During a table conversation at a state Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) dinner with Govt officials, NGO leaders and Bureaucrats; one man, a Dean of a university in Haryana, in between discussing his views on policy and legal frameworks suddenly reveals, “I wanted to make a children’s show you know? Like Sesame Street? We don’t have such programs in India, and I tried really hard a few years ago to make that happen, but the funding just wasn’t there, no one supported it, they thought I was crazy.”

You hear these stories all the time, stories of once creators now mere components in the big wheel of politics, power and profit. Where does this go? This creative light that we are all born with? It makes me think of the phrase, “everything I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten”, could this be true? In todays world of fast paced, compartmentalized lifestyles, one compartment that seems to be the first to get boarded up is that of creativity. Why? Is it because we just no longer have time for such processes? Is it because it doesn’t “pay the bills”? Is it because it seems childish? And that we, as adults, must only engage in matters that we deem as mature and practical? It wouldn’t be practical to waste such time and energy on being creative, what is the outcome? The payout? The bonus? The promotion? Surely things like creative mental stamina, happiness and art have no place in the serious adult world, we must focus on numbers, graphs and charts! That is where the answers lie, that is what matters most. But I disagree.

As someone who has always loved everything and anything creative, I cannot help but ensure there is always a place for creativity in my research and work, whether it be drawing, painting, filmmaking or music. From the time I was being scolded in grade 3 for making my Kleenex box into houses for my eraser animals; to achieving high grades in art class for my creative designs of shoebox houses, creativity has always helped me believe in myself and understand who I was, because it was the only process in which I wasn’t being manipulated into someone or something else that I wasn’t.

When you visit anywhere that is occupied with children, you could introduce a creative arts project and I can guarantee you, they would much rather take part in this than continue, for example to learn math (unless you love math, which great!) But the problem is, we discredit these artistic interests by excusing them as young and undeveloped, but I argue it is this very essence that we, as we get older begin to lose, and it is to our great disadvantage, for art and creativity must be found and applied everywhere, and in everything. Not only do we need to bring such creative processes back into the realms of the “adult” world, but we need to ensure they are nurtured, for it is through creative thinking, that we can think outside the boxes that we are evermore being pushed into. It is this ability to think past the parameters the adult world continuously keeps building around us, by allowing creativity a place at the table, then allows the minds of the individuals to soar, to reach new ideas, new methods, new ways, new conclusions. It is in this creative process, that I believe is not only lacking (in practice and awareness) from many modern day social movements, but completely lacking in support from political and organizational spheres.

So, I began thinking about how you could incorporate art into social change movements, or rather create group or awareness movement that does just that, and figured a suiting name would be “We Art United”. That through diversity there is unity and using art to bring people and communities together, to share visions, goals and strategies, could not only be applied to my research with PRIA here in Raipur, but in many facets of social impact assessments in general, that can be applied to communities all over the world. It is something I would like to continue upon my return to Canada, by engaging with different communities, and using art to understand values and interests, to eventually help influence overall decision-making beginning at local community levels. By creating together, minds working together; all with the fruitfulness of no right or wrong answers, reduces conflict and distance amongst different groups and instead, unites people of all ages and groups through diverse, collaborative artistic processes. This also provides a limitless opportunity to be able to better understand complex social and societal norms that affect communities differently, understanding values and behaviours in a way that most research methods do not allow for, and therefore ultimately providing a level of understanding that would ensure better ways of addressing social, environmental and political issues.

In Chhattisgarh when I meet with communities and villages, I ask questions I’ve prepared and I receive and document answers. But my engagement is lacking, I am not getting to know these people, these communities, especially considering the short periods of time I am spending there. So, I thought, how about for my next visit, I bring some paint and canvas with me, to participate with the community in creating together, a collaborative painting. I chose to not have a theme, as I did not want there to be any limitations (but you could have themes), I simply just wanted everyone who I met with or who wanted to join, to paint something important to them on the same canvas. So that after, I could see a bit better, who these villages were, as individuals but also as a community. These processes however could be anything, from painting important values on a collaborative painting, to writing and shooting films, making music or simply just being able to learn and have the option to engage in such activities that are open and free from typical hierarchical rules and restraints.

In my next blog, I will talk about how this engagement activity played out in Tendua, what I learned and how I think such creative engagement methods would be useful in the future work of PRIA.