04/30/2013 01:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2013

Reflecting on Creativity: Getting It "Right"

OK, friends, help me out here. I seek interpretation of one of those moments of weirdness in which a window opens up onto the state of things. Or does it? The moment in question: I'm at the drive-through window of my bank last Friday, depositing a check and getting some cash back. I'm an admitted Luddite where banks are concerned. I avoid ATMs. I like the whoosh of the vacuum-powered canister at the drive-through and enjoy the face-to-face greeting of a teller at the corner bank when I decide to walk over and make my deposits in person. Also, by not using an ATM, I like to think I am supporting someone's job.

On the day in question I sent my check, deposit slip and ID through the canister, but instead of the return whoosh, I got a call from the teller. A pleasant enough voice informed me that I had not signed on the correct line. Instead of signing on the signature line, I had written my name on the date line, where, to my credit, I also wrote the date.

I protested in amazement. Surely it was obvious that my signature was there. But the sweet voice insisted: it had to be done "the right way." There was nothing to do but send the canister back with the second signature tucked up under the first one. At least I got an additional two whooshes out of the exchange, but I also got additional food for thought.

Who or what imprinted in my poor teller's mind such unimaginable inflexibility? I have since measured the difference between these lines: exactly one-quarter inch. Was she afraid? Would a supervisor have written her up for a quarter inch discrepancy? Or perhaps it was just a habit of mind? Does she have some mental teacher standing over her shoulder with a ruler chanting "right," "right?" Perhaps there is something technological going on that I do not understand -- some electronic scanner that requires everything to be on its one and only "right" line, even to the quarter inch.

I wondered if the teller had ever had the benefit of an educational experience that asked her to think for herself. And of course I thought about the importance of the arts in education. Many a student came to me over the years armed with white-out and anxiety about getting their writing "right" -- an attitude I tried to dispel by building confidence through creativity and confirmation that their voices mattered. The evidence of the value of creativity in education abounds. From the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities to the marvelous Edutopia to Americans for the Arts and the Knight Foundation, it does not take much digging to find stories of turn-around schools, classrooms, individuals, and communities through the arts. And if you visit the iO Facebook page you will see an unfolding gallery of the way creative expression illuminates the lives of students of all ages as well as their teachers, schools, families and friends.

The next day I dropped by the newly opened Live Coal Gallery on Trumbull in Detroit, where I met my friend Yvette Rock, the founder of LIVE COAL, and her girlhood friend Maria Soledad Jofre.


Yvette worked for InsideOut Literary Arts Project as our first artistic director for five years, and I am proud to be a supporter of Live Coal, which had its opening reception on Friday, with Maria as the featured artist. Yvette and Maria had attended arts-infused middle and high schools together in Miami and were happily reflecting on what that has meant to their adult lives. Think discipline, entrepreneurship, enthusiasm, and dedication in addition to creativity. Maria's intriguing work is worth a visit to Live Coal, and what a difference Yvette Rock is making to our community!

Just one block away on Trumbull stands an all too typical boarded up, burned out example of Detroit's abandonment and decay. But walk a few more steps to the intersection of Trumbull and Warren and you'll find a building of the same vintage, transformed into a solid, beautiful, living testimony to the arts.

I'm proud that Live Coal will dedicate 10 percent of its proceeds to InsideOut (iO) in the month of May. So please patronize this wonderful gallery, and stay tuned for details of a reception prior to iO's May 23rd GET VERSED gala celebration of youth poetry and art at the Detroit Institute of Arts Film Theatre so you can enjoy performances based on poems like the one below.

The Gold Dragon

Jay was rollerblades & loaded guns.
He was the gold dragon dangling from around my neck.

Remember when we were five and we were at the
park down in Tennessee and we jumped off the
monkey bars and both broke our arms?

Remember how we used to jump off that bluff, over
the one-lane road of cars, down into the Tennessee river?

Remember how we used to go hunting in the
mountains and the woods, that time you threw
your jackknife and killed a jackrabbit?

I remember.

I remember Jay's hands, strong, gentle hands.
And Jay's hair: it was like night.

I remember how he never liked to be inside his
house unless it was to sleep.

I had seen guns before. I'd seen guns in Jay's
hands. I watched as he walked back over by the
door and then I watched him lift the gun up to his head.

I got down on my knees, beside Jay, and I held
onto his hand. His hand felt like there was nothing

-"Gold Dragon" by Stefanie Wilson
Western High School, InsideOut Literary Arts Project