Harness the power of your sleeping brain in your waking life!

On Tuesday, March 11, Idealist will launch a new network to help practical dreamers all over the world connect and take action on the issues that concern them. Preparing for the debut of this imaginative new effort has gotten us exploring the many facets of dreams: what are their purposes, their powers, their opposites?

Welcome to Dreams Week on Idealists in Action.

“Why is it that we seem to come up with solutions to problems or think in a less inhibited way shortly after emerging from sleep?” asks this recent Fast Company article by Jane Porter.

shutterstock_143416207

These habits will help you catch those good ideas before they float away.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

Read the post to learn about the creative benefits of sleep and some time-tested ways to harness the power of your slumber state after you wake up. It might make you doubt that setting your alarm clock for 30 minutes earlier each morning is the worst possible thing you could do.

Have you experimented with first-thing-in-the-morning creative or problem-solving efforts? Tell us about them.

Tags: , , ,



How this creative director turned “no skills” into “no problem”

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

Another way you can defeat the obstacles in your path is by joining the Idealist Network—a new online and on-the-ground platform we’re designing to help people everywhere connect and take action on any issue that concerns them, locally or globally. Sign up to attend our online launch on March 11 and see what it’s all about.

“In 2010 I was in the middle of a failing sabbatical,” begins Derick Tsai, founder and creative director of hip content development studio Magnus Rex.

“The brutal truth was I had bumped up against the limits of my abilities. I was going to have to drastically up my game if I had any hope of realizing my projects. In an unfamiliar space and out of my depth, I was reduced to moping around in sweats all day and constantly stressing about running out of money.”

“Then something woke me up and put everything into perspective.”

How did this visionary artist rise from the depths of not knowing to a new pinnacle of creativity? Read his story on GOOD.

 

Tell us about a time you didn’t know what to do, but turned rock bottom into your launch pad.

Tags: , ,



A child psychologist’s tips for encouraging kids to be practical dreamers

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

You’d be hard pressed to find the parent who says, “I want to squash my kids’ dreams every way I can!”

Every dad and mom worth his or her salt wants their children to grow up creative, stimulated, and dreaming big, and they make every effort to encourage these traits. But at Idealist, we’re all about good things getting even better, so we asked child and family psychologist Aparna Sampat for her tips on encouraging kids to imagine without borders.

Here are three zingers we pulled from our interview, straight from the doc herself:

1) Ask, don’t tell.

When young kids are drawing or coloring, they usually start out with everyday sights: say a tree or a house. But if the tree is round or the house doesn’t have windows or doors, a common reaction from parents is, ‘Oh honey, that’s not how you draw a house/tree. Let me show you,’ and they proceed to draw it the ‘correct’ way. This can really stifle creativity; it makes kids think things have to look a certain way to be ‘right.’

So instead of correcting them, try asking questions. ‘Oh, you drew a tree? Tell me about it. Does it have leaves? No? Okay, cool, a tree without leaves. Would a bird like this tree?’

Provocation will make them imagine more, and having to explain their design will get them to think more about its form and function.

shutterstock_98842532

If you can’t quite tell what’s going on in Junior’s picture, try asking him to explain it.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

2) Couches are for sitting?

I was in a family’s living room once and their two young boys were wreaking havoc on the couch—pretending it was a pirate ship and jumping on and off. The mom became irritated and concerned that they’d damage the furniture or the floor, so she admonished them: ‘Couches are not for jumping; couches are for sitting.’

While I sympathized with the mother’s concerns, I had to think: are these kid ever going to be able to see things outside the box? Where will they be able to exercise their imaginations? They’re at the age when we develop a sense that multiple perspectives exist and not everyone is thinking what we’re thinking—when a banana can become a phone, etc.

The problem for the mom in this case was not that her boys were being imaginative, but that they might be destructive—yet that wasn’t the problem she addressed when she disciplined them. She could have explained the actual issue and given them a choice between playing more gently on the couch or picking another place to play—without so narrowly defining what household objects are ‘for.’

shutterstock_144126064

There are lots of “right” ways to sit on couches.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

3) Use your words.

On the street once, I saw a boy who clearly wanted to get a hold of his dad’s cell phone. The dad took a moment to retrieve it from his pocket, and the boy swatted his hand with impatience. In response, the dad swatted the kid’s hand back! The message he sent there was: when you’re frustrated, it’s okay to lash out instead of crafting a productive reply.

To encourage his son to build his powers of creative communication, the dad could have said, ‘Whoa! Are you frustrated? Did you want this phone sooner than I could give it to you? Tell me how you’re feeling.’ Even if the child just nods in reply, that exchange is a good way to demonstrate how clear, calm communication can help solve problems, but that it does take practice.

When we act out physically instead of taking the time to think about and articulate our problems, we blunt our creativity and put up a wall between ourselves and others. The self-expression that kids—and all of us—can cultivate through our words is usually a more useful tool than an open palm.

 

Sampat sums it all up by saying, “Kids’ minds start out boundless. They don’t impose limits, even unintentionally. So all we have to do is not shut them down.”

“Just think: what would my kids be creating right now if they didn’t think they could do wrong?”

How do you encourage the kids in your life to be practical dreamers? Tell us in the comments.

Dr. Aparna Sampat is a licensed psychologist who works with children, adolescents, young adults, and families in New York City. She can be reached at asampatphd@gmail.com.

*****

Do you like to spread good ideas? Do you like connecting dots and people? Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

Tags: , , ,



These laundromats take your quarters AND your good ideas

Happy January! Welcome to Clean Start week.

One of the beauties of going to your local laundromat is the downtime you have as your clothes are tumbling in the washer and dryer. Sure, you could read a book, check email on your phone, flirt with that cute guy or girl folding their pants, or watch the news. But here’s a thought: what if you could spend that time making art?

That’s the idea behind The Laundromat Project, a New York City-based nonprofit that brings arts programs and education to, you guessed it, laundromats.

“If you have 15 minutes and are in the laundromat, or passing by, here’s something you can do. It’s untapped time and space,” says Executive Director Kemi llesanmi, who after four years of board service, officially joined the team about a year ago.

9939583584_81093419fa_c

Field Day in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn
(photo by Ed Marshall)

The organization started in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in 2005. Since then, through their Create Change Public Artists Residency, they’ve commissioned artists to mount socially-engaged public art projects in laundromats across the greater NYC area. And through their arts education program Works in Progress, they’ve offered free drop-in summer workshops at the Laundry Room in Harlem.

Recently, they’ve expanded their arts education to Bed-Stuy and another modest-income NYC neighborhood, the Bronx’s Hunts Point, to anchor Works in Progress there each summer. Much like in Harlem, the idea is that The Laundromat Project will be a well-known staple in these neighborhoods for a long time to come.

“People want to do more than survive. They want to thrive,” Kemi says. “We’re helping people nurture their creative selves, which is part of helping them become their whole being. We want to appreciate that creativity, amplify it, connect it, ignite it, acknowledge it, value it, affirm it—all of those things.”

9938967773_b33442de66_c

Hunts Point Field Day participant
(photo by Arleen Santana)

While the sun is shining, the drop-in workshops give residents something tangible to bring home and instructions for how to do it again. Classes have ranged from making totebags to painting planter pots to constructing terrariums to creating jewelry with charms inspired by photographs of murals in Brooklyn.

The artists who run Works in Progress come from all walks of life and mediums. They’re painters, performers, dancers, writers, muralists, and more. All live in or nearby the neighborhoods where they teach.

Most of the art explores what it means to live in the community, and the hopes people have for it. “Hunts Point is_____,” for example, is a prompt from their tote bag workshop.

533694_10151764965561815_1888953185_n

Aisha asked Bed-Stuy residents one question: “If you could name a street after an important historical figure from your culture, who would you choose?” (photo by Aisha Cousins)

A select few artists each year are also chosen to be part of The Laundromat Project’s flagship program, the Create Change Residency, to bring bigger-scale public art projects to their neighborhoods. The Laundromat Project doesn’t just take anyone who can glue googly eyes—only serious artists who are serious about community building are invited to apply.

Once accepted, artists undergo a six-month training program where principles of art and social change are woven together. The idea is that the artists are embedded in the community they serve, asking and listening to what people want, and bringing fresh ideas to the drawing board.

“People like the idea of having building blocks in their neighborhood, like a policeman, or a teacher. We think of artists as one of those building blocks,” Kemi says. “They’re community assets and resourceful problem-solvers who come with questions and concerns from a left-of-center space, opening up possibilities for new ways of thinking. Why wouldn’t that be needed in a community?”

Last year’s projects included remixes of Aisha Cousin’s Mapping Soulville, a make-your-own-street-sign project; Art Jones’ Portrait of a Community as a Block, a multimedia installation focused on stores where people work and shop in Hunts Point; and Shani Peters’ The People’s Laundromat Theatre in Harlem.

9938937404_3f4f321fa3_b

The Laundromat Project capitalizes on the abundant creativity already happening in neighborhoods.This mural in Hunts Point was created by THE POINT Community Development Corporation. (photo by Arleen Santana )

And the laundry list of offerings continues to grow. Last fall, The Laundromat Project hosted their first Field Day festival simultaneously in the three neighborhoods—themed around the issues of home, food, and history—with all sorts of free workshops, walking tours, poetry, dance, mini-film festivals, etc.

This year, they’re looking to do even more: in-school and after-school programs, a parent and community circle to help develop programming, commissioning 30 artists for more projects, and starting to put together a toolkit so that anyone anywhere can take their knowledge  to do something similar where they live.

The Laundromat Project’s goal with all of this is lasting change—not only a piece of art people can take home with them, but a memory that connects them with their community in a meaningful way.

“We ask our teaching artists to let us know what they hear on the street,” Kemi says. “There were some teenagers walking by this past summer in Harlem and one of our artists overheard them saying, ‘Remember when we used to do The Laundromat Project?’ So it sticks.”

To stay up to date with the latest Laundromat Project happenings, sign up for their mailing list and check out their blog.

From a button-maker to a Mac computer, you can help grant a wish by giving an in-kind donation. Peep their wish list here.

Tags: , , , ,



How imagination ruled in 2013

You probably know that at Idealist, our big focus is helping you turn your good intentions into action. You may have even heard our sometime-motto, “Imagine, Connect, Act.”

Because we’re so into people taking that first step, we’re always psyched to see imagination and creativity get top billing.

We loved this post on GOOD that offers seven ways innovative thinking influenced 2013—from students rapping about science to astronaut YouTube videos—and wanted to share it with you as the year comes to a close.

shutterstock_110608277

Get imagining!
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

How will you imagine, connect, and act in 2014?

Tags: , ,



In a creative rut? 52 ways to get unstuck

unstuck

We all get stuck.

Whatever the project, sometimes our creativity is less like the juice that’s supposed to be flowing and more like the pulp that gets caught in our teeth.

So how do you start clean again? Especially when that fundraising event is right around the corner or you have to write the story of how your social enterprise started right now?

In his book Unstuck, artist Noah Scalin offers ideas for 52 exercises to help you get out of the rut and keep taking those steps forward. From the six-word memoir (30 seconds) to a photo mashup (two minutes) to blackout poems (30 minutes) to making a creativity shrine (one hour), each activity is selected to fit with your (obviously busy) schedule.

The idea for the book came from Scalin’s year-long project of making skulls out of everyday objects: stencils, hands, trash, pumpkins, chains, and more. From the process, he learned a lot about staying committed to a project—even when you don’t feel like it.

Here are his seven tips:

1. Let go of preciousness. The reality is that treating your creations as precious little things to protect keeps you from the world of possibilities that comes from trying new things out, making mistakes, and getting things wrong.

2. Freedom comes from limitations. It’s only from narrowing down the options that creativity becomes possible, as you are forced to push against the walls that close you in.

3. Get out of your environment. No matter how inspiring your workplace is, there’s only so much creative work that can be done within it.

4. Get out of your comfort zone. At some point in our lives we’re probably told not to make a fool of ourselves, but the fact is that’s one of the most effective ways to get creative inspiration!

5. Get things by giving them away. The more I gave away, the more people gave back to me.

6. Collaborate. Some of best things I got out of doing my own project were the wonderful new friendships and the deepening of my existing friendships that came from incorporating other people into my work.

7. Inspiration is everywhere. Once you start practicing, the ability to find ideas in even the most mundane environments gets easier and easier.

Go to Noah’s website, Make Something 365 & Get Unstuck, for more inspiration or to show off a project of your own.

What tips do you have for getting unstuck?

Tags: , , ,



Move over, Movember. It’s time for Dinovember.

Dinos big and small team up to write this blog post.

Dinos big and small teamed up to write this blog post.

Two parents in Kansas City wanted to make some magic for their kids and ended up starting a nationwide creative craze.

Refe and Susan Tuma, the parents behind Dinovember, came up with an idea to help their kids “see the real world with a sense of wonderment” by setting up elaborate scenes around the house.

During Dinovember, toy dinosaurs come alive at night and do naughty mischief: breaking plates and spilling food, spray-painting the walls, getting stuck in the freezer while stealing ice cream.

Kids find the dino scenes in the morning, freak out, and play for hours.

The Tumas encourage all parents (and kids and people without kids) to participate in Dinovember. In a Fast Company article by Jennifer Miller, they offer tips on how to join in the fun while sharing their thoughts on taking risks, being creative, and making your own magic:

1. You Don’t Have to Pay for Play. The Tumas haven’t spent a dime on Dinovember. All the props—from the dinosaurs to the cans of spray paint—were already in the house. This forces them to get creative with what’s already available.

2. Make It More Than Child’s Play. Your project may be silly, but it’s still art—and worth no less than that novel you’re writing. “We rarely have time to work on our own projects,” says Refe, whose wife is an artist as well as a full-time mom. “But Dinovember is a way to combine our kids and our desire for creative pursuits.” In other words, if you take your project seriously, it might just provide that artistic outlet you crave.

3. Make (Them) Believe. When the Tumas started Dinovember last year, their oldest child was completely convinced the dinosaurs were real. A year later, she’s wised up. “We can see in her eyes that she knows what’s going on, which is why we had to escalate,” says Refe. And how. He and his wife spray-painted the walls. “She knows Mom and Dad would never graffiti the living room,” Refe says. But would a dinosaur? Not out of the question.

4. Make a Mess. Speaking of spray paint, take risks! Defy convention! “Repainting the walls is a small sacrifice to keeping the fun going with our kids,” says Refe. The same thing applies to dirtying the kitchen or breaking common household objects in order to make the dinosaurs appear responsible. Tuma and his wife have found new freedom in their non-adult behavior. “It reminds us that our stuff isn’t as important as our kids,” he says.

Read the full article to learn more about Dinovember or visit Dinovember’s Facebook page.

What projects or ideas do you have that could use some magic?

Tags: , , , ,



One man’s trash: creative reuse centers help make recycling fabulous

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right? So how do millions of tons of waste end up in landfills every year?

Among other obstacles (like marketing, consumerism, and labyrinthine municipal recycling systems), one likely reason is the stigma reuse has long held in many communities—a feeling that only poor people should need to buy something secondhand and, concurrently, that being poor is shameful.

But thankfully this fallacy is fading and creative recycling is starting to see a new heyday—thanks in part to a continuously unstable economy that encourages frugality, an increased awareness of the environmental mandate to reuse instead of buying new, and some “it’s okay!” role modeling from musicians like Macklemore, publications like MAKE Magazine, and fine artists like Kathleen Miller.

The recycling boom can be seen in the proliferation of initiatives like city composting programs, better e-waste recycling by retailers, and one of my favorites: creative reuse centers.

Samantha

Savannah Cox made these pretty purses out of scrap fabric. What will you make?
(photo courtesy Fort Lauderdale’s Trash to Treasure Creative Reuse Center)

These stores (often times large open spaces, like former warehouses) sell previously owned, usually donated bulk material that’s perfectly reusable but would otherwise end up getting trashed.

Generally the inventory is made up of crafty materials that appeal to artists, teachers, and parents—balls of yarn, bags of buttons, old coffee table photo books, carpet samples, chalkboards, telephones—the list goes on.

Every creative reuse center operates differently. Check out these all-stars for a general idea and some inspiration:

  • Since its earliest days in the 1970s, Queens, New York’s Materials for the Arts has provided companies and individuals with an easy way to turn over their unneeded supplies free of charge to nonprofit arts organizations and public schools. They also hold events, workshops, and classes about creative reuse.
  • Lancaster Creative Reuse proclaims, “Your box of miscellaneous stuff you no longer use is our Christmas morning.” They offer residents of South Central Pennsylvania “business overstock, scraps, samples and seconds, excess from individual craft closets, art studio cleanouts, and sewing room stashes” at low prices. Plus they have an Open Craft Table, where for $2 per crafter, you can “make as much as you want for as long as you want.”
  • St. Paul, Minnesota’s ArtScraps Reuse Store makes a variety of material available to teachers, parents, artists, scout leaders, and day care providers, and has “an artist available on-site to talk about project ideas.” They also offer creative programs for children and adults.

There are tons more. Art of Recycle maintains a list of creative reuse centers worldwide—including plenty of operations in and around the UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, and New Zealand.

If you’re decorating your nonprofit’s office, making swag for an upcoming fundraiser, helping the kids in your classroom develop their art skills, or are otherwise in the market for fabulous creative materials, it’s never been easier to get your hands on them for next to nothing—while participating in some top-notch recycling.

So make like Leslie Hall and get to crafting something great!

Are you an artist or educator who’s benefited from the uptick in creative reuse options? Have you started your own creative reuse initiative? Tell us about it in the comments!

Tags: , , ,



Take a seat, make a friend

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one. This week, we present: people issues.

Feeling uncomfortable talking to strangers is a classic obstacle to action. In this delightful video, the folks at SoulPancake (the same media group responsible for Kid President) show us one way to make introductions fun and memorable.

Have you ever made a new connection from a totally random interaction like this? Tell us about it!

Tags: , ,



Why so serious? What playful thinking can do for you

This week’s spotlight: all things play.

Sillykid

This silly face courtesy of Flickr user Philip Dean via Creative Commons

If your last brainswarm left you with a yellow notepad full of wild ideas, don’t chuck them in the recycling can quite yet. You might be closer to a great new program idea or creative fundraising solution than you think.

According to the minds behind the leading design innovation firm IDEO, the ridiculous ideas we get from uninhibited playful thinking come hand in hand with brilliant ones.

Brendan Boyle is a partner and toy lab leader at IDEO and promotes creative entrepreneurialism around the world. Joe Wilcox, a former circus performer and kinetic sculptor, is one of IDEO’s top toy inventors.

In a recent 99U article, they talked about the importance of play for generating fresh ideas:

Brendan: This is a quote from Stewart Brown, who is founder of the National Institute for Play, “Most people think that the opposite of play is work (especially in the corporate world) but the opposite is boredom or even depression.” To me, play is what you’re passionate about doing. You want to do it because it’s enjoyable and you want to keep doing it because it brings you joy. But play is a ton of effort.

Big innovation is right on the edge of ridiculous ideas. You need an environment that isn’t quite so judgmental about a ridiculous idea. Sometimes those are the ones that are so close to being the brilliant ones. If a space that allows for play can help encourage those types of ideas than you’ll come up with some possibly ridiculous but potentially groundbreaking ideas.

Joe: Those skeptics are in every walk of life. You can certainly combat it [by trying out] the experimenter role. Show people it’s possible, don’t just tell them. It’s always been the seemingly improbable, boundary-pushing ideas that have created this world around us and none of that would have been possible if they’d listened to all the people who said it never would have worked. We’d still be living in caves if we relied on the skeptics.

So hang on tight, buckle your safety belt, and don’t be afraid to get a little silly with your ideas. You never know what you’ll come up with.

_

What’s your favorite ridiculous idea that ended up being great?

 

Tags: , , , , ,