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Art and The Public Purpose: A New Framework

In Art, Author: John Cimino, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Leadership on November 7, 2009 at 10:51 pm
Arts Leaders and Activists Converge on the Whitehouse

More than sixty activist artists, community artists, and creative organizers took part in a conversation with the White House.

The public dialogue on the arts and our national economic and cultural recovery is one in which all of us should and can have a voice.  Some of our most thoughtful cultural leaders have been bringing this public dialogue directly to the White House.  The exchanges there and elsewhere have fermented the drafting of new frameworks document for the arts in the context of what is being called “The Public Purpose”.   The document is authored first to last by a brave contingent of artists and cultural leaders committed to the arts and the potency of their survival their value to all of us in a democracy. 

Chief among these arts voices is Arlene Goldbard, author of The New Creative Community, and whose own blog site is richly steeped in this public dialogue.  For my money, she is one of our most gifted and incisive voices for the arts, creativity and community to be found anywhere.  I am, therefore, handing over the remainder of this blog entry to Arlene’s own eloquence. 
The three links will set the stage for your own exploration of these issues: (a) a perspective on cultural recovery Cultural Recovery, (b) a report on the White House Briefing, White House Briefing on Art, Community, Social Justice, National Recovery and (c) the New Framework document itself , Art & The Public Purpose: A New Framework.  
Do consider adding your name to those endorsing the New Framework and, by all means, forward it through your personal networks to get the word out.   Working together, we can make a difference!
John Cimino
Creative Leaps International

Culture, Crisis and Recovery

In Author: John Cimino, Creativity and Innovation, Current Events, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Health & Wellness on October 1, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Anyone who has worked with the arts in non-traditional settings, that is, outside the more familiar spaces of our studios, galleries, theaters and concert halls, knows that there is a bit of healing magic tucked into the essence of our art forms that routinely takes people by surprise.  What’s more, no matter how many times we witness it or enter into the experience ourselves, that moment of newness, refreshment, transformation — call it what you like — is there to surprise us.   It takes many forms, to be sure.  But everyone one of them gives us a kind of lift, a deepening, an opening, a sense of something more that feels good, pretty remarkable, in fact. 

I’m heading to a conference this afternoon in New Orleans, the 10th Annual Conference of Imagining America (Artists and Scholars in Public Life) and this year it’s entitled “Culture, Crisis and Recovery”.  Representatives of a hundred universities will be on hand to join in a conversation about the sort of partnerships between unversities and organizations in their surrounding communities that can uplift both parties, even in a climate of crisis.  My own presentation will be reporting on a project we undertook in partnership with George Washington University’s Center for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management on behalf of the American Red Cross in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  What do you do for the heroes and caregivers — the first responders, as they are called — when they themselves have become the victims of overwhelming disaster?  Our team from Creative Leaps International was able to provide an experience (a resilience retreat) steeped in the healing powers of the arts that made a remarkable difference for them.  From the depths of dispair and dysfunction, they emerged triumphant and renewed.  If you’d like to read about it, check out this link:

But here’s my question for you, my colleagues in the arts, “How tuned in are you to the transformative powers of your art?   Have you explored the deeper potencies of your art form, its powers to catalyze new thinking, learning, healing and personal growth in others?   Are you actively engaged in putting that power to work in hospitals, schools, community centers, rehab centers, senior centers, centers for wellness, resilience and leadership?”  To learn more about how this is done, visit the ETA web site   (   or that of Creative Leaps International ( or The Learning Arts ( .   It’s time to bring your gifts more fully into the world.

I’d love to hear your stories, how you do it, what you do and what you aspire to do.  Together, we can empower one another in this important work.    The world really does need your gifts.  I cheer you in your every enedavor!


John Cimino, Creative Leaps International

The Arts and Vets: Designing a Program That Serves

In Author: John Cimino, Creativity and Innovation, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Health & Wellness on September 16, 2009 at 4:11 am

I’d like to tap the wisdom and creative juices of my fellow bloggers and readers in a real-time challenge.  I’m assembling a group of experienced artists from various disciplines here in the Hudson Valley of New York to participate in an on-going action seminar on the vital intersection of the arts and healthcare.  A combination of think tank and field research, the seminar’s goal is to cultivate, catalyze and use the knowledge and experience of artists to develop new approaches to programming in the arts and healthcare field, particularly in services to veterans.

The arts have always been a terrific spark for reflection and new thinking.  Also, of course, for pleasure, inspiration and refreshment.  Every one of these dividends would be a welcome experience for our young men and women returning from the conflicts overseas.   However, as we know, their needs run a good deal deeper.  Their lives have been profoundly shaken and often the last thing on their minds is taking care of themselves.  They have lived in service to others, to us and to their fellow soldiers.  Seeing a meaningful and rewarding road forward in their lives now that they are home will require a wisdom and mindset which too often does not come easily. 

So what can we do, as artists and entrepreneurs, to be of service to them?  What tools are at our disposal to be shared with our returning veterans?  Our veterans are rich in promise, talent and possibility and have probably demonstrated more courage and discipline than most of us will ever imagine.  Perhaps, some of you are veterans and can speak from experience.  The arts embody a way of thinking and exploring that we know can be helpful in problem-solving.  The arts have  nurtured, even healed our broken spirits.  What is the innovative, restorative relationship between the arts and veterans that can rightly serve them?  How is the invitation best extended?  How is the program idea marketed?  How does it find its resonance among those who may need it most?

Our action seminar will be on-going through the next several months.  Veterans and veterans services providers will also be joining in the dialogue.  Our hope is to jump-start new program ideas as early as this winter and spring.   I often say to groups of artists and entrepreneurs that the world needs your gifts.   That is certainly true in this instance.   So be encouraged and send on your thoughts.    Here’s to those who serve.


Notes from a Global Conversation (part one)

In Author: John Cimino, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on July 18, 2009 at 9:19 am

I was privileged yesterday to take part in a Global Conversation of the Creative Studies Training Council.  On the call were consultants, practitioners, organization leaders and artists working in the business sector from Australia, the Pacific, the United States and Canada. We were gathered to discuss our “praxis”, the ways we put our theories into practice. 

On this occasion, I was actually being interviewed by our host, Linda Naiman, an artist and “corporate alchemist” from Vancouver, and I was asked to talk about some of the influences which have informed and, indeed, inspired my work.  Fortunately, I had some time to think about this before going on the air and to chat with Linda a bit beforehand.  We had just over an hour of air time planned and we wanted to reserve time for a couple of rounds of questions and comments from others on the call.   

I decided to set the stage with some perspective on three of the big processes most all of us endeavor to activate in our work with clients: creativity, connectivity and transformation — each writ both large and small.  For example, we may aim for transformation of the whole person or whole organization (transformation writ large), but nonetheless focus a great deal of our efforts on the smaller transitions, inflection points and thresholds to new thinking our clients may encounter as they grapple with the earthbound issues of the day-to-day (transformation writ small).  Holding both levels somewhere in our own consciousness tends to clarify where we’re going and why.  Happily, my listeners agreed.

With everybody now more or less on the same page, I talked about four of my greatest personal influences: Gregory Bateson, Buckminster Fuller, Miguel de Cervantes and Maxine Greene (names you may know well yourself).  Each had a profound effect upon my thinking and growing edge over a period many years and still to this day.  For the remainder of this blog entry, I’d like to share with you a few of the gifts that came my way via one of these figures, Gregory Bateson.  (With a little luck, I’ll return to the others in days to come.)

Gregory Bateson was an anthropologist, psychiatrist and scholar who, among his many accomplishments, helped to launch the fields of systems thinking and living systems dynamics.  He often spoke about “patterns which connect” us to the starfish, the starfish to the crab, the crab to the primrose — what biologists now call homology.  This connectedness of life forms — both historically and in present time, both at the level of their shapes as well as their very molecules, their behaviors as well as their capacities for learning, thinking and adapting — this pervasive connectedness and the patterns which revealed and embodied this connectedness were underscored in countless articles by Gregory and certainly worked their way into my own formative mind.

A second gift from Gregory came in the form of his thinking about the aesthetic.  He said that the aesthetic response was predicated upon our recognition of a connection between ourselves and the object of our gaze, that the aesthetic response was coincident with an experience of self-recognition in the very thing that we beheld.  Wow!  Finally, this experience of aesthetic recognition was transformative and powerfully so.  This concept nearly blew all my circuits as I absorbed the implications of endeavoring to craft optimally effective encounters with the aesthetic. 

Gregory’s third gift was practical and immediately reinforcing of my own instinct for interdisciplinary encounters.  He called it “double description”.  Describe a thing from two different perspectives, say from a scientific perspective and an arts perspective, and you get what he called a “bonus of insight” not predictable from either of the perspectives (the science or the art) alone.  The double description works like binocular vision.  Each monocular view reveals a perspective unique to its source, but experienced together we get more than two monocular views, we get “depth”, a whole new dimension springing into existence with the experience of binocular vision.  The analogy with double description is simply stunning.  The resulting bonus of insight in double description grants us a depth of understanding we could not achieve in any other way.  This approach to learning and inquiry really fired my imagination and gave birth to concepts such as creative juxtaposition (a strategy for prompting bonuses of insight within our Concerts of Ideas) and thought path legacies (recognizing the significance of sequence in our encounters with ideas).  The implications are simply far-reaching and probably embedded in your work as well, whether or not you’ve ever heard of Gregory or his concept of “double description”.

The fourth insight from Gregory was equally superb for me. (I was just then getting used to living in two worlds, a science guy now immersed in the arts and trying to reconcile the different perspectives.)  Gregory introduced me to the concept of logical types and the different logics embedded in the systems of concepts (tautologies) comprising the various disciplines of knowledge.  To operate within one tautology (discipline or logical type) one merely had to master the rules of that particular game.  But Gregory was interested in something bigger than mastery within a domain.  His eye was on how to play well in and across several domains, how, in fact, to jump from one domain or logical level to another as nimbly and fluently as possible.  He wanted that bonus of insight from being a good jumper from level to level.  (Remember the Einstein quote, “We can not solve the problems we face using the same level of think we used when we created them.”)  We see the merits of shifting levels in many of today’s creative problem-solving strategies: shift of perspective we call it — the view from 80,000 feet vs. the view from 10,000 feet, the view from the life sciences vs. the view from mathematics, the view from population dynamics vs. the view from across the street, the view from a business perspective and the view from an arts perspective.  The multiple views are illuminating, but it’s the capacity to leap creatively from one level to the next which grants the prized bonus of insight Gregory was seeking.  Incidentally, this is where the name of our company, “Creative Leaps International”, comes from.

The culminating gift from Gregory was in beginning to grasp the meaning behind the titles of his two great books: STEPS TO AN ECOLOGY OF MIND (1972) and MIND AND NATURE: A NECESSARY UNITY (1979).  Was it possible, I thought, that our minds formed an ecology of inter-relationships among our capacities and the myriad ideas we brought into our heads?  Did the dynamics of one play out in the dynamics of the other?  And was this what William Blake was after when he said, “To the Eye of a Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself.  As a man is, so he Sees.  As the Eye is formed, such are its Powers.”  Was this concept of mind more inclusive than my mind and yours?  What about non-biological minds and Nature itself as Mind?  Talk about different levels of thinking!  Gregory made me think about the cohesion/ecology of ideas and bodies of knowledge, what Vartan Gregorian of Carnegie Corporation has called “knowledge integration”, about our basic human impulse for synthesis so easily derailed by the onslaught of new information, and on and on.  What could I do to catalyze “steps” in this direction, I wondered?  Some thirty years later and looking back, I can see that so much of my work, and that of all of us here at Creative Leaps International, was born out of this question and Gregory’s inspiration.  I owe Gregory quite a lot.

I hope as you’ve been reading these notes that you’ve seen aspects of yourself and your work in these ideas.  They are part of the legacy within which I believe we are all working.  We are pioneers, all.  I look forward to your comments and personal insights.  Till later!


In a Word

In Author: John Cimino, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Entrepreneurial Tool Box on June 2, 2009 at 6:34 am

The word is “consilience”, until recently, a rare word recovered for us by biologist, Edward O. Wilson. Literally, a “jumping together” of knowledge across disciplines, consilience is all about “connectivity” and the weaving together of ideas from different domains of knowledge to reveal deeper, common groundworks of explanation.
Our minds delight in consilience, notwithstanding the serious fragmentation of knowledge bequeathed to us by 20th and 21st century specialization.

Consilience, in turn, delights in inductive thinking, thinking which brings us from the specific and readily apparent to that which is more general, more pervasive, but perhaps hidden. Above all, consilience loves metaphors. Metaphors, the unifying insights! They connect – the color of my love’s eyes to the silver blue sea, or Juliet’s radiance to that of the sun. And that connection pleases us precisely because the field of meaning around “my love’s eyes” or “Juliet” has been expanded or positioned with distinction within the larger fabric of all that we know, all that we care about.

Our “big picture” has also been bumped up in coherence, the zillion bits of information rolling around in our head suddenly feel like they fit together more appropriately. That’s a good feeling. That’s consilience, at least, in miniature. Multiply the effect across the depth and breadth of the disciplines of knowledge and the myriad tones of experience and we see consilience as Wilson would have us see it, writ large: the goal of a true liberal arts education.

Knowledge fit together in a broad connected landscape. If only educators and leaders today could glance up from their bottom lines and lowest common denominators to see this writing on the wall. The “jumping together” of knowledge across disciplines (interdisciplinary thinking, learning and research) is thinking and learning at its basic best — and most joyful.

It’s time we invest our time and resources more wholeheartedly in this joyful activity. As I see it, consilience is the high ground in education, creative thinking and entrepreneurship. No doubt, it will require many brave, creative leaps from us all — and we will have to make many of these “leaps” against the prevailing currents of specialization.

Are you ready to leap? Are you ready for consilience? Start flexing those muscles. What price learning?

Introduction and a first thought

In Author: John Cimino, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on April 3, 2009 at 4:27 am

I come to this discussion of creativity, the arts and the business sector from more than three decades of arts-catalyzed thinking and interdisciplinary work in education and 18 years of experimenting, refining and pioneering a second iteration of roughly this same paradigm in the corporate sector, higher education and scientific research.   My colleagues and I of Creative Leaps International have “grown up” on this way of being in the world and surely been shaped by it in more ways than we know.  Our work with children and teachers has taught us volumes.  More important, it reminds us that purity of heart, wonder and curiosity are the real stuff of teaching and learning.  On our best days, we bring a glimmer of this with us to work among business leaders, scientists and government managers and it lights up the room. 

In the early 90s, Creative Leaps International was one of the very first to be invited into the corporate arena for what we could do as artists (and less overtly for what we could do as learning specialists).  What we did was astonishing to most.   Our “Concerts of Ideas” were like an enveloping wave — powerful, exhilarating, impossible to resist and tremendous good fun.   With the arts as our modality of communication, our keynotes were actually tuned/designed to turn on the imagination, awaken the intellect and arouse the heart.  What run of the mill keynoter could hope to do as much?  We simply took everyone by surprise.  Eyes and ears were opened wide and before anyone knew it, they were inhabited by a new idea and launched on their own journey of exploration. 

Was the learning predictable?  Not in its specific outcomes.  But what we could guarantee was that minds would be set in motion and that some learning unique to each person would happen.  Tacit knowledge would be reawakened, new thought paths would be traversed and a certain inner readiness for grappling with complex problems would have been established.  On top of that, people could hardly wait to talk to one another about their experience and their new ideas.

Conference organizers and chief learning officers loved us and we were off and running virtually alone in a new marketplace for our services.  GE, IBM, Pfizer, the Bank of Montreal, Starbucks, the World Bank, McDonnell Douglas, the Center for Creativre Leadership, even the White House called us for customized “Concerts of Ideas” designed around their issues. 

Along the way, we broadened and deepened our program offerings to include workshops on many facets of leadership, creativity, peak performance, diversity, resilience, stress management and habits of perception.  Clients joined our board of directors and advisors and occasionally corporate foundations opened their coffers in support of our educational projects with children and teachers – a most welcome unexpected consequence.

Today, there are many arts practitioners working their way into the business sector.  It’s an idea whose time has come.  But not without its challenges and complications.  The arts have a great deal to offer and without doubt, there are a number of superb practioners out there reinventing the field as they go.   But learning and facilitation in professional environments are art forms and disciplines unto themselves.   As the field forms, so must its criteria for excellence and its pathways for nurturing that excellence.

One of my hopes for this blog is that we will hear from many voices identifying the nature of the excellence we seek.   We are still pioneers and learning can and will come from all directions.  We can share in that process together.  So let us hear from our corporate colleagues, our educators, our artists, consultants, academics and dreamers of new dreams.  I challenge you to a conversation from which we all emerge as winners.

As a closing thought, I offer one of our bylines here at Creative Leaps International:

In our world, the arts are no longer some parallel experience
you have along the way,
but rather a powerful source of insight and transformation
feeding directly into the thinking, feeling and acting of daily life
—full of possibility, truth and optimism.

John Cimino, President & CEO, Creative Leaps International