We came to Karlsruhe knowing that we would be surrounded by fantastic people. We hoped that we would find, through connexions and common exploration, yet another sense to this notion of creation, of creativity. Although some say creativity is somewhat of an over-used concept, maybe all it lacks is more effort, more time... and in the end, more workshops. "There is a lot of work left to do", said Laurent Simon from MosaiC in his concluding remarks, "we're not quite done hearing about creativity". So in Karlsruhe we gathered, we listened, we discussed, and we came to some conclusions.
We came to Karlsruhe - the city's name literally spells "Charles' repose" - to investigate a notion based in chaos, renewal, activity and change. Despite the apparent irony of such a contradiction, we found out that creativity, in its essence, is a significantly - if not the most - pervasive idea of modern times. Through a series of high-level interventions from keynotes drawn from several parts of the world, this evoREG
-sponsored Creativity Workshop has shown that even in the most random, remote cities of the world, creativity is afoot, and brilliant initiatives are being undertaken by individuals, collectives, communities and organizations with the purpose of generating significant and authentic forms of novelty.
Karlsruhe, from quietude to the production of novelty
Although most foreigners may never have heard of Karlsruhe, the city is undoubtedly one of Germany's highly-ranked scientific cities. It was historically the host of the country's first technical university, whose remodeling and recent fusion with the Forschungzentrum has turned it into the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT
), and is home to three Fraunhofer excellence institutes, notably the IOSB, ICT and ISI. The latter was hosting the workshop, and did so wonderfully.
From Karlsruhe to Trois-Rivières, through Strasbourg, Mannheim or capital cities like Amsterdam and Montreal, what we saw in Karlsruhe goes to show that creativity is everywhere, and is uncovered by its observers in fashionable and inspiring ways. For instance, Karlsruhe is home to the acclaimed Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie
: sitting in a 312-meter-long building adapted to the needs of such a centre for contemporary art (comfortably installed in a former weapon and ammunition factory), ZKM is an institution whose reputation, despite its young 13 years of age, largely exceeds the scale of the city. At ZKM, youngsters and adults, professors and students progress through the history of the computer, are exposed to novel techniques of interaction, play video games together, and in the end, grasp contemporary art as something accessible, some sort of "elitism for all" that assembles the best creation in one place and displays it for all to see. "The revolution won't be set in Garamond", titles Slanted magazine
(available at ZKM's bookstore). Actually, one may doubt that the "revolution" will be "set" in anything that specific - rather it will evolve into an ecosystem of confused serifs and sans, in directions unforeseen, with individualized fonts for individual creators. A revolution by creators, for creators, aided by technology. We visited ZKM expecting to be impressed, and indeed the institution made quite an impression. Karlsruhe, with its classical heritage, has thus succeeded in providing sufficient space for the realization and diffusion of a landmark institution in the field of new media.
From the Web to medium-sized cities through policy-making : all you need is space (and love)
The Creativity Workshop also allowed us to take a glimpse at many other spaces of creation. Johann Füller from HYVE AG
began with what is now the most obvious of spaces, the Web. Online communities, through informed participative contributions, are now active contributors to the generation of new ideas, new concepts and new designs. For example, the recent change of Swarovski's watch-making activities' identity towards the Enlightened
brand was undertaken with a system of bilateral exchanges that involved customers, fans and designers throughout the world. Füller's exposé focused on the process through which global brands such as Swarovski are taping into the highly situated, localized knowledge of individuals and collectives in order to generate exclusive new products. From this exploration of web-based "localized" creation, one may then move to the structuring of knowledge-based service companies' networks through the metaphor used to posit the existence of so-called knowledge angels. In this instance, the presence of localized individuals serves collectives and companies to transmit, share and create new ideas. As boundary-spanners, knowledge angels are found in highly heterogeneous settings, from world-capitals to small-scale cities, to online and offline communities.
We draw from such a workshop the idea that one may find value in small, unexpected places. Smaller cities, for instance, are able to dig their claws into the virtuousness of creative spirals : from micro-financing initiatives taking advantage of the inherent diversity of crowdsourcing platforms, to the rise of former industrial cities such as Mannheim through the articulation of complex ecosystems (notably based around the Popakademie
and its spinoff activities), creativity is a phenomenon inherently based in the unexpected : both in its epistemology and in its geography.
Indeed, creativity is everywhere. In Trois-Rivières, a medium-sized town an hour out of Montreal, an interactive design firm
operates around core values that transpire an authentic desire to change the way business is done in the vast field of publicity and marketing. Values, thus : audacity, engagement, trust, optimism and creativity, that go beyond their simple meaning and directly affect the modus operandi of this innovative organization. "We use creativity in non-obvious ways", implying that end-results - but also processes and interactions - are dealt with holistically, combining the value of novelty to the intrinsic return to the actors involved. The values serve as a checklist, of things not to be taken lightly. Everywhere, like in our daily lives and routines, in our "afternoon and evening protocols" such as jazzman Christopher Dell
put it, where we follow scripts that, once studied and weighed, may serve as platforms for change. "Improvisation", then, "is a radical and revolutionary paradigm" that may serve to define a new political philosophy of access, opening a world of opportunity to all. Dell's work in India and China serves to show that unexpected places - "small cities of 10 millions in China" - are also becoming crucibles of creativity. Perhaps, then, is our focus on "creative cities", as opposed to the other less- or non-creative cities, ill-advised, based in a lack of methodological consideration, and, in the end, nothing but a symptom of our ignorance of what creativity truly means.
Everywhere, alas, including in policy-making processes, in public systems and in bureaucracies. A perspective put forth by Robert Marijnissen
from the Amsterdam Institute for Metropolitan and International Development Studies
, who aims to show "how policymakers can be creative and how they may change the way they make policy". The self-proclaimed "policy designer" claims the need to de-dramatize, or even remove the idea of planning for creativity, and rather to leave discretion and freedom to allow for the unexpected to happen : "basically, I don't really know what we'll do in three months", says he. Because in the end, it is in small, self-organized collectives that everything happens. These collectives are everywhere, in every city and every neighbourhood; their creativity is pervasive, as are their idea-generating capacity. Hence, all we need to do is leave them be. Actively.
Thanks to Denis Roy, Julie Chapdelaine and Brooke Rutherford for comments.