Short film on 33,000 Everyday Artists Project

This 7 minute video gives a great overview of the 33,000 Everyday Artists project. It includes interviews with various participants and wonderful visuals of people engaging with the project.

Thanks to Nick Hand for making the film.


Is communication key to creating a social movement?

communication-groupOne of the key challenges we’ve come across during this project is how to communicate a message to a group of people the size of the town of Wisbech.

It seems a universal call to action doesn’t work across every constituent arm of King’s. We’ve found that a one-size-fits-all is not applicable to a population of 33,000, nor when the groups are as diverse as young students, cynical academics and diverse professional services staff. Instead, a message tailored to the specific audience is needed.

One of the main challenging aspects of communication for this project is trying to avoid the sense that 33,000 Everyday Artists is a top-down initiative, and is instead a bottom-up movement. Unfortunately emails directly to KCL accounts give this impression. Furthermore, the tone, language and style are of crucial importance.

The various target audiences who comprise King’s have differing dispositions and characteristics so not only does the message have to be tailored towards them, but the platform of communication as well.

For students, official university emails are not read or at least not engaged with. Social media (specifically Instagram and Facebook) have been the best means of communicating to this segment of King’s. For professional services staff, email has been the most successful mode. The hardest group to crack has been academics as email does not work for them because it is viewed a chore and something additional to do.

The one thing we’ve found that applies to the entire population of King’s is that face-to-face communication goes a long way. Hearing the project from a personal angle, being able to associate it with particular faces, and having a captive audience has had a significant bearing on the engagement with and uptake of the project. This is evident in that after a lecture drop-in or staff meeting there is a sharp increase in profile uploads to the 33,000 Everyday Artists website.

Communication has emerged to be a critical aspect of what enables and/or constrains embedding an everyday culture of creativity. More specifically:

  • Audience segmentation, both in terms of message and platform, is essential.
  • Although we have been wary of ‘instrumentalisation’, having some sort of incentive to attract participants (even just that it’s fun) has made a difference.
  • In a large institution where there is sometimes distrust of senior management, it’s important to make your project not be seen as top-down or corporate.

Fielding (2006) argues in his book Effective Communication in Organisations that there are different levels of communication in organisations. These include: organizational; mass; small-group; interpersonal; public; and intrapersonal. Furthermore, communication is made up of the following elements: sender; receiver; message; code; medium; and channel.

Going forward with the project, or reflecting on how we might have done things differently, it is potentially worth thinking in terms of these communication ‘levels’ and ‘elements’ to gain the impact needed to harness 33,000 people.

Finalising what the interventions will be from Jan-March


As we come towards the end of the first phase of the 33,000 Everyday Artists project, Jo and David have been finalising what the ‘intervention’ or ‘experiment’ from January to March will look like.

Based on consultations with stakeholders across King’s (students, academics, deans, professional services staff, Knowledge Exchange Associates etc.), Jo and David have decided on two main activities that will structure the three month intervention period (leaving opportunities for potential changes/additions as necessary). The two main interventions will be a crowd-sourced digital artwork and a 31 day creative challenge.

In their conversations, Jo and David have noticed how some people struggle to think of themselves as creative. They want to highlight whether it’s writing and drawing, researching and dancing, thinking and questioning, inventing and playing, everyone has something they’re passionate about – something uniquely creative, original and worth valuing. The Spring term will then focus on celebrating, encouraging and bringing to life the 33,000 Everyday Artists that already comprise the culture at King’s.

From January – playing on the portraits of the great and the good at the front of buildings on the Strand and Waterloo campuses – the project will start to build an interactive digital artwork celebrating and showcasing all of the extraordinary individuals that make up King’s. Students, staff and faculty will be encouraged to share their passions, inspirations and hobbies to create a growing repository of everyday creativity.

From January to March creative activities will pop up across King’s inspiring everyone to do, think and share their creative endeavours.

Then in March the project will launch the 31 day creative challenge – a series of simple daily prompts designed for every one of the 33,000 Everyday Artists at King’s. The 31 day challenge invites every one across the college to explore, document, design, question, make up, compose, play and reflect as a part of their daily life.

Keeping the play space ‘open’ for creativity

playing blocksWhat we know

In order to be successful in developing creativity / creative learning, one has to ensure that the goal is holding the play-space open and not doing so for any extrinsic instrumental, goal-driven purpose or intention (see Amabile etc. on ‘how to kill creativity’). In other words the ‘goal’ has to be to hold the play space open and no more than this. This requires personally tolerating the uncertainty that the initiative or venture or learning won’t work – that it will be a disaster.

So how do we do this? Focus on play and playspace

Huizinga (1955:8-10) identifies 5 characteristics that play must have:

  1. Play is free, is in fact freedom.
  2. Play is not “ordinary” or “real” life.
  3. Play is distinct from “ordinary” life both as to locality and duration.
  4. Play creates order, is order. Play demands order absolute and supreme.
  5. Play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it

“Summing up the formal characteristic of play, we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings that tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress the difference from the common world by disguise or other means.” (Huizinga, 1980:13)

“Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays” (On the Aesthetic Education of Man — Schiller). It is interesting to reflect on the gendered nature of our project: are men or women ‘allowed to’ play more than each other? There is a lot to unpack here in terms of enduring Edwardian/Victorian values and the Protestant work ethic, for example.

Knill (who writes in a therapeutic context) says “The “doing as if” or the “we would now be…” in a play-space will always have temporal, spatial or situational aspects. These “spells” allow a distinction from the literal everyday space, time and situation and open up to an alternative world experience that offers unforeseeable and unpredictable options.” (p.88).

“Individuals’ or communities’ situations of change usually have ritual containers within which they are framed in space and time; we could say they have an “architecture”.” (Knill, p.76). Knill goes on to explain how some of the characteristics of these containers ‘depend on cultural traditions’, whilst others ‘seem to be universal’.

“When life lacks sense, when something or everything is missing or problems are closing in so much that no relief or solutions are in sight any more, one speaks of being stuck, treading on the same spot, being against a wall or cornered, having reached a dead-end, being at the limit or being in dire straits. These metaphors suggest limits and boundaries that restrict the possibilities of finding ease” (Knill, pp.77-78). There is an ‘agitated immobility’ or ‘lack of play range (Spielraum)’ (p.78).

Another writer, Turner, has written about the ‘liminality’ of play. Turner describes liminality as a “temporal interface” through which “meaning” can be generated “between established cultural subsystems, though meanings are then institutionalized and consolidated at the centers of such systems”(Turner, 41).  There are many different types of playspace in which such meaning is generated (and this will be highly context specific). It may also be, however, that there are some common features.

I have just been reading a paper by Statler et al (2009), which is titled ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’: Taking Play Seriously in Organizations’. I think it is wonderfully helpful in thinking through some of the challenges of the relationship between creativity and play (though creativity is not its primary focus). On the one hand, it reinforces my sense that play is the ‘ordered’ space in which creativity happens – and this occurs through opening up the possibility of first imagining ‘other’ ways of doing things, and then ‘discovering’ them (which is consistent with my CR definition of creativity).

On the other hand, the paper emphases the autotelic nature of play, meaning that as soon as you impose external goals on play it ceases to be play (and so the idea of getting people to play more so that they become more ‘creative’ is simply not going to work. There is here what I would refer to as the paradox of intentionality. Were we to make recommendations for positive action in the form of interventions at KCL that intentionally promote more play for more creativity, these would fail. However, finding ways of holding the playspace open for more people, more of the time and tolerating the uncertainty of what outcomes these would have is the way forward. Of course, this is a difficult message to convey.

[Reflections on literature by Nick Wilson]

Jo Hunter interviewed by Prowl House on why creativity is important for society

64 Million Artists co-founder and 33k Everyday Artists leader, Jo Hunter, was interviewed by Jessica Ball at Prowl House. Jo sets out her vision for “creativity to be owned by everyone.” Read the original article here:

Below is a copy of the interview:

Where did the idea come from?
I was working at Battersea Arts Centre as Head of Strategic Development but I realised that I had stopped being creative, I never had my own ideas, I just developed other peoples. I made the decision to take a month off work and I asked friends and colleagues to set me various creative challenges to do every day. The response was amazing, I got loads of diverse challenges and immediately I knew that I had to leave my job and do something different.

The reason that we started doing 64 Million Artists – and the reason I live and breathe the mission – is absolutely about helping other people be creative too. But it’s become really clear that we aren’t just doing it because we want people to be creative, we are doing it because we want people to have self-worth, to have agency, to make decisions in their lives about themselves, and have purpose. So the creativity is kind of a method for that, rather than just creativity for itself.

Why do you think creativity is so important for our society?
To me, I think creativity is so much the essence of who we are. When we stop people from being creative it’s actually really damaging; we are taking away part of who they are. What we have done in this country is create a culture where art is what artists do and it’s a very top-down, hierarchal culture. As a society we have made culture all about skill and talent and activities, and actually to me, creativity is nothing to do with skills and expertise, creativity is about risk and vulnerability. If we can shift our culture to be more about creativity and risk and vulnerability then we would have a much more inclusive, less hierarchical society in which more people feel that they have agency.

You need to have three things to have agency: you need to have self-worth, your relationship with you needs to be okay; you need to have purpose, know what your relationship with the world is and what you want it to be; and then you need to have a platform or permission. Or sometimes if you have enough of the first two, you can make the third happen and you don’t need someone else to generate it for you.

What’s your ideal outcome for the project?
Yes, and ultimately my ideal outcome, ideologically, is that I want us to shift from a culture that thinks about art being what artists do, to creativity being owned by everyone. And so I feel that we are constantly going to be experimenting with the best way to do that.

Just that act of saying ‘I’m going to do this’ for me sums up being an artist, and I think everyone has that opportunity. Art isn’t about skill and talent for me; it’s about being someone who says ‘I would like this to happen and I’m going to do it.’

Creativity as a muscle

CreativeMuscle_LargeDavid Micklem often talks about creativity as a muscle, as something we need to exercise and flex on a regular basis. The more you do it, the stronger your creative muscle gets.

According to a study conducted at Harvard, creativity is one third genetic but two-thirds a learned skill. The researchers argue we need to practice, experiment and ultimately gain confidence in our capacity to create.

Creativity as a muscle has led the rest of the team to ponder on the notion as it’s a rich metaphor in which to explore creativity in the 33kEA project:

  • Contracting and expanding – more or less creativity at different times, depending on context and need.
  • Demands a flow of oxygenated blood – life-giving force; flow.
  • Needs stretching as you get older(!)
  • Only works in tandem with rigid structure of bone etc. (so creativity needing a rigid structure to connect with / work off?)
  • All about movement…
  • Comprised of many fibres (parts) working in tandem…
  • Can be strained if over-used (!)
  • Everybody has it
  • Practice is the key to improvement
  • Know when to take a well-timed break
  • Limber up and do gentle exercises to stretch and warm up
  • If we don’t build muscle-mass, our muscles atrophy

Through 33,000 Everyday Artists, we hope to communicate (and embed) the message that creativity needs to be developed and nurtured regularly, just like how we build muscle through an exercise programme.

As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Capturing meetings creatively

With a research project like 33,000 Everyday Artists, which has a number of team-members, stakeholders and participants, there are invariably a lot of meetings. Rather than capture these important conversations and often inspiring discussions in the usual meeting minutes format, or in the form of research notes, we’ve decided we’d like to capture them in a creative way so in keeping with the ethos of the everyday artist experiment.

Some ideas for different methods of capturing meetings in creative way that I’ve come up with so far include:

  • Post-it notes: all attendees write/draw/do something on a post-it note either during or at the end.
  • Freeze frame: all attendees think of an action/stance/physical response to the meeting.
  • Colour: all attendees describe the meeting with a colour
  • Noise: all attendees encapsulate the meeting through a noise
  • Photo: capture meeting through a photo taken on a smartphone
  • Sketch: everyone sketches during meeting or sums up meeting in a sketch
  • Play-doh: attendees make a 3D object/sculpture that captures meeting
  • Body: attendees pick a part of their body that symbolises the meeting

So far we’ve done the post-it note and freeze-frame method which were both enlightening. These methods really do convey something about a meeting that would not have been articulated otherwise, and often get at the heart of what was discussed. The creative methods can also demonstrate how differently each person feels a meeting went and so is a useful way of noting attendees’ varying responses. The fact that it’s fun is important too as it ends a meeting on an active and enjoyable note, rather than with people shuffling or dashing out of the room as they normally do.

Freeze-frame5thOctThis photograph shows the results of the ‘freeze-frame’ method we used yesterday at the end of one of our meetings. We all came up with very different physical responses then explained them which was extremely illuminating.

Nick was impersonating David and his sling from the famous biblical story of ‘David and Goliath’ i.e. facing ‘the beast’ and overcoming the odds to be successful. The stance also captured the discussion we had about disrupting the rules and challenging the status quo when conducting research which was a key point that came out of the meeting.