects involving 22,672 students in 148 rural and 138 urban schools, facilitated by 370 artists, 1,164 teachers and 737 volunteers."

More regions of the world are coming to the realization that education is everyone's concern, and that the role of art-based training is critical to success.

Communities that fail to see the connections between education and economic development are left behind in fashioning strategies to compete in the world. Now that we are entering a new era in which creativity and innovation are the new drivers, failure to reinvent the city-the region-into a "creative community" will suffer as well.