Government, and Creativity
When Art Works…The Concert of Ideas
By Eric Booth
Leaps International’s keynote Concert of Ideas, “Unless
the Mind Catch Fire,” was first developed for George Washington
University Center for Excellence in Municipal Management (CEMM)
in 1997. A performance-based exploration of the intersections of
leadership, creativity, and personal integrity, “Unless the
Mind Catch Fire” has now become a cornerstone in Creative
Leaps International’s repertoire of leadership education
programming with CEMM and beyond. Below, renowned author and arts
education consultant Eric Booth provides a first-hand account of
the power of “Unless the Mind Catch Fire.”
the result of an innovative public-private partnership established
in 1997 with the founding premise that municipalities
need strong leadership and management capacity within the ranks
of government in order to thrive. While originally focused
solely on the District of Columbia, CEMM is now expanding in
bringing the lessons learned in the District to its work with
Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), other local governments,
and to local and regional governments internationally.
Leaps has been a partner to CEMM since its inception in 1997
as adjunct faculty to its executive training programs,
performing its signature Concerts of Ideas on leadership,
integrity and change to each of the 18 assemblies of municipal
that have enrolled in the CEMM program.
Art Works... the Concert of Ideas
article by Eric Booth about the educational and performance
of 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 minutes.
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,
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.