The Rise of the Creative Citizen

"Our willingness to redefine what it means to flourish is part of owning ourselves as a world-class city."

We’re living in a city undergoing an evolutionary crisis, becoming something it has never been before. An old sense of self is being stretched beyond its edges while fighting to retain some of its soul, essence, integrity and character.

Back in 2006, in a moment of inspiration, I wrote in my journal my own personal vision statement for the city: Seattle: An Artist Cultural Community Unprecedented. A city of creativity unlike anything else now or ever. An inspired place where people come together to be and become themselves. This vision has fueled my work for the last 10 years, inspired by my relationships, community and artistic projects as well as an awareness of the resources, opportunities and possibilities for creating in this city. This vision is what keeps me here. The idea of its realization is as exciting and daunting as any of my career goals.

In a city that’s stepping into itself in a new way, there’s an opportunity to grab hold of the conversation about development and culture, to redefine it as an example for the country and the planet. Our willingness to redefine what it means to flourish is part of owning ourselves as a world-class city. A city unconcerned about becoming a New York Jr. or Diet San Francisco. A city that’s confident in the power of authoring its own unique narrative.

The gates are open. City of Music’s Career Day, for example, brings together artists and institutions to interact with youth, share knowledge and offer career guidance. LoveCityLove hosts a weekly performance/gathering that is in essence an art church for people of all ages and backgrounds to sing together, dance, share poetry and ideas. All over town, various conversations, workshops, mixers and meetings give voice to more and more unique perspectives, allowing us to see a bigger, broader, more vibrant picture of the place we call home.

What if we took it further—radically further? What would happen if every person and organization in our community brought together their creative efforts with the explicit intention to make Seattle the most thriving city in the world? In the face of severe change, how can our city’s soul be amplified?

As citizens, we all must evolve our attitudes toward art, creativity and their role in society. Right now in America, art and creativity are compartmentalized. Arts are viewed as a hobby or peripheral pastime. Creativity is something that persists only within the chosen few, and only if you’re lucky can you survive as an artist. These attitudes are built on a scarcity mentality that isolates artists from the communities we serve.

Being an artist requires time alone, contemplating one’s own creative process—a type of generative solitude. But too often the creative class disconnects from the general public as a result of disillusionment (not enough praise, attention or grants) and a false sense of superiority toward so-called non-artists. I empathize with these frustrations. But I believe that the divides between people in this city is so thin, that we have plenty of opportunities to shatter our isolation. We just have to be willing to show up.

Traditionally Seattle has been a place artists pass through to incubate their ideas or to hide out and retire. Some people believe that creating a city like no other and following one’s own dreams are mutually exclusive, that focusing on the whole of a community requires artistic sacrifice. But folks following their individual dreams is essential to a thriving city; in following our dreams we claim the place where our dreams find a home.

The main purpose of art is to nourish and enrich the soul. Artists must connect to our shared humanity, owning our devotion to our craft and honoring its power. Every artist has a responsibility to provoke and engage the people in our community, to inspire self-expression from their peers and neighbors. We must empower the creative citizens who will create the future. As a very dear person in my life often says, an emphasis on individual creativity in a culture gives rise to creative solutions to social problems.

A creative citizen can be a seasoned master, a globe-trotting pop-success or a hobbyist just starting to jam with friends. Creativity is not limited to performance or making things. It is a state of being that helps each individual access their own greatness, no matter the circumstances. Confronted with challenges, the creative mind sees endless possibilities.