Arts and Ideas in Action Symposium

Author: Ergeta Muca

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” — Alan Alda

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Pretend you are sitting in a room full of artists, designers, photographers, scientists and entrepreneurs. Then ask them who’s the most creative among them. Who will raise their hand first? The artist, the scientist, the entrepreneur? The artist will say they’re the most creative because they’re able to, “bring a visual to life”. The scientist will claim to be creative because they turn, “complicated things into usable ones”. The entrepreneur will say they’re creative because they, “turn ideas into valuable and tangible businesses”. Who is right? What if, they’re all right?

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When I heard about the Art & Ideas Symposium that was happening on campus, I thought: finally something that merges what I love the most, art and business! But I still had some questions. How would they find the sweet spot? How can you bring together people who might be biased towards either side? But I decided to give it a shot, so I attended.

And I was amazed. The Symposium was all about passion, social movement and collaborative innovation. Surrounded by people of different backgrounds: artists, professors, business people, community outreachers, all mixed together at the tables, listening to keynote speakers and discussing .

The Symposium was comprised of a great variety of speakers, including CEOs, founders, artists and more. They all shared their stories and explained what had made them lead the companies they’re part of now. They addressed inspirational and provocative questions and gave the audience a lot to think about.

According to these leaders, art is about empowering communities. Liz Powers, co-founder of ArtLifting, a startup which empowers artists living with homelessness or disabilities through the celebration and sale of their artwork, shared two artist’s stories. The first artist, Scott, had hit rock bottom when he lost his job, his wife got sick and he became homeless, but he found resurrection in art. Scott was encouraged to take up art in a more serious manner, creating beautiful masterpieces and now he even holds keynote speeches. On the other hand, Eric, a disabled man empowers his wheelchair by turning it into an art medium. He puts canvas cloth underneath it, attaches the colors to its wheels and moves around as the wheelchair forms the shapes and lines he wants. Both these artists’ create very contemporary, abstract and evocative art that can be found on http://www.artlifting.com/collections/original-paintings.

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A very interesting approach to art was offered by Athenahealth, which through its practices aims to connect art to business by means of design. According to Scott Mackie, Executive Director of Strategy Design, design helps solve rational and emotional user problems. He shared the thought that hospitals and healthcare spaces should be beautiful places, because “beauty heals”. He believes that beauty can heal all sorts of businesses and he put forward 3 ways in which design/art can accomplish thist:

  • Design can help people engage (ex: designing manuals)
  • Design should inspire and educate
  • Design can infuse

Scott believes that Athenahealth’s practices so far have fully embraced the above mentioned principles. The products and services they offer focus on functional and artistic design to make people’s lives easier and better.

To Malia Lazu, EpiCenter Community’s Director, art is about addressing unconscious bias. The EpiCenter Community is an accelerator that accepts young individuals, mostly from the black people community in the city. Malia Lazu led a very heart-felt discussion, in which she emphasized the importance of artists as, “keepers of truth” and “recognizers of freedom”. Through her community she wants to empower people of different abilities to express themselves and feel part of the same environment. For this reason, EpiCenter is hosting a fashion and disability event on February 2017. This will be a high end event, which will showcase fashion pieces that cater to special body types.

Jason Talbot, co-founder of Artists for Humanity, is doing something incredible for young kids: he’s educating them through art. Artists for Humanity provides space, education and mentorship to kids from low income families. Through their programs, they teach kids about design, art and architecture and connect them to real-life projects, in which they build furniture and create paintings, which then are sold to corporations and companies. Jason is truly engaged with his community– he goes on field trips with the kids and helps them understand that education and creativity is more important than anything else. Check out Artists for Humanity here: http://afhboston.org/

Question fearlessly, innovate relentlessly: this was the motto that David Delmar, founder of Resilient Coders, brought to the Symposium. David, a BU CFA alumn, brought his idea to MassChallenge, where he ended up winning big. He had a clear idea of going “lean”, which would give his project the opportunity of building, measuring and pivoting whenever possible. He taught his users to question things, and empowers his staff to innovate.

IDEO’s design director Nick DuPey was the last speaker of the “Ignite Inspired Presentations”. A very cool individual, dressed in “startup chic”, sleeves up and showing some creative tattoos, he was all about human centered design. IDEO was given the major project of revamping the Boston.gov website, and his team worked on this by focusing on what brings human centered design together: the merging of viability, feasibility and desirability. They got rid of layers of information in the website, and made things very user friendly and visually appealing. According to DuPey, an important component of human centered design is feedback, so they made sure they received that throughout the entire process (and they still do!). Their project was very successful. Check it out yourself here: https://www.boston.gov/

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Overall, the Symposium was an eye opening event that brought me back to my artistic roots and also introduced me to the plethora of applications that art can have in our lives. Being a business student, I always seek to find direct applications of things. I came away from the Symposium knowing that art will follow me no matter where I am and that brings me a lot of comfort. I learned how empowering art can be used to bring communities together and change lives. How useful art is in designing better products and services, thus leading to better customer experience. Finally, I learned how important it is to break the bubble that you’re in and always talk to people from backgrounds very different from yours. You get to learn things you never thought you would.