Creativity & Play

All the posts on this blog are ruminations on Creativity and or Play with related short films and images.

I am committed to the arts, their practice and how they link on a fundamental level to other disciplines, reaching and benefiting everyone on many levels. Creativity and Play make up, in my mind, the essence of these connections. I realise there is an increasing lack of distinction between, for example, the essence of good design and fine art, playing music and sport. All are linked in their pursuit of excellence through creative experimentation, exploration, collaboration and play.

Research of the importance of creativity and play in the worlds of education, learning, health and well-being has been gathering momentum in the last 10 or so years. Ken Robinson, for example advocates an education system that nurtures creativity and acknowledges multiple types of intelligence. And Stuart Brown’s research shows play is not just joyful and energising – it’s deeply involved with human development and intelligence. “Plenty of play in childhood”, he says, “makes for happy, smart adults – and keeping it up can make us smarter at any age.”

6th July – What are schools actually giving our children? Current mainstream education has become increasingly little more than disseminating information and preparing children for exams. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the classroom environment is becoming more and more disruptive and stressful for learners and teachers alike; levels of anxiety and depression are on the rise; and we have a generation of school children disinterested in learning. The systems in place have not only in Ken Robinson’s words “killed creativity”, but have quashed curiosity and any intelligent connection with what really matters to young people and their world. The reality of our 21st century is that computers now have all the information we would ever need to design an experiment, build a skatepark, start a political campaign, make bread or fix a bicycle. They can, in other words, replace the bulk of what our kids do five days a week at school.

More than ever, the importance of soft skills and everything human is what our children need to be best equipped to survive and navigate the increasingly fragmented and complex world we live in.

12th June – Contemporary Craft & Design Graduate Shows. Skateboarding in Cornwall.

I visited the Plymouth College of Art Graduate Shows on Friday, especially drawn to the contemporary crafts, glass and ceramics: Fern Robinson‘s quirky ‘body adornments’ engaging with playfulness and recycled materials; Emilie Harrison’s tactile glass sculptures designed for the visually impaired.

…. in Cornwall for the weekend, amongst cliff walks, visiting the creative hub Krowji in Redruth and my sons’ favourite indoor haunt Mount Hawk skate park. At 10.30am in the middle of nowhere, there were more than 50 cars in the car park, the place was buzzing with all age groups – girls and boys – and the boss said this was a relatively chilled morning. I took pictures. Here’s a great example of stuff that actively engages and excites kids and adults, away from the internet and interacting with each other. Too bad Mount Hawk isn’t on this year’s Activities Week menu at Kevicc – my youngest son’s gutted.

1st of June Jolly – Collaboration and Play! 

Here’s a short film made by my star collaborator Caroline Morley a couple of years ago during a residency at Plymouth College of Art. She’s synchronised Ligeti’s music so perfectly with the movement of the dots, all from my paintings – large scale directly painted onto the wall, 12″ miniatures and close up detail.

31st May – Arts into PLAY LAB

It’s been a productive fortnight crystallising ideas for moving Arts Lab forward in the context of Dartington’s own vision for creativity and learning. A useful meeting with Dartington’s CEO Rhodri Samuel and Amy Bere, Arts Director, left me feeling optimistic, my proposal for a pilot project for Play Lab feeling increasingly plausible.

Personal experience as a practicing artist, musician, sportsperson and collaborator has shed light on the lack of distinction between the essence, for example, of good design and fine art, performance and playing music and sport. All are linked in their pursuit of excellence through purpose and play.

The long term objective of Arts Lab is to evolve into Play Lab – a space that fosters and facilitates play through a broad range of disciplines: music, dance, sport, design and technology, the arts, etc. Intended to be an interesting new take on igniting passion for lifelong learning as well as a valuable resource for fostering health and well-being Play Lab would be underpinned by an ethos of experimentation and exploration, collaboration and inclusivity, creativity and innovation, flexibility and enquiry.

Democratising resources, I would want the key resources of space, time and expert/specialist facilitators to be made easily accessible for a broad cross-section of society. Amy Bere’s idea of targeting (initially at least) 16-21 year olds could well be a good one to kick things off.

Making would be at the heart of Play Lab, linking amongst so many other things, cutting edge technology with historical, traditional methods. An objective, as well as engaging with and enriching lives, would be for the Lab to create timeless, high-spec products or productions – whether design objects, works of art, performances in music or theatre, etc. In the process, creatively engineered business models would be embraced.

Invaluable in helping shape my ideas have been conversations with: Jay Tompt at REconomy Totnes; film maker James Rowden; Head of Creative Arts at Kevicc Tim Wightman; Kevicc parent governor Bethan Edwards; Caroline Dimond Director of Public Health in Torbay; Torbay Culture Board’s Kate Farmery; Mike King social enterprise consultant and Chair of Governors at The Grove; David Irish of Totnes Fab Lab; Ian Hankey of Plymouth Fab Lab at PCA; conceptual artist Laura Denning; Dawn Brumham business development consultant.

Below is “Play”, a 50 second film by my daughter, Zanna. Put together from photographs of some of my past workshops and everyday playing and doing scenes of the Lotto kids when they were younger, she’s cleverly synchronised the images with some of her favourite music from Metronomy. Great link here: James Rowden who’s working with me at Arts Lab, has just emailed – “I went to school with Joe Mount (the man behind Metronomy), who funnily enough grew up on Dartington estate just up the road from Aller Park.”

28th April – 2nd May‘The Password is Play’ – House music, FAB Labs and more ……. (to follow)

April 19th-26th – Education and Creativity. The announcement on the Dartington website of the upcoming talk Reimagining Education for Human Creativity has prompted me to write down some thoughts on the topic.

WHY should creativity and education go hand in hand? 

In answering the Why, we’ve already achieved one of the toughest of Simon Sinek‘s Why, How, What. Ken RobinsonCharles Leadbeater and David Bad have been major shapers amongst many others supporting this union.

The relevance of creative thinking and doing in all aspects of our lives and more recently in education has been well researched. We see its positive impact on wellbeing as well as successful, innovative projects that cover everything from social enterprise to designing toasters.  In the context of education, you talk to anyone and they will likely recount lack of fun and engagement at school, how they learned more from a Sunday afternoon trip to the beach, and possibly even how they were, in Ken’s words, ‘de-educated’. Currently, there is a growing frustration crescendoing to anger with systems that block the profusion of ideas to celebrate and engage with creative thinking and doing from taking root. The very nature of creativity in its truest form is unpredictable, messy, unquantifiable.

WHAT is this ‘creativity about?

The what comes easily I think. Again in the context of education, we all have memories of stuff that’s stuck thanks, maybe, to an inspirational teacher or a special experience in or out of school. Put 20 of us in a room for half an hour, and I reckon we could come up with at least 20 great ideas of what to do in a classroom that would connect with children more meaningfully than the passive experiences they are met with in the current system.

Creativity for me can teach us about process, action, taking risks, problem solving, positive outcomes from making ‘mistakes’, innovation, initiative – ALL  important survival skills required for in an increasingly complex, competitive, disconnected and often hostile world.

It’s about PLAY – it’s about ….

being free and expressive  *  doing and making  *   embracing the multidisciplinary * being experimental and exploratory  * fun and adventure  * the experiential and immersive  *  being individual  *  energy and physicality  *  challenge  *  intuition *  directness and honesty  *  MAKING A MESS!

You know it’s been a good session when folk leave the door with paint on their shoes, charcoal on their faces, flour in their hair or soil-stained fingers.

It’s about being HUMAN, about …….

contact and connection  *  collaboration and sharing  *  inclusivity  * celebration of the non virtual  * freedom to be human

HOW can we make Education and Creativity inseparable?

This is the toughie in my mind. Firstly, it is about HOW we convince and evidence the ‘establishment’ that these creative experiences we are offering school children are relevant and purposeful to their overall educational and life skills development?

Secondly, it is about ENGAGEMENT and pulling off the whole perfect vision of learning through creativity, creative experiences and creative thinking. How about, then, recruiting Directors of Change, consisting of equally sized groups of representatives:

20% ALL OF US  (every voice counts, learner centred teaching & learning)

20% CREATIVE PRACTITIONERS (full time makers & doers e.g. artists, musicians, designers, bakers, gardeners, builders of bikes, boats, hedges & houses, furniture & pots, writers, magicians, scientists, foodies)

20% ACADEMICS, EDUCATIONALISTS, THEORISTS, VISIONARIES (e.g. Tagore, Ken Robinson, Charles Leadbeater, Elmhirsts)


20% ADMINISTRATORS (finance, PR, etc.)

* 100% Commitment to Change

* Creativity in thinking, doing & making being Core to that change

  • Equal importance given to each group; collaboration & mutual respect for individual expertise being key to dynamic progress

Workshops for Everyone

I work with individuals and groups of up to 30. My aim is to deliver a fun and stimulating environment in which experimentation and expression is maximised.
Sara Downham Lotto