Art as Action – Innovation on a Sunday Afternoon
by Yvonne DiVita for Open Forum. August 30, 2010
I attended a truly innovative performance by the dancers and poets at Art as Action in Denver last weekend. This group of young women, two outstanding male musicians, and a baby boomer gentleman who stirred memories of 1970 in this baby boomer with his original poetry reading, entertained a small audience in a small space, on a hot Sunday afternoon. The title of the original works of art was “Holding Pattern.”
If you’re a frequent visitor to the performing arts in your local area, this story will resonate with you. If you’re not, I hope it inspires you. Here’s the reality: when it comes to innovation, there is no more powerful group than those who perform their art live.
Where do I start? I can start at the beginning, as Lewis Carroll would want me to – all the way back to last year, when this troupe of talented dancers and poets gathered in the warehouse to perform. I met them via my daughter, Chloe DiVita, who is one of the dancers. I was impressed with them then, but was not yet aware of the cosmic level of talent gathered in that room. As I watched them perform on Sunday afternoon, that talent left me profoundly moved. I felt as if I were in the presence of true innovation – in a way you cannot experience in a boardroom.
It’s easy to qualify “art” as innovative. Artists push the envelope and test the tried and true. Artists hold nothing sacred – the world is bendable, we exist in the fifth dimension, color is mutable, people are merely props. It was clear that “Holding Pattern” in all of its originality and innovative moves, thoughts, dialogue and even the music added for effect, was born of remarkable imaginations, formed out of thoughts and musings, brought to life through “collective consciousness” and “collaboration” as they say on the Art as Action website.
It’s what business leaders would like to see happening in their meeting rooms, in their engineers’ offices, in their boardrooms. They struggle to match the kind of thinking dancers, poets, musicians possess. Artists push the predictable out of their minds, opening thought processes up to the extraordinary. They embrace originality and surprise. The bizarre is part of their personalities, in ways business people find amusing, perhaps. They live in a world of shock and awe: it is their intention to shock the audience, to startle them out of the mundane noise each of us carries in our sub-consciousness; noise that prevents innovation. It is their job to bring the remarkable alive, offering an opportunity for audience members to check their ordinary lives at the door and be enveloped by the wonder of imagination.
Isn’t that what innovation should be? Shouldn’t it involve imagination and creativity and the unexpected? Where is the surprise in today’s innovative products, services or experiences – being developed in offices around the world? Are your employees encouraged – nay, tasked – with the challenge to pretend? Can you inspire them to pretend that this is not… Earth, or Denver, or St. Louis, or any other simple, commonplace location with all of its familiar furniture, lights, media, foods, whatever?
Perhaps the question isn’t “can you” but… “will you?” Will you inspire your employees to innovate using unconventional methods – born out of the creativity we all possessed as children? Creativity that was drummed out of us in school, where we were forced to adapt to sitting in desks and taking standardized tests? Will you?
Art as Action exists because one amazing woman, Sarah Leversee, the Artistic Director, saw the opportunity to create art and embrace action. She says on the website, “Art can change the world.” She calls her work an “artivist movement.” The people who support her know what it means. They know that the human condition requires the act of producing change; the kind of change that gets people thinking, talking, moving. Change that is innovative.
When the program was over, I was stunned for just a moment. I remained in my seat wrapped in a cocoon pulsing with energy. I remained a part of the show. I played the pieces of it over again; marveling in how the performers threw the “Holding Pattern” of our daily lives back at us, for a few short hours on a Sunday. They performed as if shouting, “Break free!” Be free, as free as they were. When I stepped out into the sunlight, I didn’t blink so much as close my eyes and pretend I was somewhere else, somewhere that allowed the show to go on.
The experience of watching those amazing performers bend reality, stir memories, defy gravity, and actually bring the audience into each experience as no movie or TV show ever could, changed me. I was me, but not me. I was part of them. And happy for it.
This is what innovation is made of. It’s full of art and action and purpose. It’s finding out how to create an experience for your customers that makes them feel as if they are part of you – and happy for it. Are you ready to create that experience? Are you innovative enough?