'What Makes You Creative?' Connecting the Dots With Thomas Jefferson

Have you ever heard anyone say arts education is a bad idea? Then why can't we make sure every child, especially those from poor neighborhoods, has access to it?

This was the question that brought a vibrant dinner party to a crashing halt a few months ago. And that is how a group of strangers sitting around a table will have transformed the conversation about creativity in America.

The occasion was "A Jeffersonian Dinner." This is really a thing, designed by Jeffrey C. Walker and Jennifer McCrea at The Generosity Network. It is a carefully structured gathering designed to draw out ideas and make connections around a question or cause, in this case, arts education. Many organizations have used this format to make new friends and connections, and to gain new insights into the problems they solve.

Our question was, "What makes you creative?"

Our guests included a TV producer, an acting teacher, a serial entrepreneur, and an investor; it was hosted by a couple who both had significant experience in management consulting. After thinking it over, everyone agreed that creativity was key to what they did every day, and that the arts play a significant role in fostering and sustaining that edge. "Yet", we asked, "if that's the case, why is it so hard for this country to ensure that every child has access to a balanced arts education?"

I recalled a remark by a Pennsylvania legislator, who said a clear imperative for arts education for everyone requires corporate community buy-in. An example of social change on everyone's mind is the progress in LGBT marriage over the last two decades, which in many states was strongly influenced by corporations.

For nearly forty years my organization, then known as the National Corporate Theatre Fund, has built bridges between corporations and the theatre community through philanthropy, sponsorship, and shared programs and was uniquely positioned to do something about this.

Thus was born the idea behind "Unmasking Business Success", a new report based on research we commissioned after this event to explore corporate perceptions of the role of arts engagement in workforce success. One of our dinner guests stepped up and funded the research, in fact. We'll release this report, October 8. You can follow the launch through social channels @TheatreForward and www.facebook.com/TheatreForward, and I'll tell you more in my next blog.

So, stay tuned!

Until then, ask yourself, "What is the connection between the workforce skills and arts engagement?" And think about how a Jeffersonian Dinner might advance your mission.