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Projects > Imagination Lab
2003

The Imagination Lab continues to give young people a space to grow creatively. Each successive facilitator has brought his/her own insight and style into the process, and this original proposal is very far from the reality today. Nevertheless, I applaud the work of the Imagination Lab, and hope it will continue to grow in whatever form it takes.To find out more about Imagination Lab, visit their website at www.imaginationlab.co.za.

Imagination Lab Proposal 2003

The following proposal was written to motivate for and guide the Imagination Lab Programme initiated by Anni Snyman in 2003 under the watchful eyes of Gordon Cook at the Vega Brand Communications School.

night visionprocess curriculum • product curriculumcontextoutline

The Imagination Lab programme is a course aimed at developing Creative skills and Ability in students. However, due to the very nature of creativity, it cannot be 'taught' in the traditional sense of the word. This programme attempts to provide an alternative approach to 'teaching' and creates a platform for creative development.

Night Vision (the shifting nature of creativity)

Creativity is not an activity undertaken for its own sake (however glamorous and romantic it is made to sound lately). People are involved in creative activities because they experience discomfort / are acutely aware of a problem / are responding to an innate need. The normative, the understandable and logical, the controllable and predictable, everything that can be pinned down and understood as FACT, does not constitute creativity. As soon as the fact is established, the creative tension and possibility flees somewhere else.

We cannot focus on anything without killing some of its magic with our language and our analytical minds. Therefore, a course focused on creativity is sure to fail. Paradoxically, we need to focus on an external problem or task in order to develop our own creative resources. Similarly, our personally motivated creative activities will feed and sustain our creative production in the shared arena.

It is of vital importance that both learners and teachers are aware of this 'trick' that enables us to teach and learn more creative ways of thinking and acting. Thus the Imagination Lab's focus on the external mentor's creative process, and creating documentaries is not just a task in itself, it is the very thing that allows us to contemplate and develop our own processes.

We foresee a curriculum that has right from the outset the 'telescope*' approach: one eye closed (gazing inwards) and one eye open (seeing outwards) through the lens of a specific discipline in order to see further. In other words, the development of the individual apprentice on the one hand, and the product, or research prototype on the other.

*Slightly changed, but the metaphor is from Dru's book on "Disruption".

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The Process curriculum (the way of the closed eye)

This curriculum will take the essence of the Vega Quest and Process programme and introduce apprentices to a discipline of following the internal voice, or creative impulse. Staff members assigned to a lab must lead in this by way of their own example, and make time within each day to follow the muse. The disciplined crafting and transformation of the impulse through a medium will find its most successful expression in the craft or chosen medium of the staff member. In addition, the lab participants that are not in the active (documentary-making) team, will be exploring the mediums and processes of the mentors of that cycle.

Some clarity is needed in terms what is meant by a person's creative process. This is best illustrated by means of an anecdotal description of the way the poet Dylan Thomas lived his creative life:

"... Taking the narrow road along the edge of the cliff, Dylan made his way every morning to Brown's Hotel, a comfortable pub on the village high street. This stood opposite the Pelican, where the poet, always an attentive son, arranged for his elderly parents to stay. In the pub's kitchen, Dylan took his place at a large wooden table, a bottle of beer always within arm's reach, and continued his dialogue with the proprietess, Ivy Williams, involving a thousand local stories of jealousy and passion. As they spoke, forbidden romances began to surface, dramas to erupt, and murderous plots to unfold. Earthy, violent or trivial, the stories all fed Dylan's imagination to live again through the characters of Under Milk Wood, his 'play for voices' written in 1953 for radio.

At lunchtime, Dylan took the path homeward, high on beer, gossip and scandal. His capacity to drink from morning till night at the very limit of complete inebriation was remarkable. He astounded Caitlin with the wild love stories he picked up at Brown's, dazzling her with an overflowing torrent of words.

Dylan reserved the afternoon for writing, always acknowledging the discipline required for inspiration to flow. Secluded in the garage, he composed poems and worked on Under Milk Wood. In the process, he took Ivy Williams's stories and rewove them into fabulous adventures, narratives in which the people of Laughame, observed every morning through the smoke stained windows at Brown's, became fantastic characters in hot pursuit of everyday folly.

No one dared disturb the poet when he was at work. Occasionally Caitlin, with the children, would pass the door of his hideaway, and from the tense silence within she could hear his voice, in all its sweetness and gravity, declaiming his own poems.

Late in the day, Dylan would retrace his steps to the pub for his nightly tryst with beer. Now Caitlin followed him, for "I had to go with him or not see him."

Together they would lose themselves in a giddying descent in which she declared herself ready for anything..."

By Francesca Premoli-Droulers, From "Writers' Houses"

Dylan's 'process' involved all of this: the village, the pub, the gossips and their stories, the beer, the discipline of the afternoons, the garage, the seclusion, the support of his wife Caitlin, etc.

Creative activity involves the entire being - from the motivation, the weaknesses, the loftiest ideals, to the tiniest little eccentricity that seems unrelated to the craft. As an example: from this short description, the aware facilitator can assist students to

  • get an idea to use gossip as a form of inspiration - to actively look for it
  • consider using their biggest handicap (as in Dylan's case, alcohol) as a vehicle towards inspiration
  • see that a big chunk of anti-social seclusion, or things that might seem selfish, could be necessary if we want to pursue the muse, and make time for that

One can read Dylan's poetry, and be overawed by the brilliance of his genius. Such respect is healthy and good, but it leads to a paralysing fear of 'not being good enough' when compared to ones own output. However, when one understands the humanity of even the greatest amongst us, one can get an idea of how to approach and release the genius within.

When we look for the creative process, we look for an attitude, a personality trait, a habit, a medium - everything that leads to the product, but is not contained within it.

(It is suggested that facilitators look at Bluebeard's Key - An Outline of the Creative Process (by Anni Snyman) as a tool to help them identify useful creative attitudes, habits, or actions.)

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The Product curriculum (the way of looking through the lens of a Discipline)

The Imagination Lab aims to address the obvious flaws in traditional education regarding creativity. It is well documented that learners' creative ability atrophies in the course of formal schooling. There are many reasons for this, one of the most crucial factors being the lack of positive creative role models. It is a sad fact that the more creative teachers almost inevitably leave a restrictive teaching environment, and most children are surrounded by parents, teachers and peers that are entrenched in a daily struggle for survival, towing the line, expecting everyone else to stay in line as well.

The goal of the imagination lab is to provide those creative role models, and to introduce them to the lab participants. To analyse their creative processes, and to study the different disciplines and media available.

We will do so by making creative documentaries of these creative role models' processes. Learning takes place in the doing of the task at hand, with regular, but interspersed sessions where the goal is to get an intellectual perspective and interactive evaluation of the work produced.

The lens (discipline) utilised will differ from mentor to mentor, with each different field yielding its own possibilities.

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Context

The basic underlying curriculum will cover four areas:

  • Applied context -
    economic survival (body/matter as function) - life skills, branding, developing strategies, apprenticeships, developing campaigns/ presentations to real industry clients.
  • Academic context -
    learning to think (mind as function), historical role models, philosophy marketing, RESEARCH/ questioning as THE tool amongst tools.
  • Craft context -
    communication (spirit/intuition as function) - working in teams, understanding the craft disciplines, creating for an audience. The digital tool as a means of expression/communication.
  • Art context -
    creativity (feeling / soul as function) - intrapersonal research/context; process, quest, finding out what you are about yourself, exploring media, the subconscious, etc.

These four divisions are extremely helpful in evaluating the creative scope of one's teaching. Since all teachers and mentors would be stronger in one area than the others, a Lab Navigator should use this as a tool in selecting those that provide input, to ensure that students get the opportunity to find role models and develop skills in all four 'possibility quarters'.

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Outline

We imagine the lab programme to follow a series of six 6-week cycles.

Thus the first cycle will function as an introduction to the Vega methodology, covering the following -

The student as active learning partner.
Establishing the learner as the active partner in the learning process. The facilitating role of the 'lecturer'. This entails a learning system that empowers the learner in the following ways:

  • Choice.
    At the start of a year, students have a range of subject matters/mentors - role models identified earlier - that they can choose from (learners are expected to choose at least 50% of the options available.) Making choices is the first step in learning to live with the possibility of mistakes as creative accidents (Entirely pre-structured curricula and programmes rob learners of the first essential creative tool: curiosity / self-motivation.)
  • Teaching as learning tool.
    When the chosen subjects/mentors are available, those learners (limited to 5 per mentor/subject) attend the workshop, transfer the knowledge/experience to their peers at the lab through appropriate means, and initiate, oversee (in conjunction with the lab facilitator) the project connected to that workshop. (All teachers know that they have never learnt as much, as when they were supposed to do the teaching. It is an empowering experience that should not be hogged.)
  • Self-assessment.
    They take the results back to the mentor, present it, and get feedback. This is also taken back and presented to the lab participants. (If one can do the teaching, one can surely assess the result? Moving the entire traditional educational role to the participant, will help them to realise their own power of analysis and understanding.) No 'marks' are given in the entire imagination lab programme. A portfolio of evidence is required to achieve the certificate credits.

Basic Computer literacy.
One or two applications (chosen in terms of the foreseen demands of the research project) Practice is the essence of any computer skill, so the course of the project will demand a growth in skill.

Initiating creative quest.
(Finding and nurturing the creative centre of each learner) and focusing the first phases of 'Problem Articulation and Research' on this. In order to establish lifelong habits of creative living and thinking - learners have to understand themselves and their own motivation. One will only be creative in the long run in a field that truly excites one. This aspect of the course aim to find that motivating something.

Creative Process
Exploring a medium of creative transformation - learning a skill that forms the first 'protoyping' exercise (Obviously the theme is to be linked to the quest project) There is a direct link between one's self esteem and ability to do something well. As well as between self-esteem and belief and creative output. Quite apart from the need to think with your entire body in order to be creative, this alone justifies the process part of the curriculum.)

Proposal and presentation.
Developing a proposal and presentation to communicate the group's (learners and facilitators) vision for the year's learning programme. Right through the year learners will be expected to create such presentations. Boardroom communication is the one thing that has spelled success or failure to so many creative endeavours. We have to get good at it.

Assessment.
Assessment of all aspects of the first cycle, and setting goals for the next cycle.

The following Cycles build on the introduction of the first, but is focused on creating twelve creative documentaries on selected mentors.

The last part of the sixth cycle is spent on creating portfolios and testimonials for the lab-members, and preparing them for the next phase of their individual paths. True, informed career counselling (Placement, enrolment at other institutions, Vega programmes, etc.)

It is important not to overload the structured programme - to allow space for the creative accident to happen, for students and facilitators alike to pursue interests and concepts that is bound to pop up in such a vibrant situation.

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Posted 07 August 2005, www.annisnyman.co.za, author: Anni Snyman

All work is under a Creative Commons Copyright Licence.

 

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