Guest post from Cindy Chen, student in the School of Music
Usually when you go to conferences, you know what to expect. A series of panelists, maybe a well-known keynote speaker, and various types of workshops. The Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (A2RU) Emerging Creatives Student Conference followed the trusted model, but it also brought new and interesting perspectives to the meaning of interdisciplinary work, integrating the arts, and creative thinking.
From January 30 – February 1, I was part of a delegation of students from the U that made the trip out to Palo Alto and Stanford University, where the conference was hosted.
At the center of the conference was the idea of interdisciplinary work and creativity. The structure of the conference encouraged and reflected these concepts. One of the most unique things about the conference is that it really was driven by the students. A lot of our time was focused on working in smaller groups to develop an idea to pitch at the end of the conference.
Before attending the conference, the attendees were asked to self-select into groups based on what they believed drove their creative pursuits. These groups were: Arts & Hacks (troublemaking/fun), Projects for Social Justice (making the world a better place), Odyssey (personal/professional growth; pursuit of knowledge), Winner’s Circle (competition, recognition, profit), and Wayfinders (general problem solving).
From there, we split into smaller teams to develop projects based on our interests, and these teams were really the basis of the conference – truly, the most productive experience came from working directly with the other students.
Sometimes your peers are really your best teachers; this was definitely true for this experience. One of my favorite moments from the entire weekend was the initial brainstorming session for my large group, Projects for Social Justice. At first, the task of creating a project idea seemed fairly daunting, since we were given almost no guidelines as a way to enhance our creativity.
The brainstorming session was particularly memorable because I was so inspired by the goals of my fellow students. Even though we all came from different disciplines, we all had big ideas and major problems we wanted to tackle. None of us felt limited by our majors because we all knew that in order to solve any of the problems we were talking about it would take more than just one discipline.
In the end, some of the most valuable skills I gained from A2RU were how to identify problems, how to think about innovative solutions, and how to work across fields to implement those solutions.
So, what did this conference really have to do with the arts? Actually, quite a lot. Even though it wasn’t explicitly a traditional conference about the fine arts, I felt like there was an underlying message that artists should always be part of the larger conversation about creativity and innovation. After all, artists have the unique trait of being communicators by training. Artists, musicians, dancers, and actors all deal with translating ideas into tangible products. That’s a skill we should always remember we have and that’s a skill we should always be ready to bring to the table when working on any kind of project.