Food for Thought, Tuesday 18th November

Maddie is the Assistant to the Artistic Director’s Office at Battersea Arts Centre. She co-ordinates diaries, meetings and projects, and follows the cat around the building, trying to make it like her.

Food for Thought, Tuesday 18th November 2014

We’ve scratched Food for Thought a couple of times already this year, in June and September. It’s an experiment. Anybody who wants to talk about creativity in general, and creativity in arts centres in particular, can come and visit us at BAC, have dinner, and let us know what they think.

18th November 2014 – the facts

  • In attendance were:
    Trish Clarkson, Primary School Librarian, Learning Support Assistant and enthusiast for the creative arts in all forms
    Nikki Hill, tech enthusiast and theatregoer
    Daisy-May Pattison-Corney, theatre practitioner and writer
    Rob Skinner, theatre practitioner and writer
    Harriet Madeley, actor, writer and teacher
    Lucy Phillips,
    Charlie Rollo-Walker, art therapist and designer
  • David Jubb from BAC chaired the conversation, and Maddie Wilson took these notes (hello)
  • Moving on from the auspicious settings of the pleasantly rainy courtyard in June and the pleasantly crowded Waiting Room in September, this month’s dinner was held in the Members’ Library, which involved a short journey through an antechamber full of armchairs and coffee tables (props for a show)
  • The conversation ran from 7.10pm to 8.30pm
  • We almost, but not quite, made our way through a huge vat of vegetarian chilli

Amongst other things, we talked about:

Process versus product

  • It’s easy to assume that the focus of creativity, the whole point of it, is the amazing things that creative work can achieve. New, surprising, beautiful, interesting, clever things come out of the creative process: a work of visual art, or a mnemonic to remember your shopping list, or a particularly funny text message.
  • But should equal (or greater) focus be placed on the creative process itself? Is the output even relevant? If someone paints a picture in order to work through an emotional difficulty, and it helps them to do so, do other people’s opinions of that picture matter at all?

The good old days

  • As children get older, and are taught to think and work in certain ways, they become less immediately and instinctively creative. But are we adding to this process by instilling fear and cautiousness into children? Do we keep our children indoors, not let them roam unattended, and stifle the creativity that comes out of interacting with the world?
  • Or has the way that children (and adults) interact with the world fundamentally changed, in that we now have vast quantities of information, art, games, and social interaction available to us through the internet?
  • Maybe children aren’t travelling as far from their front doors as they used to, but they could be exploring whole worlds online, and exercising creativity in different ways. Coding is creative. Playing Minecraft is creative. Searching for a lost webpage in the annals of Google’s caches is creative.
  • Sending Facebook messages to your friends is creative. In fact, the ubiquity of the internet and mobile phones means that children and young people are constantly writing to each other – texts, emails, messages – in a way that, twenty years ago, was not happening.

What arts organisations can actually do

Arts organisations everywhere are already producing and displaying the output of creative work for people to experience and enjoy – exhibitions, shows, concerts – and encouraging their audiences, to varying degrees, to participate in creative activity too. But what else can they do to encourage and support creativity in everybody?

  • Talk to people. Ask them what they want. Treat them as part of the creative process and not just as consumers.
  • Intergenerational work: having people of lots of different ages in a room together widens perspectives and creates a broad scope of experience and possibility. It’s easy to spend so much of your time with people of similar ages and backgrounds to yourself; it’s exciting and creative to talk to and work with people much older or younger than you.
  • Make sure to engage with primary and secondary schools, and ideally with primary and secondary schools that feed into each other. By the end of primary school, children are starting to question whether the work they’re producing, in any field, is “any good”. By secondary school, the pressure of exams and academic achievement can force creativity to take a back seat. Keeping contact with the same children throughout this period can make sure that creativity and the arts continue to play a part in their lives.

Thanks to everyone who came along to the session. Do leave us a comment if you have anything to add, whether or not you were there yourself. Has the internet made you more or less creative? Do you create for yourself or for other people? And is there a blindingly obvious way that arts organisations can support creativity that everybody else seems to have missed?

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