February 23, 2016

Audience Takes the Stage at 48th CreativeMornings in Chicago

In December 2014, a call to the Chicago creative community was first made, inviting makers to nominate themselves to speak at the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings. A diverse way to discover and receive consecutive viewpoints (read my write-up). As 2015 drew to a close, the second “Audience takes the stage” event of CreativeMornings/Chicago gathered again in December, and had designer Jen Serafini, writer Anthony Roberts, quilter Mary Fons share their perspectives from their respective discipline.

Photograph by Stephanie Strauss, Volunteer

Designer Jen Serafini on Mentoring

The most remarkable part of Jen’s presentation was how she visually diagrammed the way social paths can lead to opportunities. By continuously seeking new connections, seeding and retaining relationships made throughout her career, she has fueled her ambition. Essentially, one point of contact feeds another. Her social-network visualizations revealed the invisible chain, however nonlinear, that led to a project. Applied serendipity.

Regarding working with a mentor, Jen urged a to-do with potential: “Make sure to take advantage of their valuable advice, because it’s free.” Whether or not the advice is “valuable” depends on time. And I felt the fatigue of “free.” Sure, no admission fee is paid to talk to a mentor and receive input. But it’s never truly free—particularly for mentors. Mentors share what they’ve learned from their experiences, which is marked by trials and triumphs. It’s a lifelong cycle. Many dues are paid—educationally, emotionally, mentally and physically, symbolically—to reach the next professional plateau. Recall the truth of novelist Zora Neale Hurston: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” For mentors to share what they know, galvanized after years of work, is a gift. My amendment to Jen’s tip: Make sure to take advantage of a mentor’s valuable advice, because it took a lot of time and effort for them to get where they are now.

Addendum to Jen’s talk: Read my post “Mentorship keeps me awake and aware.” I also interviewed Jason Early, a CreativeMornings attendee who believes in the importance of mentors genuinely paired with mentees.

Photograph by Chris Gallevo, Volunteer

Writer Anthony Roberts on Questioning

Anthony offered a relevant affirmation, primed as a social-media nugget: “I don’t want a definitive. I want a conversation.” No didactic binary interaction here. Only meaningful communication, human-to-human. He reminded everyone about the human capability to achieve this, not only with clients, but with every encounter—to have an interesting conversation that promotes personal and mutual understanding. His prescription: Begin with an open question, follow up with different types of questions and definitely listen.

A specific part of Anthony’s framework is the avoidance of, as he called it, “dumb-ass questions.” I’ve asked (and still) ask such questions. It happens. At the same time, it takes guts to ask a question, especially one deemed “good.” Now, per Anthony, one must first ensure that it’s a really good question. If this were a ground rule for having productive discussions, whether in the form of a critique or brainstorming or an in-depth interview, my bet is that people would feel self-conscious to speak up. The consensus would be nervousness. Asking a question is like taking a stand, which isn’t easy.

Even in a work-based situation, a fluid conversation should welcome most, if not all, species of questions. Who knows? Though open to interpretation, the dumb-ass question (when asked) may prove to be the iteration toward a bona fide solid question, well-assembled and courageously asked (when it matters).

Photograph by Stephanie Strauss, Volunteer

Quilter Mary Fons on Her Craft

Mary demonstrated the power of props in a presentation. She had volunteers hold and display the front and back of her quilt designs in a procession during the “quilt interlude” of her energetic talk (What was in her thermos that kept her hyper-hydrated during her presentation?).

Photograph by Chris Gallevo, Volunteer

It’s surreal to consider quilts in the digital age. Like its companions in craft—from woodworking to ceramics to jewelry to comics to letterpress printing—these disciplines persist in empowering people to claim and, particularly in the case of quilt-making, reclaim raw materials into new forms of making. It’s refreshing to know that new methods of expression coexist with their precedence, which remain in practice. Because what may appear and sound antiquated, doesn’t mean it’s obsolete.

Fons inserted that handmade things “will last forever.” A popular sentiment, a noble one, though it rules out the unpredictable nature of chance. Here’s to handmade products being kept in favorable circumstances in order to be experienced for generations to come.

Addendum to Mary’s talk: Read my interviews with Neiger Design’s Carol Neiger, whose side project is GivingQuilts, and Nathalie Willlams, an avid CreativeMornings attendee, who also makes quilts.

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Chief song while writing: “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

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Big thanks: to Braintree (Host), Green Sheep WaterSkillshare, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, for being Partners of monthly Chicago CreativeMornings #48; to organizers Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed who both spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to make CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008. The fifth chapter was launched in Chicago, June 2011—my write-up and photos.

Read more about the people who make the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings possible.
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2011 was Chicago CreativeMornings’ debut year. Download the entire collection of selected insights.

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