As I eagerly prepare to speak at the 2nd World Conference on Arts Education in Seoul, Korea in May, a news item from that capital city makes me even more excited about my upcoming visit. At the Global Metropolitan Forum of Seoul 2010 (GMF), a March event aimed at increasing the city’s economic competitiveness, Mayor Oh Se-hoon offered welcoming remarks linking imagination, creativity, and innovation to urban development. His words serve as a potent reminder of the fact that imagination is central not only to education, business, art, and science, but also to the functioning of successful communities. An article in The Korea Herald by Song Sang-ho reports on the March forum, an event that has now set the stage for the exhilarating conversations that are sure to fill the conference hall in May.
Speaking to the delegates, Mayor Oh noted, “[C]ities that harmoniously integrate creativity, culture, sensitivity, storytelling, dreams, hope, creative talent, and cutting edge technology will be the leading cities in this new chapter of our history.” In this vision of the ideal metropolis, advanced technology—cultivated though STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)—exists right alongside qualities like emotion, sensitivity, and narrative—which exploration of the arts can foster. The left brain and right brain are essential to a well-rounded community. GMF keynote speaker Rolf Jensen, “chief imagination officer” of Denmark’s Dream Company, echoed Oh’s thinking, articulating his own notion of the “dream city”: a “metropolis driven by aspirations and dream, by happiness and by welfare.” The urban vision articulated by both men reminds me of the “ecosystem of possibility” that Eric Liu and I envisage in Imagination First (203)—one in which all citizens are empowered to dream up ideas and share them with others.
Another keynote speaker for the March event, American urban studies professor Richard Florida, commented that “economic prosperity relies on cultural, entrepreneurial, civic, scientific and artistic creativity.” In order to support creativity, it’s important that communities remain open-minded when it comes to a diversity of bold, unconventional, perhaps even controversial ways of thinking and being in the world; otherwise, powerful thinkers may be stifled, and their contributions may never see the light of day. Looking at the statements of Oh, Jensen, and Florida, I see an overriding sentiment: affective and cognitive richness are necessary to a prosperous 21st-century city. And an effective means to develop these elements is through the arts and imaginative learning.
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