The future is ours, the recontextualisation of creativity - David Crombie

The future is ours, the recontextualisation of creativity

Interview to David Crombie from HKU University of the Arts Utrecht.

Interview by Roberta Capozucca

Next worlds have always been imaged. What if for once we’d imagine one radically different from the that we have? We are not talking only about houses on trees and tomato juice based solar panel, but a completely different values set to drive our action.The wicked, hyper complex problem humanity is facing screams out that immagination is no longer sufficient. It is indeed time to reinvent it, leaving comfort zones and employs all the competences and disciplines we have to meet viable solutions. At the beginning of the 21st century, we have to leave behind the purely growth-oriented, resource-consuming innovations and bring about socially desirable changes.

To do, the creative sector is emerging more and more as a sustainable winner in the merging of all areas of our lives. What was once separate, the creative person is able to connect it with bridges and lead to innovative solutions.

To further understand the concept of innovation and the role of the creative sector we interviewed David Crombie from HKU University of the Arts Utrecht. David has been involved in many European initiatives in the Cultural & Creative Sector and is leading the new Cyanotypes project that will try to anticipate the skills needs for the sector and the opportunities for reskilling and upskilling.

“To pursue innovation, we need a combination of what is called bottom-up and top down approaches. Especially when it comes to bottom-up initiatives, the arts can perform extremely well by providing part of the cultural and social cohesion but also helping people to understand different scenarios, explaining things in different and more collaborative ways.”

What is innovation? And the so called creative driven innovation?

Well if we agree innovation is the practical implementation of ideas or approaches that result in the introduction of improvement of some kind, then art based innovation can be any novelty that sparks from the cultural and creative sector. Nevertheless, if it is difficult to provide a closed definition, what is becoming more clear to me is that there is a a move to rethink the narratives behind innovation and an urge to accept that we increasingly need all sorts of innovations. There is a far greater realization that the models behind some kinds of traditional innovation are perhaps not enough, from engineering to design to economics, we need new points of views.

In this context the role of art and artists is becoming far more important than in the past, not just as alternatives but as a sector that can lead the orchestration among the different sector-driven innovations.

Why is it useful to involve art and artists in processes of social innovation?

To pursue innovation, we need a combination of what is called bottom-up and top down approaches. Especially when it comes to bottom-up initiatives, the arts can perform extremely well by providing part of the cultural and social cohesion but also helping people to understand different scenarios, explaining things in different and more collaborative ways. Perhaps one simple example could be: if we have lots of people working in the public sector shaping policies for their area or their region, artists could help by explaining the different scenarios or situations by performing them. It is then easy to comprehend if a certain scenario works or certain ideas are good or bad and when they are performed visually this can have an amazing effect on decision makers. I think we, as cultural professionals, have a role to play even if we do not always realise how important this can be. 

People working in our sector often don’t think they have a role, and sometimes they don’t want to get involved. However it is important to understand that we have a role;  especially in regional contexts one very important aspect is to inhabit different roles to begin to understand these contexts and support others in understanidng different perspectives.

Who can facilitate this match between artists and other contexts?

I think at this point is just a matter of needs, the more and more people will understand the challenge that we face it will comprehend that we demand new and different approaches. When there is an urgency, people tend to be more keen to welcome novelties. Very often people work closely within their disciplines and departments without exploring other fields and search for new competences that could be employed in their areas of research with different purposes and reasons.

 And I think that many inner competences of the art sector can be deployed in many different fields. In an innovation ecosystem they are sometimes called boundary spanners and their role is to create relations, help people to understand and facilitate the communication. And this capacity to ease the process is something that is often found by to those working in the creative sector, because we are very good at understanding contexts.

The Blueprint works hand in hand with the Pact for Skills covering the more practical aspects of this analysis such as which are the skill gaps, building on all the existing studies both on vertical and transversal skills, more difficult to embed in formal education even though it seems to be the skills most in demand in other sectors and possibly the most important to tackle the current societal challenges.

You are currently working on a big project called Cyanotypes, how does it fit in this discussion?

 Well, the process we have embarked on with Cyanotypes is actually built within the context of the Commission’s programme of the Alliances for Innovation. Cyanotypes is actually a project that will produce a Blueprint, a template for different industrial sectors that looks at the skills and competences to produce innovation within the sector. Along with the Pact for Skills, which is essentially a model of cooperation that brings together the CCI under one umbrella, is one of the pillars for boosting innovation within the sector.

The Blueprint works hand in hand with the Pact for Skills covering the more practical aspects of this analysis such as which are the skill gaps, building on all the existing studies both on vertical and transversal skills, more difficult to embed in formal education even though it seems to be the skills most in demand in other sectors and possibly the most important to tackle the current societal challenges. In the first year we are going to ask which are the most urgent needs, while in the second we are going to co-create  the content and the delivery mechanisms, doing a stress test with around 20 pilot sites. What we would like to produce is a learning framework of needed competences for our sector that will encourage people to work together employing all the different competences. In this sense the Pact for Skills offers a great opportunity to stress test the validity of this material in our sector.

The broader methodological conceptual framework we employ is called Triple Loop Learning, it is a framework which allows us to try to affect changes in the way we learn. If we think about spirals, the first loop it is essentially what we do everyday, second loop learning is the phase of  realization that the categories we are using are no longer enough and we need to support new ways of reasoning, the third loop is relearning how to learn, rethinking how to think. In this sense, this project is very much inspired by the need to to find new learning framework to facilitate innovation. Because of the scale of the challenges we all have to relearn, leaving the primacy of disciplines that often decontextualize the problem and instead begin a process of recontextualisation. And it is within these two dynamics: the mutual learning and recontextualisation that arts and artists really play a strategic role, to find new values, new markets and solutions.

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