Context: The Studio for Social Creativity

The stimulus for carrying out this study was the development of the Studio for Social Creativity at the Max Stern Jezreel Valley College in Israel, a college created to bring higher education to Israel’s northern periphery (Friedman & Desivilya, 2010). This region is characterized by chronic socioeconomic underdevelopment and deep intergroup divisions, especially between Jews and Palestinian Arabs.[1] Victor and several other faculty members at the college were interested in

The Studio for Social Creativity, Max Stern Jezreel Valley College, Israel (Photograph by the authors)

Fig. 13.1 The Studio for Social Creativity, Max Stern Jezreel Valley College, Israel (Photograph by the authors)

promoting a process in which people from the region could (a) bring up problems, ideas, and visions, (b) meet others with whom to learn and collaborate on issues of common concern, (c) work together to create innovative, viable projects and enterprises to meet human and economic needs, and (d) create and enact shared visions of regional development that promotes inclusiveness and interdependence rather than competition and divisiveness.

The original idea was to create a unique kind of incubator that would stimulate social entrepreneurship (Friedman & Sharir, 2009), a process that would also include conflict engagement because the tensions in the region severely restrict the development of social capital needed for social entrepreneurship (Friedman & Arieli, 2011; Friedman & Desivilya, 2010). The idea of bringing in the arts to support the learning process was stimulated by Ariane’s research on various forms of artistic interventions as triggers for organizational learning (Berthoin Antal, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014) and by our joint reflections on how to benefit from working with the arts in action research (Brydon-Miller, Berthoin Antal, Friedman, & Gaya Wicks, 2011).

Serendipitously, Victor discovered on the college campus a little-used fine-arts studio, which had originally been the backstage area of a theater. He immediately experienced it as a space that offered powerful creative potential and decided that the studio metaphor as the environment in which to nurture innovative social thinking and action was much more appealing than the incubator metaphor, especially if people, practices, and products from the world of the arts could be integrated into these processes. The studio’s large rectangular shape (approximately 16 m long and 12 m wide, or about 52' x 390 offered an open, flexible space (see Fig. 13.1). A high ceiling contributed to the sense of spaciousness. The windows were set along the top of one of the long sides of the room, and the shorter sides each had a narrow balcony, accessible by narrow steep staircases. The stained linoleum floor showed signs of years of use. Water was available from a faucet in a washbasin.

Two critical questions needed to be clarified in order to launch the Studio for Social Creativity: What does it mean, in practice, to integrate processes of social entrepreneurship, conflict engagement, and the arts? How could the studio space be utilized to host and facilitate these processes? Having read the conceptual paper Victor had written with his colleague (Friedman & Desivilya, 2010), Ariane suggested interrupting the writing process to actually engage with potential stakehold- ers—social entrepreneurs, experts on conflict, activists, artists, college faculty, and students—in the studio. Adapting Frye’s (1964) succinct definition of imagination as “the power of constructing possible models of human experience” (p. 22), we observed that the discovery of the studio on campus offered the space for experimenting with imagination in practice. The stakeholders could be invited to participate in constructing possibilities for using the space for social innovation and for strengthening the link between the college and the community.

  • [1] The Israeli population is composed of approximately 80 % Jewish and 20 % Palestinian Arab citizens. This Palestinian population should be distinguished from Palestinians who live in theOccupied Territories—the West Bank (Samaria and Judea) and Gaza—and are not Israeli citizens.The Arab citizens of Israel are termed by different people in various ways, such as Arabs, IsraeliArabs, and Palestinians. Each of these terms has a political implication.
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