Our team recently piloted a short creative session facilitated by Tina Atchison-Thomas from the Arts and Culture team. Tina is an Outreach and Programme Co-ordinator and had contacted me a few weeks before as she and her colleague Katie had been mulling over ideas to bring creativity and team building together into the virtual space.
It’s long been know that engaging in creative activities is great for our wellbeing in all sorts of ways – learning a new skill, meeting new people, offering quiet reflective space, the satisfaction of “producing” something, providing an outlet for expression, and activating different areas of the brain.
“Art helps us access and express parts of ourselves that are often unavailable to other forms of human interaction. It flies below the radar, delivering nourishment for our soul and returning with stories from the unconscious. A world without art is an inhuman world. Making and consuming art lifts our spirits and keeps us sane. Art, like science and religion, helps us make meaning from our lives, and to make meaning is to make us feel better.”Grayson Perry
How does this translate to the workplace though? Wellbeing at work is obviously critical to us all, and we have spoken about this often in these blogs, so hopefully regular readers won’t need persuading there. But does creative activity offer more than that? I will share our experience, and you can make your own mind up.
In our session we created “zines” – little paper booklets onto which we stuck pictures and wrote musings.
It was a simple activity that we were able to do by watching Tina on screen and following her lead. We decided to not have a collective theme for our zines, but instead to create whatever was in our heads. The result was a wonderful mash-up of colour, humour and sincerity. It would be easy enough though to choose a theme: “our team” “lockdown experiences” “our identity” as examples, and see what emerges together.
Whilst we were cutting, gluing and sticking we were not silent but instead chatted happily. We didn’t feel the need to talk work, or keep it task focused, but instead meandered through discussions of weekend plans, recipes, books and family anecdotes. The glue on the page was joined by the glue of human relationships, something that is so fundamental at the moment.
I attended a different online seminar recently where we were invited to bring along a creation of our own making. Beyond the descriptive sharing we were asked to consider “What went into the process of creating? What does it say about me at my best?”. After a fumbling start I realised the item I had chosen (some painted stones) did say so much about myself that I had not considered until that point. I had made my choice of what to share for a reason, albeit subconsciously. Being asked to look at a creation or artwork of another’s choosing would not have had the same personal impact.
So in fact creating art virtually from home and sharing the activity in our team as we did in making our zines with Tina, allowed us to bring our whole selves to the experience, and not simply use whatever materials our facilitator had in their kit bag that day.
By using exercises like this one, art can help us describe our surroundings, articulate our experiences, and make meaning through enquiry, creative expression and metaphor. It need not be reserved for workshops, but brought into our everything thinking. Unlocking your creativity as a team can improve the sense of psychological safety felt. This will develop trust so you can consider taking risks, exploring boundaries and embracing a growth mindset.
Schiuma (2012) goes further and proposes a direct link between arts based initiatives and the “organisational value-creating capacity” – to be able to “face today’s business complexity and turbulence” and “create organisations that are more human”.
Will you get all that in an hour? Undoubtedly not (and if that deeper thinking is on your mind then get in touch with me directly). But it will give you opportunity to pause, to think and to get your creative juices flowing.
Tina is offering to facilitate sessions in other teams – if you are interested then do contact her directly to make plans.
Juliet Flynn, Organisational and People Development
Update: All staff are invited to participate in a short 10 minute survey about your experience of arts and culture doing the COVID-19 closure of University buildings (the period March-July 2020). Researchers from the Arts and Health Research Hub in the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Social Care want to discover whether this has helped support staff wellbeing.
They are interested in hearing from all staff at CCCU, whatever your role and whether or not you have been engaged in arts and culture activities during the closure period. Please complete the survey to participate.