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Newsletter Block IV, Week Two

"This living is serious business. We are all on a journey into the unknown." - Paula Stone Williams 

TEDxMileHigh, November 2019
Inside this Newsletter 
  1. Innovators in Residence
  2. The Big Idea : Registration & Important Dates for Teams
  3. Anthropocene: An Innovation Collaboration with Dr. Sarah Hautzinger
  4. A Trip to TEDxMileHigh
Innovators in Residence
During Block 3, Creativity & Innovation was delighted to host the third residency with Innovators in Residence: Senga Nengudi, Eddy Kwon, Crow Nishimura, and Joshua Kohl. Representing visual, musical, and performing arts, this newly-formed artistic collaborative is in the process of developing a new multi-media creative work to be presented in 2021. The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College and Innovation at CC are collaborating to support the artists’ creative process by bringing the group together in Colorado Springs regularly to develop the project. As this process unfolds, the artists have agreed to interact with our community to share their work, methodologies, and generous spirits. The collaborative members, who are from Colorado Springs, Cincinnati, and Seattle, respectively, hosted two convergence classes during their residency in November. They brought together students from Advanced Sculpture, Directing I, Molecular Biology, Choreography, Contemporary Poetry, and Songwriting together in ways that were unexpected and fulfilling. 
 
During these convergence classes, the Innovators in Residence shared creative practices with the groups, focusing on improvisation, mindfulness, and collaboration. These three core values inform the development of the visual and performance piece they are creating for our community in 2021. At the end of their first week on campus, the collaborative shared their work in progress with students and faculty before delving into a week of creative experimentation. If you missed them in block 3, don’t despair, they will be back for an extended residency leading up to their performance in academic year 2020-2021.

 
Anthropocene:  A Creativity & Innovation Collaboration with Dr. Sarah Hautzinger

            By Jane Hilberry

            Professor of Creativity and Innovation; Schlosser Professor in the Arts
Before the school year began, Dr. Sarah Hautzinger, Jessica Hunter-Larsen, and I began to brainstorm ways that Creativity & Innovation might collaborate with her on her Block 1 FYE Anthropology class titled Anthropocene, a course that, according to Dr. Hautzinger, explores what it means to be human at  “a time when we know human-caused climate change challenges lifeways and ecosystems globally.”  In week two, the students participate in a community-based learning initiative at Baca, working with members of the local Crestone-Baca Resiliency Initiative.
 
Dr. Hautzinger inquired about innovation grants and later applied for and received a grant that allowed Myra Jackson to partner with her to facilitate community-based learning.  A long-time visitor to Crestone, Jackson holds the title of Diplomat of the Biosphere, awarded by Stockholm Resilience Centre; she is a United Nations representative and an expert on the UN Harmony with Nature platform. 
 
Dr. Hautzinger also invited me to visit the class to work with students’ creativity in a way that would support and amplify her aims for the class. As we talked, Dr. Hautzinger described how students in last year’s course had spent time listening to residents of Crestone, climate activists and advocates for social justice, who had gathered with CC students to tell their stories.  She also expressed a desire to try something new with her students, to have them work creatively together to offer back to the Crestone community some of what they had heard and learned.
 
I’m a big believer in the power of a well-designed exercise, and as Dr. Hautzinger spoke, I thought of an exercise I had just experienced myself earlier in the summer, when I signed up to be a student in a week-long poetry workshop taught by a poet I admire wildly, Ross Gay.  It struck me that Ross Gay’s exercise would dovetail beautifully with Dr. Hautzinger’s aims:  it would engage students in listening in a way that goes beyond the literal, a kind of listening for the shape and music of a person’s speech.  It’s also an exercise that gives students practice in taking what they hear and using their creativity to transform it into a gift to return to the speaker.  In other words, it would parallel and prepare students for their involvement with community members in Crestone.
 
Here’s how the exercise works.  Each student writes down seven lyrical questions about their own lives.  I asked the students what “lyrical” meant to them. Like lyrics of a song, someone offered.  So yes, a lyrical question could be songlike, maybe poetic.  As examples I offered lyrical questions that a member of the summer workshop had written: “Where do I let the blue in?” and “How do I girl?”  Then the students wrote their own lyrical questions about their lives.
 
The great twist in the exercise comes in the next step.  The students pair up and they use their lists of lyrical questions about their own lives to interview each other. So student A is interviewing student B using questions very specific to student A’s life.  All I can say is that something magical happens in the gap here.  The question probably won’t apply directly or literally to student B’s life, and so I think what happens is that the imagination steps in and goes to work; it delivers answers that are oblique and at the same time truer and more revealing than the answer to a literal question would be.  
 
After the pair has interviewed each other, the next step is to make a gift for your partner that reflects back something of what they have told you.  The gesture is to offer something to the partner after having received the generosity of their responses, their stories. As an anthropologist, Dr. Hautzinger has given a lot of thought to the question of reciprocal giving and what that means for visitors/observers coming into a community; how can generosity move both ways between inside and outside parties? We talked a bit about Marcel Mauss and Lewis Hyde and the way the circulation of gifts shapes community.
 
To support gift creation, the classroom was filled with art supplies — paint, pastels, charcoal, various papers, magazines, books, ribbon, dowels, etc. etc.  Over a pizza lunch, the students constructed gifts for each other. Some went outside in search of materials — one young man found sticks and wired them together to make a mobile balanced with objects and written phrases of significance to his interview partner.  Another, whose partner had spoken about the importance of music in her life, found a piano on campus and recorded himself improvising a piece, which he played back for her.  There was an incredible sweetness to the gifts.  One young woman had mentioned in passing that she didn’t like to be cold, and her partner knitted a small blanket for her.  Another student had spoken about how he never felt he lived up to his own standards, and his interview partner made a medal for him to remind him of his value and ceremoniously placed it around his neck. 
 
When I had participated in the exercise in the summer workshop, my partner wrote a poem based on what I had told her, and I felt shockingly seen.  I couldn’t fathom how she had understood me so well after only 10 or 15 minutes of conversation.  (But that’s the power of the exercise.)  I suspected that the students, some at least, had a similar feeling.  One student commented on how much he had bonded with others in the class in just a few hours. 
 
The bonding is important — not just personally but pedagogically:  I believe that such bonding makes other things possible, such as deeper discussions and greater receptivity to differences of opinion.  When the students begin to trust each other, to know that they are seen for who they are, it provides a strong foundation for taking positive intellectual as well as social risks. 
 
One of the joys of my new role working with other faculty at the college is that I get a glimpse into my colleagues’ work with students. I can’t begin to describe the richness and impact of the experiences that Dr. Hautzinger, working with Myra Jackson, offered her students while at Baca. As student Susanna Mirick wrote, “We woke up each morning ready to have a completely new experience studying part of the Crestone/Baca Community.  We had the opportunity to meet people involved in all types of environmental issues and community involvement.” 
 
After connecting with a great variety of residents concerned with sustainability and social justice, after witnessing their efforts, their lives, their strategies for living with uncertainty and cultivating resilience, the students acknowledged their debt to the people who spoke with them by creating a carefully edited zine detailing their experiences. Adorned with color photographs, the zine is titled Response-Abilities in the Anthropocene:  A Colorado College Class’s Week at Crestone/Baca. The students’ accounts are exceptionally thoughtful (as the best gifts are). The students visited a couple who lived strictly off the grid with what class member Casmali Lopez described as the three necessary components for such living: “energy, water, and philosophy.”  They sat in on a water panel discussion about water sovereignty in the San Luis Valley and took a hike with a local resident on which, writes first-year Olivia Coutre, they “were encouraged to not think of water as something that comes out of a faucet, but as a living, breathing, energy-filled being.” They learned about restorative justice, sitting in a circle and participating in a process which, according to student Alek Malone, “showed us truly the potential that restorative practice has. If it can help create a family out of 17 homesick teenagers, then it has the potential to resolve almost any conflict.” In Crestone, a town where open-air human cremation is legal, members of the Crestone End of Life Project took the students through a mock cremation, a vivid experience that allowed student Susanna Mirick to visualize “the clouds of smoke rising up and blowing different directions depending on the wind that day…[and] the daunting image of the town of Crestone covered in a layer of cremation smoke.”
 
Copies of the zine have been distributed in Crestone and selections from it will be published in The Crestone Eagle, the local paper, so the students are in fact giving a reflective gift to the community that hosted them. What strikes me in reading their accounts is a certain quality of lyricism — a ghost, perhaps, of Ross Gay’s exercise? 
 
After a meeting with the Sangre de Cristo Dark Sky Reserve, the students gathered one evening on the roof, as class member Robin Andresen describes: “As the sun set, curiosity drew us to the roof of the lodge to stargaze.  We each stepped out onto the roof to witness the cosmos unfurl above us, deep and dense with stars.  We laid on our backs and watched intently for shooting stars, trying to pick constellations out of the dense cosmic tableau, and waxing philosophical about mortality and divinity. The simple pleasure of an unpolluted night sky…injected us with creativity and inspiration, turning what could have been a monotonous and weary night into one of intimacy and communion.” 
Read the class zine here!

A Trip to TEDxMileHigh

During the third Block Break, Creativity & Innovation at CC took six students up to Denver for the biannual TEDxMileHigh event. TEDxMileHigh features numerous innovative Coloradans from across the state representing a variety of fields and specialties. There are exhibitions from small startups tech companies, social justice non-profits, and more to entertain audience members before a group of highly qualified speakers take center stage to share their ideas. This year, the theme was “Imagination”.
 
The speakers included an aerospace engineer, entrepreneurs, writers and poets, a graphic designer, a marine biologist, immigration lawyers, a racial equity advisor, and more. Every speaker brought a new energy of curiosity to the room. Although all of their speeches were noteworthy, one that stood out was from Jennifer Reich, a public health expert. She ran a study on parents who don’t vaccinate their children, and she found that this decision does not come from a place of ignorance or arrogance, but from a place of fear. Parenting has become a competition, in which all parents see the world as a place of limited resources, so they want to make sure their children get the best. Her ultimate realization from her study: for a community to achieve its fullest potential, it must move away from an individualist mindset.
 
I left the large theatre in a group of highly intellectual students, engaged in conversation over what we had heard, representing just the ideal that Jennifer Reich and the TEDxMileHigh organization want to express; to excel in this world, we must share ideas with each other, talk, plan, and support each other in order to fix the problems we are faced with.

 



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