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Insight From the Creative Conference in New York City

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We often describe children as creative. We are impressed at how they create art using nothing more than a crayon and a sheet of blank paper. Many adults, however, neglect the artistic spark they had in their youth and label themselves as “not creative.” The Creativity Conference, a no-cost, full-day event held in New York City on June 10, presented speakers who encouraged the adults in attendance to believe that they are indeed creatives who should be proud to pursue and share their artistic creations.

The Creativity Conference is the brainchild of filmmaker Maxim Jago, who assembled more than 10 speakers for the gathering held at the Microsoft Garage in New York City. Attendees were given ample opportunities to ask questions of the speakers and network with each other. Maxim kicked off the event by explaining his goals for the day. “For the Creativity Conference, I specifically asked the speakers to not speak about things that could simply be put on a numbered list. I told the speakers: ‘don’t talk about the how. Talk about the why.’ I invited them to speak about their joy. Whatever it is that inspires you so profoundly that you have no choice but to create something that never existed before, that is what I want you to talk about.”

Maxim spoke of how he came to view himself as a creative” “As a child growing up, the word, ‘why’ was banned in my house for a month because I asked it too frequently. But the answer to ‘why’ is at the root of our identity. All of our feelings can be reduced to two elements: love and fear. Ask yourself, ‘what is motivating me? Is it love or fear? Am I setting up boundaries and protecting myself?’ Well, that is rooted in fear. ‘Am I being alive and accepting of new things and embracing change? Am I allowing others to be their best selves?’ All of that is love.”

Maxim believes that we shouldn’t be afraid to share our artistic endeavors: “Anyone who identifies as a creative or chooses the creative life has chosen to engage participate and share. No matter the area in which you chose to create, whether it is choreographing a dance, writing poetry, or taking photographs, everything you do is done so that it can be experienced by others. Even if you are just writing in a journal for yourself it will be read by someone else — your future self,” he said.

“We want to connect with others. We want people to look at our lifetimes and be glad that we were here. We want to know that our time here on earth wasn’t selfish. We all hope that the world is not worse because we are here. One way to achieve this goal of leaving the world better than we found it is to be helpful. Discover what it is that brings joy to your life and become great at that. Take your inspiration and find ways to be in service of others. That is what living is about,” said Maxim. (Note: all quotes from Maxim have been paraphrased with permission.)

Mara McCann, entrepreneur and founder of EveryGirl World, spoke of the value of silence. In the literal sense, we can embrace silence to free our minds to enter a creative space. We can also view silence as it relates to the visual realm as well. Imagine a clear blue sky with a single cloud. The sky represents the silence while the cloud represents visual noise. Can you allow yourself to see the sky rather than focusing exclusively on the cloud?

We have become accustomed to the visual and auditory noise of our modern world. In the big cities, we are forced to focus on sounds if only for our safety. Being present in the silence can be disturbing, and that makes it a valuable space for creation. Think of this space as active silence. Ask yourself, are you taking care of the silence inside of yourself?

Mara also embraced the concept of sharing our creations. “When we share experiences it fuels us. We begin to understand it. As creativities we need opportunities to talk about the process and what we do and what we make,” she said.

Photographer Mark Mann spoke of how he discovered his authentic, creative self: “Although creativity was natural to me it was also something that I struggled with from the day I picked up a camera, until now.” He recounts having a toy where you would place square, triangular, and circle pegs into their respective shapes that were cut into a wooden board. “The problem was, the circle piece fit into the square peg,” he said. “People told me that it was wrong. But, to me, it fit. I had no concept that this made me different and that I was thinking creatively. It was just Mark’s thinking. It was an absolute nightmare as a kid.”

Mark spoke about occasionally seeing an advertisement that is simply terrible in a creative sense and wondering how the photographer produced something so stale. “But then I realize that the photographer came up with a creative idea and showed it to the clients and they were like, ‘Well, we need to change this and this.’ And then, they showed it to the lawyers who said, ‘well, we can’t say that word.’ And then, they showed it to the copy editors who changed it again. By the time it gets printed on a billboard, it has been sanitized,” he said.

“When all is said and done, I am not a deeply technical photographer. I understand lighting and I also understand color and the other concerns. Where I have put my creative energy, however, is creating an authentic moment between photographer and subject. So many people miss this when they create photographs.  I have seen photographers who are technically proficient but lacking in humanity. Technically, we can all learn what f-stop to use and what a light does. But creativity comes into play with the humanity between two people,” Mark said.

Mark practices making connections with people throughout the day. “When I buy a Pepsi, I’m talking to that person. ‘You busy, selling a lot of chips?’ Nobody talks to people anymore,” he said.

Joseph Clarke, a former hip hop artist and current entertainment industry consultant, spoke about the need to keep the ego in check to create a safe space for creativity to flourish. The key for Joseph is to embrace and understand humility. “I ask myself, ‘how much humility can I apply to every situation?’ In my experience, the most powerful people are humble, silent people. If you are arrogant, you have tunnel vision. When you are humble, you have a broad vie. You can take it all in,he said.

Filmmaker Ramfis Myrthil spoke about the value of partnerships and relationships. “When you collaborate, there is energy. Be of value to your collaborators. Ask yourself, why would this person want to collaborate with me?”

Ramfis encouraged creators to read. One of his favorite books is “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie. “This book is so simple that they should teach it in the second grade. One of the thoughts in the book is that the creator gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason. We should listen twice as much as we speak. Use your listening skills and pay attention. Be aware,” he said.

Other books of value for creators include “Think Like a Monk,” by Jay Shetty. This book encourages you to use your five senses. Another book Ramfis discussed was “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It,” by Chris Voss. Chris is a former FBI hostage negotiator. “He talks about being in situations where someone’s life depended on his actions, and he talks about situations where things went right or wrong. If you can negotiate someone’s life, you can negotiate anything,” Ramfis said.

“48 Laws of Power,” by Robert Greene, is a book about “deception and seduction,” said Ramfil. “When you are aware of people using these rules, you can be aware of when people are taking advantage of you. This book has been helpful in my life because in entertainment. You can find people who are not authentic, and they are using these tools that are described in this book,” he said.

Meditation is also a part of the creative process for Ramfis. “I meditate every day, even if it is only for two minutes. I visualize the goal that I want to hit. Love and light are the two most powerful things in the universe, and I call upon these things. We will all have bad days, but by programming myself in the morning, I can connect to my creativity throughout the day,” he said.

Artist and Entrepreneur, Billie Carn wanted to explore the creative process and began by completing the thought-provoking excesses in the book “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” by Julia Cameron. She took a break from focusing on work and spent time in coffee shops. She wrote her thoughts each day, even if these thoughts were about something seemingly insignificant such as the process of making tea bags.

Billie asked herself, “What is making me happy? What is making me sad?” She became fascinated by people who think outside the box. Her creative explorations led her to dream of writing a book. “What came out of it was a book called ‘Maverick Wisdom’ that is unlike any other book. It is a book that only I could have written.” For the book, she spoke to people who inspired her to be creative, and she wrote a letter to that person explaining what that person meant to her. Themes of spirituality and of business being a force for good began to emerge. Her book serves as a source of inspiration for other creatives.

Jalen James Acosta is a record producer and pioneer in Latin music who has worked with, Talia and Enrique Iglesias, and other Latin stars. He began making beats at a time when he could not afford proper equipment. “I used an Xbox game console to create beats. In the game, you can make the sound, and it would come out to the speakers of the tv, but I couldn’t record it through the console. So, I would use a boom box and record onto a blank cassette, and I would shop those cassettes to producers. The right person heard my music and took me to a studio to record the beats properly. That eventually let me to Shakira and other artists,” he said.

For Jalen, one missing link for many people is a lack of imagination in how they can use everyday tools. “I used to take spoons and pots and pans to make beats when I first started,” he said. Jalen recounted an old Spanish proverb from his youth that is loosely translated as: “It is not the arrow that kills you. It is the Native American.” “That is my belief. It is the person rather than the tool,” he said. “What is important here is the fact that the shift of a mindset can change your life.” Jalen’s upcoming projects include collaborations with JLO and Ben Stiller.

AJ Leon of Misfit, a collection of businesses on a mission to “empower the rebellious with obscene creativity,” spoke of several companies that are finding ways to help people access their creativity. One such company is Unplugged, which offers a digital detox. “We need to get away from life sometimes. Unplugged built cabins for people who need to get away from it all. During your stay, your phone has to be put away in a locked box.” By giving people a chance to escape the noise and pace of the city for a day or more, the company is providing a physical space for creativity to thrive.

AJ also spoke of Pear Bio, another company that is thinking of new ways to better the lives of others. “If a woman has breast cancer, one of the biggest issues is the cocktail of drugs they give you is nothing more than a guess. There are 30 or 40 different drugs available, and they give you three or four. Pear Bio had this concept of what if we could take the cancer cells and put them on a chip and use machine learning to figure out what drugs will work for you. They are in testing. It is brilliant and creative.”

The next iteration of the Creativity Conference will be held online from August 3-5, 202, and will feature over 50 speakers, including photographers Marc Aitken and Frederick Van Johnson. More information can be found here.

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