Am I the only one who is sick of the word “pivot”? Ask any business owner, administrator, non-profit director, or service provider how they’re doing since the arrival of COVID-19. You’ll hear it, along with adapt, re-think, strategize, tweak, retrofit, reinvent, flex—a fleet of trending verbs reflecting what an unforeseen global shake-up demands: change.
Scientists scrambling to concoct a vaccine or track contagion are, as usual, using imagination and out-of-the-box thinking for their hypotheses. We know that in science innovation is king. But nearly everyone has had to use different parts of their brain (yes, literally) than their pre-pandemic everyday lives required. People who would never consider themselves “creative” are surviving by cranking up the aptitudes that define the creative process.*
A parent takes on evening shifts in order to home-school the kids. A restaurateur who sunk thousands into creating a high-end, ambient experience has to become a low-cost take-out provider, complete with new branding. Has this kind of flexibility been required of you during this time?
City councilors imagining the flow of pedestrians and traffic to plot parking-space dining areas. Shop owners designing virtual shopping experiences. These people are mentally envisioning outcomes and stretching beyond their expertise to move forward.
Teachers are using social media to help each other with complex problem solving, sharing photos of room reconfigurations with self-engineered plexiglass barriers. Art teachers are brainstorming ways to manage disinfected materials for 200 students or rewrite their curricula entirely.
A lack of federal-level strategy for combating the pandemic has left local officials to sift through inconsistent information, compare sources, and decide on policies and messaging. People’s lives are dependent on their capacity for critical thinking.
Children are practicing wearing face masks, and distancing during play dates so they can go back to school. At first, both seem impossible! Social isolation feels unbearable for elders, those battling addiction and other mental health issues. There is no option: persistence is required of everyone right now.
To protect at-risk family members, introverts are forced to speak up and dispute those not taking precautionary measures. Add the boiling over of social injustices and an election, and we’re all stretching out of our comfort zones as far as self–expression goes.
Drive-by birthday parties. Homemade PPI. Document camera hacks. There are so many examples of forced creativity right now! The problem is, when I tried to harvest some from friends on Facebook, I made the mistake of using the word “creativity” in the prompt. Given my identity as an artist, I did clarify: “creativity, not in the artsy sense, but innovative problem solving. I got a trickle of responses, most missing the mark somewhat by leaning toward newly acquired tech skills. I pushed. I even re-posted with new language, omitting that c-word Americans have hot-glued to the realm of arts and crafts. I really had to work to convince people the question applied to them; American adults can’t identify the role of creativity in everyday life.
Yet we expect and need them to support art education, one of the few subjects that prepares a society, as thinkers, for moments like this one.
“Necessity is the mother of invention”—everyone is feeling that now. Let’s put words to it.
This challenging moment in history is the mother of all opportunities to re-brand creativity as our only way out of this and other messes yet to come. Pivot, advocates, pivot!
*These roughly align with the “studio habits of mind” outlined by Project Zero at the Harvard School of Ed. in 2003 in a publication by the same name.
Image at top: Chair, digital photograph. An improvised set up for whiteboard teaching from home.