The indigenous inhabitants of Creativity Country it would seem are a strange lot. There are angels in residence of course, including some pretty scary ones; the archetypes are present, and many kinds of daemon. Elves, fairies, all the muses - some major and minor gods, ancestral spirits, naiads, nymphs and maybe even pixies, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Whether these inhabitants dwell exclusively in Creativity Country is a matter for theological conjecture, however, there is no doubt of their presence in this numinous landscape. Observational analysis, the researchers eventually decide, is a fruitless exercise – everyone keeps disappearing …
… with such frequency that they began to doubt that any of the inhabitants had really ever existed there at all. They have a brainwave and decide instead to conduct a series of in-depth interviews. They’ve begun to notice many visitors about the place, brimming with group enthusiasm (they’ve been doing Sound Circles), or individuals deep in concentration and determined singularity.
Whether alone or together these visitors seem oblivious to the need for taking a firm hold on the methodology.
When interviewed each participating visitor is quite adamant, “Oh, they’re here all right - we’ve seen them. Not only have we seen them, they’ve been our guides, how else would we find our way about this place - blighted as it is with twists and turns and sudden chasms - without doing ourselves an injury.”
Strangely, Creativity Country has no permanent human residents - that was a hard one for the researchers to explain. At any given time it is home to an unusually vital and energetic visiting population from every country across the globe, but no one stays for very long.
Numbers vary, depending on the resources available to travellers wishing to visit, but some devote a lifetime to returning as often as they can becoming the athletes of the creativity playing field. Sadly, space and time are frequently at a premium in countries of origin.
Though the researchers went at it with genuine determination, in the end they got confused (refusing as they had to trust in guides they couldn’t see and territory they didn’t know) and they crossed the border by mistake into Milwaukee and having finally realised the error - no matter how carefully they tried to retrace their steps, they couldn’t get back in. And that was that.
But, surely that’s just rubbish. There are no faeries at the bottom of the garden. What we need is some serious science.
This fellow on the screen with the pretty brains is neuroscientist Antonito Damasio who has described extended consciousness, very adroitly in my view, as the very core of human relationality and communication, hinging on the ability to create an autobiographical record in which one’s sense of Self, the “core you” is “connected to the lived past and the anticipated future.” (DAMASIO, 2000, p.196).
We make these connections, Damasio says (along with many others working on the theory of mind) by accessing autobiographical memory and creating a continuously updated narrative.
Core consciousness (a faculty we share with other creatures), DAMASIO reminds us, provides a rite of passage into knowing, and extended consciousness builds on that capacity, permitting levels of knowing which can sustain human creativity and communication (Yardley, 2008).
It is extended consciousness that gives us that troublesome knowledge of Selfhood, eternal separation from one another form our herd - that sense of otherness.
The crucial link this theoretical standpoint provides, for me, as it describes the workings of consciousness and emotion is the capacity which consciousness extends to creativity. The stunningly obvious realisation that these two human faculties are intimately and indivisibly linked jumps out and knocks me flat – or was I knocked flat first – I can’t remember.
Creativity and consciousness are the mirror image, and enablers of one other. If we take away extended consciousness creativity simply vanishes – it is no longer needed and if we take away creativity, and its processes – the making of narrative artefacts in whatever form or medium to share with others - extended consciousness becomes a chaotic existential curse (Yardley, 2006).
But what has any of this got to do with methods of evaluation?
Creativity is a place of distortions and disruptions. A place of sometimes, violent contradictions. Intermittent unpredictable transformations, intermingled with frightening upheavals? Sometimes mediocrity emerges. What methods could we put in place to truthfully evaluate experiences like these. Evaluation processes after all, feed policy. They provide our sustenance.
Finding a way to evaluate what we achieved, to learn from our mistakes and maintain credibility, can seem like wandering through a wilderness. We talk of transformations, but rarely are there opportunities to track back, for ourselves, and experience what might have happened after we have gone – the legacies we have left behind.
Some of us are lucky enough to have that privilege – to make the return. But most do not.
Arts practitioners and researchers, along with NGO’s and community-based social service providers have all felt the need over the last fifteen years or so, to absorb and use the language of New Public Management and economics in their search for legitimacy and a place at the funding table. Words or phrases to do with nurturing, wellbeing and relationality have become pejoratives.
They are seen as motherhood statements and emotional deviations characteristic of a nanny state; worthy of excision from the policy- makers’ and policy implementers’ lexicon. In the process the language of creativity and communication withers and atrophies, and evaluation becomes nothing more than a means to an end.
The language of creativity though, is an embodied language. Tingling, thudding, rumbling, sighing. Full of anxiety and hope, anchored in and reflecting multi-layered lived-time and lived-space. There are no certainties and absolutes
Conceptualising what might be possible in policy development becomes more than an intellectual exercise, or an exercise in logistical and fiscal control, if the body and the space the body occupies with other bodies is not forgotten.
What can we do to keep our language and our practice vital and alive when we are asked to be accountable only on the basis of quantifiable results, indicators and outcomes? Evaluative processes matter, of course they do, and input from independent researchers is a good thing, as are industry partnerships – if they are the right ones, but never at the expense of handing over your passport into Creativity Country. Never.
In a sense it doesn’t matter what kind of methodologies we use to evaluate the work we do. Whether we undertake Self- evaluation, or bring in independent researchers, whether we use participatory action research, research as performance, performative social science, or any other qualitative methodologies …
so long as we stay connected with creative space, with country, so long as we continue to use collaborative, embodied creative language - keep on learning and discovering new ways to reach across the that great divide of misconceptions and pre-conceived ideas about who people really are inside their skin.
To do this we need to become textually multi- lingual, create a new evaluative language that educates as well as informs, that makes a serious and potent contribution to the philosophical discourse that eventually will filter into policy.
I will leave you right back in the thick of things, with the Bosnian Community Choir, who my partner and I worked with up here in Brisbane – they wanted skills to help them loosen up and develop the physicality of their performances. The song playing throughout was written by the choir’s artistic director and sung along with the Refugee Claimants Support Centre Choir on their CD, Scattered Peoples.