A New Creative Arts Center– Now is the Time

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By Lark P. Palma, head of school

From the Summer 2011 Caller

Our alumni will tell you: Catlin Gabel taught them habits of thinking and new ways to question their world—and new ways to practice and develop their innate creativity. These skills of thinking and creating serve them well as the basis for fulfilling careers and satisfying lives. And in fact these days, as the world quickly changes, creativity is fast becoming the skill that colleges, graduate schools, and employers look for first. In a time of rapid change, those who adapt and flourish best are those flexible thinkers who are not afraid of innovation.
There is no discipline better than the arts to encourage and develop creativity. Our classes in music, theater, visual art, media art, and woodshop call upon our students to stretch themselves, take enormous leaps, and learn to express themselves through mediums that are often unfamiliar, and scary at times. A blank canvas, a role in a play, an assignment to make a music video, an instrument they’ve never played before—all demand courage and a connection between brain, hand, and heart.
We’ve done amazingly well at Catlin Gabel over the years in providing places for creativity to take hold. But we can do better. You’ll read in this issue about our plans to build a new creative arts center. And I couldn’t be more thrilled to present these plans to you. I believe that this is what Catlin Gabel needs most right now, and I hope that my conviction and enthusiasm for this project will grab you, too.
As you walk our campus, you see students of all ages benefiting from the facilities we’ve built, such as our light-filled Miller Library, our Warren Middle School with its wonderful gathering space, the well-loved Lower School Art Barn, and Upper School science labs where authentic, original research is taking place. But our Middle and Upper School arts programs sorely lack the facilities they need to best help our students expand their creative skills.
We all gladly do what we can with what we have on campus. But it makes my heart sink to see our Middle Schoolers performing in the tiny, dilapidated Chipmunk Hollow, or watch Upper School students painting, printmaking, and drawing in a room that can’t accommodate a large work of art. It’s time for us to provide something more in keeping with our ambitions for our students.
By providing a center for creativity, we will send our students out in the world prepared to navigate a new landscape. Last year Newsweek published a feature story about the creativity crisis, noting that the U.S. is losing its status as the nation of ideas that others imitate. Fortune 500 companies must know it, because many now administer creativity tests to future employees. Colleges and universities realize this: among others, Princeton, Brown, Pomona, and Stanford are also building creative arts centers. Important discoveries in science, exceptional business models, and successes of all kinds are born from the wellspring of creativity—the new, the great idea.
In our new creative arts center, the free flow of thought, creative energy, and mixture of all the arts in true collaboration will help forge the kinds of minds that generate big ideas. Our students will build on those habits of creativity and confidence to be poised for innovation—in fields that include science, math, technology, and engineering. We have to make sure that our children can create jobs for themselves that don’t even exist yet, and that they have the fire and drive, fueled by creative thinking, to make a difference in this world. Let’s give our students the creative boost they need to succeed.