SPARK! Blog


The Creative Process

At SPARK! we teach the creative process.  It’s a way of thinking. A problem-solving methodology.  We define the creative process as “Inspiration with iteration and collaboration leads to innovation.” We refer to these as our “Ations” of creativity and teach them to the kids.  

 

This way of thinking sharply contrasts with most public-school curriculum. Too many schools are teaching children to memorize facts. Too few are teaching them how to think.  SPARK! gives children the opportunity to try, miss the mark, try again and continue on this process until they are satisfied with their creation.

 

There is a giant swing at SPARK! that resembles a lion head-shaped door knocker. We use this installation to illustrate the creative process. On his travels through Europe, artist Rolando Diaz was inspired (Inspiration) by the very large lion head door knockers he saw on castles throughout the country.  When we decided that the alcove in the lower level of SPARK! needed a special installation, Ro recalled his travel memories and sketched his swing concept.  

 

Once the concept was approved, we approached Pascale Pryor, an artist who works in 3D sculptures, and asked her to translate the concept into a 3D piece (Collaboration).  Pascale provided a paper machete prototype that brought some of the lion’s facial features into focus. The machete was approved and sent with the drawing to the welding team of Byron Zarabbi and James Bauer (more Collaboration). Byron and James created a small-scale mock-up that really started to capture Ro’s vision.  The work was approved and the team installed the full-size lion head at SPARK! It was beautiful.  

 

As we compared the swing to Ro’s original drawing, we thought a little more work could be done to meet the vision of the lion’s wild mane (Iteration).  Another small-scale mock-up was created in which gold and copper curls were added. This began a circular process of Collaboration and Iteration as Pascale, Byron and James set about adding hair, painting eyes, sharpening fangs, adding whiskers and even modifying the design of the swing. After a few weeks, everyone stood back and admired the swing (Innovation) as it exists today.  A gorgeous work of art resulting from the efforts of a creative team.

 

Children are often amazed to learn that a team of four, “adult, professionals” went through several rounds of trial and error to get it just the way they wanted it.  Kids don’t typically have the opportunity to work on projects through the process of iteration. Our schools don’t allow for iteration or collaboration. SPARK! encourages these important steps to let children focus on the process of learning and thinking with less emphasis on the final product.

-Beverly Davis, CEO


The Runaway Species

Excerpts from The Runaway Species

by Brandt & Eagleman © 2017

I read constantly.  The ideas and research on creativity are growing exponentially with each passing year.  Sometimes what I read impacts what we do here at SPARK! Periodically I offer bits and pieces for others to ponder.  A few months back I read The Runaway Species by Brandt & Eagleman. They’ve captured so much of what we believe and practice and they use other words to describe it.  Rather than translate or even present a book review, I’d like to share their words, as I highlighted them in reading.

Even their dedication resonates:  

  • “To our parents, who brought us into a life of creativity…our wives, who fill our lives with novelty…and our children, whose imaginations summon the future…”

In the introduction I was drawn to these thoughts that summarize the need for programming such as we offer at SPARK!:

  • …our inventiveness typically runs in the background, outside of our awareness.
  • As important as creativity has been in our species’ recent centuries, it is the cornerstone for our next steps.
  • …the world has found itself transitioning from a manufacturing economy to an information economy.
  • We are already seeing the first glimpses of this new model; the creativity economy.
  • Synthetic biologist, app developer, self-driving car designer, quantum computer designer, multimedia engineer – these are positions that didn’t exist when most of us were in school, and they represent the vanguard of what’s coming.
  • …corporate boardrooms everywhere are scrambling to figure out how to keep up…
  • Only one thing allows us to face these accelerating changes: cognitive flexibility.
  • This mandate for innovation is not reflected in our school systems.  Creativity is a driver of youthful discovery and expression – but it becomes stifled in deference to proficiencies that are more easily measured and tested.
  • If we want a bright future for our children, we need to recalibrate our priorities.
  • A balanced education nurtures skills and imagination.

Not only is creativity inherent, but, as they titled it: Chapter 1: TO INNOVATE IS HUMAN

  • The new rapidly evolves into the normal.
  • Smartphones revolutionized our communications, but new tech becomes basic, universal, and invisible before our eyes.
  • …magic of human brains: we relentlessly simulate what-ifs.
  • Hope is a form of creative speculation: we imagine the world as we wish it to be rather than as it is.
  • Creativity is an inherently social act.
  • Thanks to our appetite for novelty, innovation is requisite.
  • The innovative drive lives in every human brain…
  • The drive to create the new is part of our biological make-up.

In Chapter 2: THE BRAIN ALTERS WHAT IT ALREADY KNOWS Brandt & Eagleman dive into the first of our “Ations” Inspiration:

  • Steve Jobs…Creativity is just connecting things.  When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it.  They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while; that’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.
  • Human creativity does not emerge from a vacuum.  We draw on our experience and the raw materials around us to refashion the world.
  • …modern science historian Steven Johnson puts it, “We take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape.”
  • Creativity relies on memory.
  • …our exceptional sociability compels humans to constantly interact and share ideas   

Brandt & Eagleman present their own definition of the creative process that resonates with the SPARK! definition through the steps of Inspiration and iteration.

  • …we propose a framework that divides the landscape of cognitive operations into three basic strategies: bending, breaking and blending.

Chapter 3: BENDING

  • Bending can remodel a source in many ways.
  • …bending is a makeover of an existing prototype,
  • …human culture incorporates an ever-expanding series of variations on themes passed down from generation to generation.

Chapter 4: BREAKING

  • …something whole…is taken apart, and something new assembled out of the fragments.

Chapter 5: BLENDING

  • In blending, the brain combines two or more sources in novel ways.
  • By enabling different lines of thought to breed in novel ways, blending is a powerful engine of innovation.

Often we talk about the importance of allowing children to take risk.  Risk taking not only in their play, but also in their learning. Our schools today don’t encourage risk, and testing is set-up so that failure is a frightening prospect.  We must allow children to take risks and we must refrain from penalizing them when they do so. Brandt & Eagleman dedicate an entire chapter to this concept; then they move on to talk about what we hope will be the school of the future.

Chapter 10: TOLERATE RISK

  • …new ideas take root in environments where failure is tolerated.
  • James Dyson invented the first bag-less vacuum cleaner.  It took 5,127 prototypes and fifteen years for him to nail the model that would finally go to market.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  • Like so many other human endeavors, creativity is strengthened with practice
  • FabLabs, Makerspaces, and TechShops are burgeoning, with their communal tools for making artwork, jewelry, crafts, and gadgets.        

Chapter 12: THE CREATIVE SCHOOL

  • …but too many classrooms offer little to be digested, instead proffering a diet of regurgitation.  That diet threatened to leave our society hungry for future innovators. We’re stuck in an educational system born during the industrial Revolution.    
  • The model doesn’t prepare our students to remake the raw materials of the world and generate new ideas.       
  • An education in creativity lies in the sweet spot between unstructured pay and imitating models.  The sweet spot gives the students precedents to build but it doesn’t condition or constrain their choices.              
  • Praise efforts, not results.
  • Any problem with an open outcome promotes risk-taking.
  • To produce a thriving society of creative adults, it is crucial to inspire risk-taking students who don’t cower in fear of the wrong answer.
  • Giving students a chance to solve real-life problems is an inspiring way to spur creativity.
  • Creativity is the fuel for our species’ runaway progress.
  • …young minds need art.
  • …the arts…are the most accessible way to teach the basic tools of innovation.
  • Every facet of the creative mentality can be taught through the arts…
  • Students learn the experimental method in science class, but the experiments they conduct are often aimed at a predetermined result: as long as the students follow the right procedures, they will arrive at the expected outcome.  In the arts, students learn the experimental method, but without any guarantees.
  • …all of us merit the opportunity to develop our creative capabilities.  
  • …all of us merit the opportunity to develop our creative capabilities.  Otherwise, society provides an incomplete education.

And in summary: Chapter 13: INTO THE FUTURE

  • If we don’t cultivate creativity in our children, we won’t take full advantage of what’s unique about our species.  We need to invest in imagination.

Definition of Creativity

Creativity means different things to different audiences.  And it can be expressed in so many ways that is difficult to come up with a definition that suits everyone. Merriam Webster defines creativity as “the ability to create or the quality of being creative.” So much for not using the same word to define itself.

 

When we were shaping our mission in the early stages of SPARK! – to ignite the spark of creativity inherent in all children – we spent countless hours thinking how we would define creativity. I had researched the topic and the importance of igniting a child’s thinking both in and out of the context of formal education. I was adamant that our definition of creativity not be limited to artistic endeavor or even restricted to “The Arts.”  With STEM focus being so prevalent at that time (2011), It was necessary to make sure our definition included those areas of study. Our belief was, and sill is, that creativity is a more global approach to problem solving.

 

Our Programs Committee, comprised of teachers, a principal, an artist, business people and two individuals who run educational programs outside of schools’ standard curriculum, wrestled with this issue.

 

Here is the result of that deliberation:

Creativity – A sense of wonder that invites exploration and the discovery of new possibilities.

 

This definition starts with a mental process.  A sense of wonder is sparked by many things — a need, a problem, an opportunity, a request, an assignment, and even pure inspiration. It is aligned with the adage, “necessity is the mother of invention” and the ability to question how to do something better, cheaper and faster. Sometimes we see the work of others and that inspires us to question, “What if I did it this way?”

 

Entrepreneurs see an opportunity to make money by creating a product, service, or experience that others need or want. Their sense of wonder comes from a determination to deliver something others will purchase.  In school, teachers give assignments designed to ignite that sense of wonder.

 

Exploration is the actual process of the creative mind. It involves research, production, modification, collaboration, iteration, and trial, to reach a desired result. This aspect of the definition applies to works of art, scientific discoveries, the creation of new products, and more.  

 

Sir James Dyson recalls that he had 5,126 failures, or iterations, until he eventually created the world’s best-selling vacuum cleaner. 

 

The discovery of new possibilities happens throughout the process and is often the culmination of this process.

 

At SPARK! we teach children that creativity is a process that drives us toward a goal.  


The SPARK! Internship Experience

The SPARK! Internship Experience

            Most people who have been to SPARK! can attest to the fact that while it is a tough place to find, it is a great place to be! Which is exactly how I felt my first week on the job as the Marketing & Events intern at SPARK! for the fall of 2017. When I walked through the butterfly doors for the first time I was totally blown away. The SPARK! environment changed my entire perspective on what it means to be creative!

Over the course of the semester I spent the majority of my days at SPARK! working on a list of assignments and tasks given to me by my awesome supervisor, and the Marketing & Event Manager, Darlene Schneider. These lists always included the up-keep and updating of our social media accounts, specifically focused on Instagram. Our goal was to get to 1,200 followers by the end of the year… although, we have come a long way, we are just about 100 away from our goal- but confident we will reach it by January 1!  (Help us reach that goal and find us on Instagram @spark_dallas)

                                    

            Another substantial part of my internship was spent learning and creating on Adobe InDesign software. Keep in mind, that when I began this journey I had barely even heard of what InDesign was, so it is safe to say I was a beginner. However, now as my internship is coming to a close I can confidently say that I feel proficient in InDesign and even get excited when I get to make a new creation! I used InDesign mainly to make various marketing materials such as fliers, Facebook cover photos, banners for the SPARK! website, and signs that are used to advertise upcoming events or announcements. Additionally, I recently used InDesign to show off my new skills to my parents by designing our family Christmas card… it was a huge hit.

I think my favorite part of my job as an intern was getting to help with the launch of the SPARK! Street Team! Although, it is still being developed and expanded it was honestly the most fun I have ever had at work while still working. The Street Team consists of two people who go out on the SPARK! Segways and ride all around downtown passing out fliers and free family passes with hopes to expand reach and create awareness about SPARK! in the community. They get a lot of attention, are easy to use and so much fun! (Want to join the Street Team?! Email events@sparkdallas.org and tell them Haley sent ya!)

                            

            Lastly, I think it is important to mention the two big events that I helped with during my time at SPARK! both of which were successful and a great learning experience for me. Whimsy was the first event, it was private with more than 400 people invited to take part in a magical experience from stilt walkers, hidden Alice-in-Wonderland inspired tea parties to story tellers and live painters. During the set-up and actual event my main role as the Marketing & Event Intern was to manage and coordinate the volunteers. It was a big job, but was also great because not only was I hands-on with the activities and the physical set up of the event but I also got to be hands-on with the people. I met and spent time with a lot of the part-time staff and regular volunteers, who are amazing and an integral part of the SPARK! community. I learned so much from them and appreciated all of their help and encouragement throughout that event! (Want to be a volunteer and help with events like this one? Sign up here: http://sparkdallas.org/volunteer/)

Another awesome event during my internship was Passport to SPARK! The annual silent auction is the nonprofits biggest fundraiser. I learned a lot through this event in a different way than I learned through Whimsy. Passport to SPARK! was an in-house event and therefore, I got to have my hands on some of the marketing and promotional materials as well as helped recruit items for the silent auction- which is not as easy as it sounds! Events like that are always fun and exciting to attend but seeing the other side of it was an eye-opening and enriching experience.

I feel as if I can confidently say that I have gotten great exposure to the process and hard work that goes into event planning, preparation and execution of both big and small events. Whether it was for a silent auction or just a guest artist pop-up on the weekend, I have gotten a thorough experience and exposure of the trials… and tribulations… of events! Events are also easier when you are passionate about the people and cause you work for, which radiates from everyone at SPARK! no matter if you are a part-time weekend staff member or full-time manager. (Find out more about open positions at SPARK! here: http://sparkdallas.org/join-our-team/)

The SPARK! family has been an amazing team to work with and learn from over the past four months. I’ve made friendships and memories that will stay with me forever. I’ve had the opportunity to see how important the SPARK! mission of igniting the spark of creativity inherent in all children is and how it really can make an impact on children. The smile on a child’s face when they are at SPARK! is priceless…you will have to come in and see it for yourself!

Signing off for now!

– Haley Berling


Kevin Hurst Of Neiman Marcus Talks Student Creativity Showcase

SPARK! has partnered with Neiman Marcus and Fossil to host the Student Creativity Showcase for kids in second grade through high school. We spoke with Kevin Hurst, Director of Charitable Giving and Volunteerism at Neiman Marcus, about the importance of creativity and the benefits of participating in the Showcase.

Why is it important for kids to have ways to express their creativity?
Research shows that students who identify as creative tend to graduate at higher rates, score higher on the SAT, become more engaged civic leaders and are more creative problem solvers.  In this day and age, we all face obstacles.  Having the skill set to creatively resolve issues will provide a tremendous advantage for them as they navigate through school and their careers.

How will children benefit from participating in the Student Creativity Showcase?
This is a new and exciting opportunity for students to showcase their interests and creativity with their peers across DFW.  They are being asked to express their interpretation of creativity in a truly artistic fashion.  Normally, “the arts” are limited to one or two genres.  The Showcase has four main categories for them to submit and compete in by age group.  What I like about this is that there is room for collaboration.  One student, for example, may sing a song, another may dance, and a third may combine the singing and dancing to create a music video – imagine how cool that could be!  Of course each category and age group winner will receive an award and bragging rights.  The “Best of Show” winner has the opportunity to have an experience with a professional in their field of interest. Talk about a truly unique hands-on learning experience.  I only wish I had this opportunity at that age.

Why is creativity important at Neiman Marcus?
Among some of the Neiman Marcus core organizational values are to “be memorable”, “be bold” and “be the best.” Without creativity you are limited to the possibilities of providing the ultimate customer experience.

What do you look forward to most about the Student Creativity Showcase?
For me personally, I enjoy the visual and performing arts, so I am anxious to see those submissions.  You never know, the Showcase may discover the next creative genius and superstar. What is great about the timing of the contest is that it concludes during World Creativity and Innovation Week which includes the Creativity Confab at SPARK!  The Confab itself always has an interesting group of panelist and I always learn something new.

Besides being a sponsor, how else is Neiman Marcus involved in the Student Creativity Showcase?
Neiman Marcus has so many talented associates, so we will have key people playing a role in the judging of the submissions.


Second Annual SPARK! Halloween Spooktacular

Our second-annual SPARK! Halloween Spooktacular is back from 10am-4pm on Saturday, October 29. Tickets are $8 per person in advance or $10 at the door. (Yes, candy IS included!) Get your tickets here and check out a breakdown of the our themed games and activities:
Witch Golf
Use your magic broomstick to launch the Wiffle balls into the witches mouth.
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Monster Bowling
Roll the rubber ball towards two-liter bottles disgusted as scary creatures.
Ghostly Bean Bag Toss
Test your aim as you toss bean bags into the mouths of large jack-o-lanterns and ghosts.
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Witch Hat Ring Toss
See how many times it takes you to land a ring on the witch’s hat in our most challenging game of them all.
If You Dare
Stick your hand in boxes to feel slimy brains, eyeballs and other gross goodies. Or maybe it’s just spaghetti?
Spider Lollipops
Lollipops have never been creepier. Use pipe cleaners to make the legs and a lollipop for the body of your yummy insect.
Decorate A Trick-Or-Treat Bag
Stop by and and get creative when you decorate your own trick-or-treat bag.
Freaky Photo
Stop by our photo booth and snap pictures with dozens of Halloween-themed props.
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A big thanks to Vizient, Inc. for helping us prep for the event!

Student Installations @ SPARK!

Mallory’s Gold Award project at SPARK! is complete! We’re excited to celebrate this Girl Scout’s success. Take a look at what she learned about the creative process on her journey to its completion. For a complete project overview, see this previous blog post.

We’re so grateful for kids like Mallory, who work to make the community a better, more creative place. She is only the first of many students that SPARK! plans to work with on installations in our space. In fact, applications are currently being accepted for the Creative Installation Competition. Details are as follows.

Open to:

  • High School Students
  • College Students
  • General Public

Competition Launch – October 5th – All those interested in competing are invited to visit SPARK! from 4:30-6:30 and will be given a spec sheet on the competition with insights as to what SPARK! is seeking. The opportunity to tour the facility will be a huge asset in designing your submission. Spec sheets will be available at the SPARK! office from October 3, 2016 through October 21st . Unscheduled tours will not be offered, but SPARK! is open to the public every Saturday between 10-4 and you are welcome to use this time to scope out your installation site and brainstorm your project. (Admission fee required.)

For more information on the competition, click here, or contact Community Engagement Manager Lori Carey at lcarey@sparkdallas.org.