“Someone who epitomises creativity, who is visionary and never lost his sense of childhood and play… a person of profound influence on culture…”
By the time the announcement was made by Kevin Roberts, Worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi and Honorary Professor of Innovation and Creativity at the University, many of the people he was addressing had guessed: Bob Dylan was to be the inaugural Creative Laureate and Founding Patron of the University of Auckland’s Creative Thinking Research Fund, launched at this New York event on 9 October.
There was a sense that, like the line from the singer’s famous protest song, times were indeed changing.
Bob Dylan’s touring schedule meant he could not be at the event in person but, by endorsing it with his name, he has given an important boost to a unique University project that is now reaching out around the globe.
“As one of the most creative voices of our time, Bob Dylan inspires the imagination,” says Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon.
“He has been a restless and challenging creative force across the world for 50 years, writing anthemic songs that span generations. He is also the first rock musician voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. And he has been a frequent visitor to New Zealand to perform concerts since 1978.”
So just what is this project that Bob Dylan has agreed to lend his name to?
The answer has its genesis in a conversation back in 2011 between University Development Manager Amy Malcolm and Rob Gardiner ONZM, the founding trustee of the Chartwell Trust, which holds a significant Australian and New Zealand contemporary art collection.
“Rob had a vision for how creativity could change the world,” recalls Amy. “We played with this idea and discussed how the University could help make this happen.”
From there the University’s Creative Thinking Project was born. It was based on four key principles: that we can all find our creative strengths; that creativity fosters achievement and cognitive development; that creativity provides a sense of enjoyment and drive throughout our lives; and that creativity is increasingly important as we move from an Information Age to a Conceptual Age.
“We wanted to start a conversation about the importance of creativity,” says Amy. “We understood that it had to be over time, with a range of different people from across disciplines. It would need a strong research component to show the value of creativity and deepen our understanding of the creative process.”
In 2013 the Auckland Brain Day, spearheaded by the University’s Centre for Brain Research, became the ideal platform for the Creative Thinking Project to engage with the public. “Wherever you have the human mind there are opportunities for creativity,” says Centre Director, Distinguished Professor Richard Faull, who is renowned globally for his work on brain cell regeneration. “Creativity is learning to think differently, learning to try things, learning to be risky. Creativity has no bounds.”
From there the Creative Thinking Project formed the theme for University alumni events. At the same time partnerships were developed with the Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland War Memorial Museum, Creative Waikato, Te Papa, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Puke Ariki and Saatchi & Saatchi. The Fernyhough Visual Arts and Education Trust joined the Chartwell Trust as a founding donor.
A Creative Fellows series has since been established to connect with worldleading thinkers around the globe. The first appointed was Professor Nancy Andreasen, who visited New Zealand earlier this year. Professor Andreasen, who is Director of the Neuroimaging Research Center and Mental Health Clinical Research Center at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, was awarded the President’s National Medal of Science in 2000 for her pioneering workin imaging technologies and the study of cognitive processes such as memory and creativity. University Emeritus Professor of Psychology Michael Corballis was the second Creative Fellow and Professor Janis Jefferies, an artist, writer and curator from Goldsmiths, University of London, will be the third when she visits in November.
Research proposals are also being developed. Some of New Zealand’s leading creative thinkers — artists, scientists, innovative corporate leaders — will be invited to become Living Creative Brain Donors with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) readings of their brains recorded in collaboration with the Department of Psychology’s Memory Lab. Another project, by the Faculty of Education and the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries at the University, will test an international model indicating that students with syllabuses rich in arts produce better academic results, including in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), than comparable students with little or no arts emphasis.
Also, the Centre for Brain Research, Elam School of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Education are developing a project evaluating the impact of hands-on visual art sessions on the wellbeing and health — physical, mental, social and spiritual — of stroke survivors. “Anything that gets you out of your current routine, that gets you out of your rut and gives you new challenges, is likely to enhance your creativity,” says Nancy Andreasen.
With this sentiment in mind, the University’s Creative Thinking Project took a bold leap forward this year and decided to launch its new international fundraising initiative in New York.
Kevin Roberts was happy to host the event at his company’s headquarters in the Big Apple. Chair of the US Friends of the University of Auckland, Dr Peter Rajsingh and Director of Saatchi & Saatchi Contemporary Art Projects, Jane Sutherland, led an approach to invite Bob Dylan to be Patron.
“There was a fair bit of dialogue back and forth [with Dylan’s manager],” says Peter. “Bob Dylan was often away on tour and, for a time, it seemed things were going nowhere. Then everyone was ecstatic when he gave the go ahead. Creativity is something Dylan really cares about. He’s often quoted speaking about what creativity means to him and how important it is to keep creativity alive.”
The New York event marked the beginning of an international fundraising initiative to support University researchers and international collaborators.
“There was a moment there where we wondered, ‘Who are we to come to New York to tell people about creativity?’” says Amy Malcolm, who is now Director of the project.
Affirmation came in the form of attendance and involvement from some esteemed and influential creative thinkers. Among them was President Emerita of the Museum of Modern Art and Chair of its International Council, Agnes Gund, who is also a high profile New York arts patron, a civic leader and a staunch supporter of education. She was on the panel for a live “Creative Conversation” convened by Peter Rajsingh, with Nancy Andreasen; Dr Craig Nevill-Manning, a New Zealander who is Engineering Director for Google; and American artist Clifford Ross. Together, they offered insights from arts, science, academia and the workplace on the complexities and possibilities of creativity. Kate Newby, a New York-based alumna and the winner of the 2012 Walters Prize for an outstanding work of contemporary New Zealand art, exhibited at the event.
“What was really striking about the event was people’s engagement and enthusiasm for the concept behind this visionary project,” Peter says. “There was amazing energy in the room, even by New York standards!”
The Creative Thinking Research Fund will bring together philanthropists with scientists, philosophers, educators and artists to form a global community of creative change agents.
“From the schoolroom to the boardroom creative thinking drives success,” says Professor Jenny Dixon, Chair of the Creative Thinking Project and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Engagement) of the University of Auckland. “Creativity is a proven force for cognitive development, academic achievement and social and economic innovation. It opens up worlds of possibility and change.”
Or, as our Inaugural Creative Laureate once penned:
“Gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown…”