Keeping Creativity Alive

Earlier this week I was forced to watch daytime TV. What else can you do when you’re lying captive in the dentist’s chair with nothing but the overhead screen to distract you from the all the grinding and drilling going on in your mouth? I only go to the dentist about every six months but the morning shows on the commercial channels never seem to change much, whether it’s the airbrushed, super enthusiastic, white-teethed, blow-waved presenters, the endless offers for age-defying creams or the features on new-fangled miracle diets and time-saving household gadgets. But, on this occasion an interesting story caught my attention.

It all started with a 9-year-old boy called Caine Monroy who built an elaborate games arcade out of cardboard boxes in front of his father’s spare auto parts store in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. It so  happened that a film-maker stopped by to purchase a door handle for his car and was inspired to make a film, which was posted online and received over  one million views on the first day. What’s more, it spawned what has now become the Global Cardboard Challenge, an annual competition that invites children around the world to let their imagination run riot and create with cardboard.  To give you an idea, here’s a clip featuring Australia’s 2012 contribution.

I just love this! In our busy, achievement-driven lives creativity often gets squeezed out and neglected. Although technology can be a fabulous learning tool and create community connections worldwide, I feel lucky to have grown up in a pre-digital world where imagination and make-believe, rather than screens and keyboards, were constant companions. I used to make perfume with rose petals, cook up inedible and fantastic concoctions in the kitchen, dress up and put on plays, scribble in notebooks, splash paint on the page and generally muck about in the garden.

It’s the simplicity and accessibility of Caine’s Arcade project that is so appealing: it’s three-dimensional and operates in the real world, it’s open to anyone who can rustle up some old cardboard (yes, it ticks the sustainability and recycling boxes too), is endlessly variable and taps into right brain thinking and inventiveness. Thousands of people have since travelled to Caine’s Arcade, schools have embraced an educational version of the project, and kids around the globe are crafting cardboard constructions of all shapes and sizes. Inspired by this response and with a grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation, the Imagination Foundation was set up to encourage and fund creativity in children.

I’ve often thought what I’d do if I won the lottery – wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have? – and one of my dreams has always been to set up a foundation that would offer financial support to struggling creative types – writers, actors, thinkers, musicians, film-makers etc – who get stifled and bogged in routine, bill-paying 9-5 jobs that crush their creative spark.

Creativity is our birthright and, like any other part of us, needs a regular work-out and room to breathe.  It requires a sense of openness and a willingness to receive ideas and let them simmer until they are ready to be birthed.   When we’re in doing mode and under pressure to meet deadlines or get a job done, it can block the flow of ideas and inspiration. I don’t know about you but my most creative moments come when I get out of my head and into my body. I might be in the shower, walking by the beach, doing my stretches, sitting in a cafe, driving along in the car, picking up a snatch of song or chat on the radio or dropping off to sleep. Inspiration creeps up on me when I least expect it.  Ideas – like good stories on daytime TV – pop out of the ether when you’re not looking for them.

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