Feature

Why Creativity Is Key To Boosting NB’s Economy

There are a lot of skills you need to have to thrive into today’s growing knowledge and tech-based economy.

You need to be diverse, flexible and of course have the education crucial for the jobs that will need to be filled today and for years to come.

Yet, with all the talk about how we need to teach kids to code and build robots in Grade 2, one important skill is getting left behind in the conversation: creativity.

For Matt Daigle of New Brunswick-based Rise, creativity is an essential skill all his employees must demonstrate.

“I think for Rise, creativity is a basic requirement we need from all employees, and something we look for upon hiring,” Daigle says. “We work in a very crowded online world so creativity really is the key to solving how we will deliver and provide value for our customers and followers.”

For Daigle, creativity isn’t just honed by those who can paint like Picasso; it’s also fostered by the people who can think outside the box with everyday problems and tasks.

“There’s creativity in everyday life and there’s a certain artfulness in many things you wouldn’t typically consider as art, like coming up with a kickass business model,” he says. “Where creativity shines at Rise, and with many online and innovative companies, is in how the solution or the content is delivered – and doing that in increasingly innovative ways. So for me, creativity or art is the idea and innovation is really about applying the idea to create value.”

But creative thinking doesn’t just happen. Sure, for some it comes naturally, but like any other essential life skill, it needs to be taught and fostered from a young age through education and adulthood. For creativity, this means arts education and programming.

Unfortunately, New Brusnwick isn’t doing the best job at that.

Gillian Dykeman, executive director of ArtsLinkNB, says arts education is vital not just for teaching creative thinking, but for overall literacy. In case you forgot, New Brunswick also lacks in that department.

“When we talk about art education, we’re actually talking about visual and media literacy as well. When you’re teaching kids art, you’re not just teaching them to go off and be artists; most of them don’t do that,” Dykeman says. “But you are giving them a knowledge and skill set that enables them to more fully engage with a visually biased world.”

Though tech jobs are in demand, Dykeman says it’s important not to forget the creative aspects of those jobs. You can create cool technologies and applications, but it’s not worth anything if nobody knows how to use it or market it.

“I think pushing for knowledge in the tech area makes sense, but that visual literacy and media literacy should be a part of that as well,” Dykeman says. “Because there’s certainly more aspects to tech than just back-end programming.”

Lee Bolton, executive director of Saint John’s Imperial Theatre has noticed a decrease in schools’ attention to the arts. She says when cuts need to be made, arts programs are the first to go.

“Somehow when people are looking to cut something, it seems to be easy to say ‘Ah, we will just take the band program out, because that’s expensive.’ It’s a very outmoded industrial idea,” she says.

It’s also unfortunate, since these types of courses and programs are giving kids the essential creative thinking skills they need for the modern workforce.

“If the job of the school is to train people to work in a factory, then you’re right. There’s no need for them to take music,” Bolton says.

“If the job is to train people to work in technology, to work in the knowledge sector, to work in a real world where they’re going to have to be creative and have 10 different jobs over their lives … then they better learn some creative thinking.”

Do schools kill creativity? Some food for thought…

Today’s school system was designed for the industrial revolution. The model worked well for its purpose, but Bolton says taking the arts away is doing the kids of 2016 a disservice.

“By taking that away, I think we’re effectively preparing people for jobs that are less and less available to them,” she says.

Overhauling the entire education system to one that fosters the arts would be challenging. However, there are schools elsewhere doing it. For instance the Waldorf Schools, which have locations in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia have included the arts in all disciplines. The entire country of Finland overhauled its school system to better reflect how children learn, which doesn’t involve sitting at a desk.

But revamping New Brunswick’s education system is a pipe dream at this point in time. However Bolton says there is something we can do now: bring the arts back in.

“We are training workers for a role that will value creative thinking above all else and the most tried and true method we have for teaching creative thinking is through the arts,” she says.

Dykeman says she would like see a more interdisciplinary and consistent approach to arts education as well. But it can’t just be employers and organizations wanting it, parents need to want it too.

“If [students] are taught a couple things in elementary school and it’s left there, then you got adults with an elementary school level of artistic initial literacy and that is the case here for the most part, unless people themselves are pursuing an art education. It’s really not a default,” Dykeman says.

“It’s a quirky thing to do and that’s not how it should be. It should be something everyone has access to. It will make New Brunswick a better place if people understand their visual environment, if they understand visual culture.”

Matt Daigle of Rise says he’d like to see creative-focused classes added to post-secondary education programs like engineering and computer sciences. For example, he says a general design or graphic design course would complement a lot of technology programs. He sees arts education as important in developing the talent today’s workforce needs.

“If you want to be wildly successful and stand-out from the crowd, you must, without a doubt, have some sort of creative inclination,” he says.

“That doesn’t mean you need to be a conqueror of the arts, it just means you need to value creativity – so if you’re not the one coming up with the newest game-changing idea, then you’ll align with someone who has and will help innovate with them to deliver value.”