March 24, 2017

Audience Takes the Stage at the 60th monthly CreativeMornings in Chicago

Photograph by Chris Gallevo, Volunteer

In the final CreativeMornings/Chicago meeting of 2016, three creative folks spoke for the third “Audience Takes the Stage” gathering. Started by former chapter organizers Knoed Creative, applicants vie for the opportunity to speak about what they’re enthusiastic about in this annual event. It’s proven to be a great way to wrap the year with a trifecta of creative voices.

This third go-around felt like a movie with a bold start, a fulfilling middle, but a confusing ending.

Anna Brenner on human-made monsters,
from literature to life

Web designer and front-end web developer Anna Brenner spoke first. Her topic was “man-made monsters” found in literature, TV and movies. She studied this cultural phenomenon as an English Literature major—with an informal concentration in body studies—at George Washington University. Inspired by her string of highlights shared during her talk, from the TV series “Westworld” to the movie franchise “Jurassic Park” to the novel “Frankenstein,” I mentally reciprocated with Guillermo del Toro’s co-created TV series “The Strain,” the Kurosawa-directed movie “Ikiru” and Saramago’s novel “Blindness.” Assumed that she’s into Legendary Entertainment’s “MonsterVerse” with the second installment “Kong: Skull Island” in theaters now. These stories have the surface pattern of monstrous characters, but what Brenner amplifies is the symbolism of monsters, the relationship between freedom and fragility. In the worlds of art, literature and cinema, monsters are human constructs to construct meaning—that major innate desire.

Recall this meaningful exchange between a young Bruce Wayne and his father in the movie “Batman Begins” (2005). While recovering from having dropped into a well, infested with bats, Bruce experiences flashbacks:
Thomas Wayne: “The bats again?” 
[Bruce nods] 
Thomas Wayne: “You know why they attacked you, don’t you? They were afraid of you.” 
Bruce Wayne: “Afraid of me?” 
Thomas Wayne: “All creatures feel fear.” 
Bruce Wayne: “Even the scary ones?” 
Thomas Wayne: “Especially the scary ones.”
Motivated by her literary background, Brenner serves “man-made monsters” as another viable source of meditation for makers to examine themselves and their work, the vulnerability seething throughout, coalescing into the aggressively persistent monster of F.U.D.: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. This a monster that consumes and cannot be exorcised. But Brenner, through the monster-lens, gives a coping mechanism to counter its effects: empathy. This is a quality evangelized a lot by creative people, especially designers, to the point of tone-deaf. Yet it was refreshing to hear Brenner not insulting the human race, asserting that human beings are inherently stable, even good. And can act with goodwill by default, albeit with the spectre of primordial monsters always on standby. As the prolific novelist, John Updike, said, “We are cruel enough without meaning to be.”

Chakka Reeves on engaging low-income communities to mentor the next generation of creativity

The second speaker was Chakka Reeves, a videographer and digital storyteller, who spoke about mentorship, especially to benefit youth in communities that sorely need it. Through the lens of social justice, she calls herself “a youth empowerer.” She rallied the audience to consider mentoring, an activity that scales. As a proactive educator in programs such as After School Matters, her work joins the noble efforts by other like-minded individuals who are ambitiously mindful of mentoring beyond themselves:
  • At last year’s Cusp Conference, Julius Givens spoke about why he founded The Explorer Program, “a platform that provides high school students—particularly first-years from urban minority communities—the opportunity to explore, be inspired and transform their lives by bringing to life their creative and artistic abilities.” Read my write-up.
  • Also presenting at last year’s Cusp Conference was Sandee Kastrul, president and co-founder of i.c.stars, “an innovative nonprofit leadership and technology training program founded in 1999 to prepare inner-city adults for technology careers and community leadership.” Read my interview with her as part of my series on Makers.
  • At the Cusp Conference in 2015, graphic designer Maurice Woods talked about his creation the Inneract Project, “a professionally-supported program that provides free design classes and initiatives to inner-city youth, in order to introduce them to the field of design and channel their creativity into viable career paths.” Read my write-up.
  • CreativeMornings/Chicago attendee Jason Early, a proactive mentor currently at global learning space General Assembly, shared his thoughts on mentorship in this interview, also as part of my series celebrating Makers.
The novelist Ralph Ellison elegantly declared, “Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values.” Reeves is generously advancing the ancestral line of human generations whose religion is compassion.

Emily Belden’s wax on, wax off

From the literary imagination of Brenner applied to the creative process, to the mentoring by Reeves of the disenfranchised and marginalized in her city of Chicago, the third speaker was Emily Belden, the memoirist behind “Eightysixed” (2014), a book about “Unforgettable Men, Mistakes and Meals.” She’s also a media powerbroker, impressively writing, publishing and achieving a two-book contract with publisher Harlequin.

After a stimulating first act, followed by a bold second act, the talk by Belden felt like a confusing way to end the third “Audience Takes the Stage” event. She prefaced her talk by claiming that hers would be “wild in comparison” by sharing her “haunting story” of waxing her eyebrows for the first time. It was an impromptu decision during preparations for a holiday party. When asked if she did anything to her face, Belden was in denial. This experience was pivotal, shaped her attitude to bravely “own up” to her actions moving forward, whatever they are (like ripping off those delicate hairs above the eyes). In so doing, she urged the audience to openly practice “super authenticity,” though nurturing and maintaining a baseline level of being “authentic” is challenging enough. Back to Belden’s claim of giving a “wild” talk. Was it? Sure. Just not my kind of wildness—substantially embodied and expressed more authentically by the previous two speakers.

• • •

This was the last gathering organized by Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, who took over management of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings in 2013. They improved greatly the chapter’s operations and frequency of talks that, for the first time, were held consistently on a monthly basis. Another major change was the regular showing of women speakers, further demonstrated in this third event where the “Audience Takes the Stage.” Read my writes-up on the second “Audience Takes the Stage” and its debut in 2014.

• • •

Big thanks: to Braintree (who also hosted), NestlĂ© Toll HouseGreen SheepLyft Chicago, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #60; to new organizer Jen Marquez who accepted the chapter’s hosting responsibilities from Knoed Creative who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to have CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008.

• • •

Read more CreativeMornings coverage.

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