Monday, May 14, 2012
A CHILDREN'S CREATIVITY CENTRE FOR WALES?
It began in Silicon Valley with meetings at Microsoft, Electronic Arts, the Irish Innovation Centre, as well as conversations with a couple of Welsh-run technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
We then flew to Missouri in the middle of the country to meet up with the Kauffman Foundation, the World’s largest charity devoted to entrepreneurship and finished with a series of meetings at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the East Coast of America.
It was a hard slog, especially in crossing various time zones during the week but was well worth it, especially in terms of partnerships with both academia and business in areas such as educational technology and enterprise development.
However, one of the most eye-opening experiences we had was nothing directly to do with the business community but, nevertheless, has the real potential to make an enormous difference to the development of an innovative economy.
On May 6th, we made a visit to the Children’s Creativity Museum, a hands on multimedia arts and technology centre in San Francisco. Established in 1998, its mission is to nurture creativity, collaboration and communication to inspire new ideas and innovative solutions.
It does this through transforming the way children between the ages of 3 and 12 learn, encouraging them to imagine, create and share through a variety of interactive activities that helps to instil a love of learning and building creative confidence at a young age. These range from a design studio, where kids learn how to manipulate photos, illustrations, text, and symbols using photoshop software, to an Animation Studio where children build characters out of wire and clay, choose scenery, and then film their own stop-motion animation movie that they can then share with friends and family.
It also has an Innovation Lab to foster design thinking skills from a young age and encourages kids to think creatively, develop problem-solving skills, and nurture a prototyping mindset through what is known as a “Mystery Box Challenge”. This is similar to the scene from the Tom Hanks film Apollo 13, where NASA scientists in Houston have to save the astronauts only with what is on board the Apollo capsule stranded in space. In this case, kids are given a box full of different objects and then challenged to create various new ideas which can range from a ladder for a fish to inventing a space suit for a shark!
The other way that the museum makes a real difference is by engaging with the local creative and business communities. Not only does it have artists in residence who work with children to develop and showcase exhibits, it also brings in technology companies from the area to share and test new concepts with children. It was a fantastic experience, more so because of the hundreds of children actually taking part in the various activities in the museum and clearly enjoying and learning from their participation.
With many organisations now realising that the knowledge and competences needed to compete in a 21st century workplace includes "soft" skills such as creativity and innovation, critical thinking, communication and collaboration, it would seem that the Museum has found a real role to help develop the workforce of the future at an age where they haven’t even started thinking about their first job. The question for me is whether we could set up something similar in Wales? We already have the groundbreaking Techniquest to help children develop a better awareness of science and engineering but could we also do the same for encouraging creativity? The Museum in San Francisco would love to help and collaborate but I think we could also be more engaged with organisations in Wales to make this happen.
For example, how could the Heritage Minister, through the Arts Council, ensure that this is supported by the Welsh Government. Could those in charge of BBC Wales consider how they could use their vast expertise and facilities to support such a concept?
What about technology companies such as Sony, who could contribute their digital video knowledge to the centre? Individual knowledge-based firms could also help out, especially those in the independent TV sector such as Tinopolis, Green Bay and Boomerang. Dinamo TV, which makes the popular Rastamouse series, is a leader in their field of animation whilst Bangor-based Gaia Technologies has 3-D educational software that is amongst the best in the World.
So there may be an opportunity here to develop a Children’s Creativity Centre in Wales that not only builds on the original concept but adds a distinctive Welsh flavour by showcasing our fantastic creative industries sector to help develop the workforce of the future.
Certainly, if creativity and innovation are what will differentiate successful economies in the future, then we need to start developing those skills in our young children at the earliest age possible.