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Complacency, And The End of Creativity

My hope for us is …

We all embrace certain ‘truths’ when choosing a career in arts education and community engagement such as lower pay, multiple hats and of course, many hours. And while the constant change and level of energy needed may be a surprise to some – it should not be.

This is a field about human development, which I believe is about the creative process. The creative process is not stagnant. It actually demands strategic and sometimes chaotic change.

The very process of creativity (life) requires us to embrace risk, meanwhile testing and assessing both the ideas and the practice we use. The creative process requires reflection, self – care, and ongoing inquiry (learning). And to top it off, it is different for each person, culture, and community. Those of us working for non-profits, and corporations with defined missions and value statements are fortunate ONLY if the organization is ‘living’ their mission, and practicing their values. Our arts education and community engagement practices are shaped by the combining of our personal values and mission with that of our organizations.

My experience has shown me that burn – out, lacking the feeling of achievement and life balance, occurs when my personal values and practice are being thwarted by my organization’s practice or a colleague’s practice. In other words, my ‘life’ values are not synced with the organization’s practice of their values. Consider the following: the stated values of an organization are not as important as their practice of the values. For those of us working in the field of community engagement, we know that our action or practice of ‘what’ we say is the measurement tool a community uses to judge our work. It is our practice of our organizational and personal values that should be the tool we use to assess ourselves, too.

The practice of knowing and stating our mission and values impacts the quality of the programs we develop and manage. A refreshing way to realize why you are burnt out is to evaluate yourself, your position, and your organization through an appreciative assessment exercise. Ask yourself, what IS moving forward in our work together? What IS working? Recognize what you are doing in part of the successes and what others are doing. Through a simple awareness check like this, imbalances expose themselves, brainstorming sessions happen, and balance can be restored.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed all too often a colleague striving to restore balance through striving for ‘contentment’ in a desire to compensate for the cause of burn-out and with a goal to maintain themselves and their programs. This energy of contentment can disguise something far more dangerous: complacency. Are you in a complacent culture? What contributions do you give towards complacency? During my forty years in the field I have heard it all from, “We have a “small budget;” “This is all we can do;” , “It has always worked this way;” to “if it’s not broken don’t fix it;” or “This is standard practice”. Here is my big question for us all; WHO is it not broken for? Who is it standard practice for? Who is it working for?

In an industry focused on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion we have to ask these tough questions and answer them through the lenses of our mission and values. We need to further ask, are our strategies built to serve us? Or, are they built to serve the community? Or, for the sake of sustainability do they serve both.

Let me seemingly diverge for a second. I had the honor of hearing Hill Harper speak at the Broward Center in Florida on April 24, 2019. He changed the entire focus of his talk last minute because of an incident that occurred in the community between a young black male and a white police officer. Harper shared with the audience that the incident was not as disturbing to him as the police chief’s statement, that it will always be a volatile incident when it is between a young black male and a white police officer. Hill Harper’s question to us was: “WHY do we settle for that being the undisputed truth?” WHY do we accept that a situation between a young black male and white police officer will always be volatile? Then the challenge appeared when Harper shared this quote:

“The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.” -ROBERT F. KENNEDY

He said to us, if you have reason, courage and passion you need to use it to better our world.

I believe that those of us who have entered this field have those strengths those characteristics.

I have always been told: “Joyce, you are so passionate;” “You’re a visionary.” The brave ones would even say to me: “You are emotional about this.” There were two types of people and situations that gave me those labels. The first was saying mostly intone and with a sneer smile: “you are unrealistic, impractical, fanciful, hot-blooded, incensed, enflamed, inflamed, enraged fuming, infuriated, raving quick-tempered, disturbing and weepy - You are not logical.” It’s as if logic and emotion, reason and passion cannot co-exist. The second type of person, who I believe appreciated the courage and reason I displayed in my strategic planning, was therefore able to see the passionate, emotional, visionary Joyce as “fervid, enthusiastic, far-sighted, imaginative, creative, inventive, prophetic, original, expressive, open, demonstrative, emotive, sensitive, responsive, fervent, avid, obsessive, loving, impassioned, vehement.”

I believe that the creative process requires it all: courage (risk), reason, and passion.

As artists and creatives, we are challenged every day to solve problems both small and large. I hope we are tackling them from a state of creativity while pushing the boundaries, eager to always better serve our communities. I hope we are living our values and are challenging our organizations to do the same.

I hope I never become so content that I brew complacency, and I wish the same for you.

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