Notes From Outside the Box
November 2016 
Greetings! Happy Thanksgiving!

Morning session, Montpelier City Hall.
Inaugural Network Convening

"Many thanks for all the work accomplished in pulling together such a strong event yesterday. I left feeling hopeful, and happy I attended."
 
So said one of the attendees of the inaugural Convening of the Vermont Creative Network held November 10 in Montpelier. The purpose for the day was to introduce the Steering Team and Zone Leadership Teams to concepts of collective impact and Results-Based Accountability.
 
Marguerite Dibble, founder of GameTheory, presented the keynote speech. She explained the basic psychology behind creating games that people want to continue playing, noting varying motivations for men and women at different ages and introducing concepts like "co-opertition." Dibble encouraged creative sector leaders to imagine ways in which the gaming experience can be applied to organizational planning.
 
Other presenters included Ellen Kahler, director of Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund in Montpelier; Hilary Orsini, director of the Center for New Leadership in Brattleboro; Andrea Colnes, executive director of the Energy Action Network; John Sayles, director of the Vermont Foodbank; and Dee Schneidman, program director at the New England Foundation for the Arts.
 
At the end of the day one presenter remarked, "The people in my sessions were top-notch; great listeners, able to synthesize the information and make connections to their own work. If only it was always so easy."

Participants are currently responding to a survey intended to inform next steps for the Network.
 
Also happening now: The Steering Team has empowered a Strategic Planning task force to outline the Network's first year report to the state legislature as well as a frame for next steps planning. The team includes Zon Eastes and Sarah Mutrux of the Vermont Arts Council, Alek Deva of Northern Stage, and Sierra Dickey of Green River.

Vermont network leaders Andrea Colnes,John Sayles, Ellen Kahler
Vermont's Expanding Networks

M ore than 200 people representing about 100 agencies gathered at a recent conference in Stowe presented by United Way of northwestern Vermont. Attendees were there to learn more about collective impact. How might organizations, working collectively, effectively address complex issues? There is an emergence of networks nationally and internationally, and the concept of collective impact seems to have taken strong root in Vermont.
 
This brief list of known Vermont networks reveals the growing practice of collective impact across the state. Each at differing stages of development, these networks arose to address particular sets of broad challenges, those which no one organization on its own could solve.

Five conditions define the work of effective networks: 1) a common agenda, 2) shared measurement systems, 3) mutually reinforcing activities, 4) continuous communication, and 5) support form a backbone organization. There is no strict timeline during which these elements must be implemented. Rather, networks should develop organically to best support the specific goals being addressed.
Rural Arts: Coming to Town a Near You

The arts can reintroduce vibrancy to rural America. In states like Minnesota, Montana, Kansas, and Kentucky, the arts are being used as a tool to breathe life back into towns suffering from low populations and high rates of poverty.

This article from the Huffington Post reports that in some cases, the arts are a key element of rebuilding and restoration. Some of the poorest towns in the nation have bounced back when the creative sector moves in, fostering an environment where young people want to live and raise families. "If you do not build vibrant, inclusive, diverse places for young people, they're not going to raise their families there. They're simply not. And those communities will wither away," Charles Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, is quoted as saying. Arts provide attractions in themselves, but also attract small business, which in turn make an area more livable.

Initiatives have been funded with a combination of private and public funds. While grants for rural projects exist, there is a lot of competition. The most successful projects seek to improve a town for its permanent residents, not just tourists. The key is to "design [the project] for your community. Then the others will come," says Sarah Calhoun, the founder of a business and a music festival in White Sulphur Springs, Montana. Proceeds from Calhoun's festival go back to the community, in the form of leadership programs for women and grants for farms and ranches. When a town figures out what makes it unique and capitalizes on that, with the help of the arts, it can flourish.
Vermont Creative Network Action Roadmap 
Community | Education | Funding 
Leadership | Technical Resources | Visibility
The work of the Vermont Creative Network comprises six aspects. 
The following article, submitted by a guest, 
addresses an aspect of the roadmap.  
Conference notes on large paper. Includes words like Ideational Fluency and Divergent Thinking.
Vermont Creative Learning Forum Convenes in Woodstock

Vermont is taking an ambitious lead among states in prioritizing creativity in learning.  

Ninety-five educators, students, and their community partners recently gathered at the Woodstock Inn for the first Vermont Creative Learning Forum. For two days, they dedicated themselves to deeper understanding and practice of the ways in which PreK-12 schools and community groups can use creative engagement as a catalyst for advancing student-centered learning initiatives.

The Forum was led by Eric Booth and presented by the Community Engagement Lab, with a team of their master teaching artists as facilitators. Case studies from six regions of the state were used as springboards for the group's explorations into how to build creativity-conducive learning environments that amplify students' internal motivation to learn.

The Vermont Creative Network's Northeast Kingdom's leadership team was represented at the Forum by Catamount Arts (St. Johnsbury), Circus Smirkus (Greensboro), and The Art House (Craftsbury). The NEK Creative Zone is considering focusing on an education project as their first effort at activating their region's creative assets around a shared agenda.

The challenge at the heart of the Creative Learning Forum was how to teach and assess creativity across all content areas. Outcomes for Forum attendees included a list of the foundations necessary for creative learning to bloom, a set of key skills that live inside the creative process, and indicators to identify creative thinking success.

--Paul Gambill, executive director, Community Engagement Lab

The annual Creative Learning Forum is a program of the Vermont Creative Schools Initiative and the Expanded Learning Coalition Project. Programming partners include the Community Engagement Lab,  Vermont Afterschool, and  Catamount Arts.

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