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Is creativity a loaded word?

How has creativity had an impact on your life? Arts reporter André Chumko shares his hot take.

André Chumko is an arts reporter – one of only a handful in the country – working for Stuff and the Dominion Post. He shared this talk with us in Ōtaki, as part of our 2023 event series All in for Arts: He waka toi e eke noa nei tātou. The prompt was 'how has creativity impacted your life?' – and we're thrilled to share André's response!

"Now, I’m a journalist, so, naturally, that means I wrote this speech last night. I had asked two separate colleagues earlier in the day how they thought creativity had impacted my life before I realised that they could actually never answer that for me, because the answer is so specific and personal to each individual.

As I sat in silence after work thinking about what to write, it finally hit me when I heard my neighbour listening to Neil Patrick Harris in Dr Horrible’s Singalong Blog that we are literally surrounded by creativity - I am surrounded by creativity - at all times.

Creativity affects our lives in any number of ways, constantly. It is the way we structure our homes. It is the conversations we have, and the ideas we exchange. It is the words I’m speaking to you now, the words I write in stories every day at work. It is the life force, the energy that picks me back out of bed to cook something after my dad died. It is in every act of doing.

Every act has creativity in it. Every single act. There cannot be action without creativity. Because every act requires thought. And thought is always creative, because it is always unique.

This might be a hot take, but I think creativity can be a loaded word. Who gets to call themselves creative? For some people, creative is a job title. “I’m a creative,” they say. Does that mean they’re more creative than the next person? That their threshold for creativity is higher? Or that they’re more in tune with their creative juices? I think creativity resides in all of us.

Every single human being on planet earth is creative. Creativity is at the core of original thought. It is behind humanity’s biggest, boldest, bravest inventions and successes. And our worst failures. Creativity can be your best ally, or your worst enemy. It can drive people to insanity. But it also has the power to enact change. It has the power to get people to think differently. It has the power to alter society’s systems.

Creativity is inspiration, and it’s absolutely everywhere, all the time - it’s in the way you’ve all been seated today, in a specific order. It’s in the choices of speakers here. Creativity is behind the essence of this very event. It’s in the clothes you decided to wear, and the selection of this venue. It’s behind the haircut you chose, it’s the reason why you had a coffee or a tea or a water this morning. Every decision we make is creative.

Yet too often, creativity is put onto a pedestal. Some creativity is judged more valuable than another.

Artists are powerful, as they actively draw on their creative reserves on a daily basis. That’s their gig in life. But I believe creativity lies in everyone - including those people outside the circles we consider to be creative. If every person in this room was asked to define creativity, I bet every person would give a different answer. There is creativity in that.

Creativity cannot be boxed in, and it cannot be defined by a single person, which is why I find this question - how creativity has made a difference to my life - totally impossible to answer. Because creativity has made all the difference to my life. Creativity is my life. Creativity has shaped who I am as a person, where I live, who’s in my circle; it’s affected my relationships, it’s driven me to make certain decisions – good, and bad – it’s gotten me in trouble, but it’s also given me hope.

It’s my work. It’s the depressing music I put on when I know I’m already sad and that it will make me cry, it’s in the moments when I have nothing in my fridge except odds and sods but I find a way to throw it all together for dinner. It’s when I’m having conflict with a partner but I have a brainwave to communicate my point in a different way. It’s why I chose blue instead of green for the colour for my lounge wall. Creativity is so much more than just art, or music, or fashion, or culture. It’s here, it’s there, it’s everywhere. My cat is creative in the way she decides to wake me up each morning.

I covered a story a few years ago about how the arts were transformative for people in our justice system. And while researching that, I came across a letter which I want to read to you, now, by an inmate who had been through an arts programme while they were incarcerated.

It read:

It was great to rediscover my creativity after over 40 years of just earning a living. From a slow start my pencil and paintbrush began to reveal long ignored freedom of expression; How Ironic that I had to come to prison to become free again. I feel sure there is a hidden artist in all of us. My advice? Let them out.