Art Works... the Concert of Ideas
by Eric Booth about the educational and performance innovations
Creative Leaps International
at business and government conferences
The arts have been used for many purposes over the millennia: to delight,
instruct, enrich, challenge, and often to make the world a better place.
I recently attended a "Concert of Ideas" by the six talented
performers in Creative Leaps, and I saw art used in a clever, powerful,
strategic way that accomplished those other goals and more.
The performance itself is an engaging collage of music,
song, and thought. The audience with whom I attended were municipal officials
from Washington DC city government -- not your average art-attendees.
This Concert was the kickoff for a week of leadership training and team
building. From the very beginning, the warmth, informality and fun of
the performance drew in these administrators as people and as professionals.
Of course the audience was a little cautious at first, not sure what was
expected of them. But the performers deftly amused, offered appealing
participatory activities, and opened themselves so winningly that the
audience was wholehearted in attention and personal investment within
One moment our jaws
dropped at their musical virtuosity,
the next we were reflecting on a profound idea
about a deep issue of our relationship to our work.
You couldn't miss it: people rushing to volunteer to participate,
everyone joining in group activities, rapt silence for key performance
moments, frequent eruptions of laughter. The Concert is shaped so cleverly
with a fluid mix of information and different kinds of listening and connecting
challenges. One moment our jaws dropped at their musical virtuosity, the
next we were reflecting on a profound idea about a deep issue of our relationship
to our work.
The art opened me, us, up. The use of music kept the power
of the event under that cautionary radar we all keep to warn us against
challenges to the status quo; the performers and the music speak right
to the heart. And the messages are well chosen. They are messages of personal
empowerment, of deep priorities, of commitment, excellence and quality.
These are the wholesome, heartfelt, effective messages most management
courses hope to have participants address over time--yet when expressed
artistically, they have an added potency, immediacy, and intimacy.
Think about it for a moment. How do you respond when someone
tells you you should do something? It catalyzes a series of defensive
or cautionary internal actions--hardly the fertile soil you hope your
good ideas will fall on. Now imagine hearing a powerful song sung exquisitely
for you. It gets you thinking about that aspect of your own life. You
think and feel in balance, in harmony with the artwork, and by the end
of the song, you have a personal grip on that core issue, and how it might
be improved. The idea is well planted and growing.
That is the way the Concert of Ideas worked for me. And
for the others. The artistry brought me into openhearted reflection about
my values and practices, revived my optimism and deep yearnings to make
a difference. I was lucky to be able to attend a follow-up workshop in
which participants were invited to share their responses to the performance,
and then to begin to apply their personal responses to the issues of governance
and leadership that was their week-long agenda.
This workshop, led by John Cimino and all the performers,
enabled me to hear the impact of the Concert on the participants, and
it enabled them to grab their internal messages and clarify them for professional
and personal use. As person after person articulated his or her response
to the performance, I was astounded. Each had a deep personal insight
and a self-generated commitment to improve in the future. Frankly, I wouldn't
have believed it if I had not seen it. These were profound insights about
such things as: how one squelched the creativity of his employees; another
realized she played for safe goals in her department; another realized
the cost of becoming a dry professional and not the wholehearted leader
he wanted to be. They stated new commitments to nurture the unique strengths
of their workers, to set ambitious goals they cared deeply about, to be
better listeners, and so on. These were sentiments and ideas you would
be delighted to hear by the end of a week's workshop--through the skill
of the Concert, this happened within the first few hours. As one who also
designs and leads seminars about creativity in professional settings,
I was amazed at the efficiency and potency of the Concert of Ideas.
The six-person ensemble is a mix of three singers with
a pianist, a flutist and a percussionist. Many in the audience noted the
ways in which they modeled ideal collaboration: the skill of their ensemble
work, the generous sharing of focus, the multiple roles each performer
plays, and the palpable delight they took in one another's success. The
warmth of the Concert is clearly built upon the love these artists have
for one another, and it is infectious. The design and execution of the
Concert serves as a rich model on many levels.
Many people mouth great statements about the importance
of the arts for learning; Creative Leaps sings them into down-to-earth
inspiration that makes a difference in the real world. Management training
and business thinking never looked, sounded, or felt so good--and got
so much done at the same time.