Tracy W. Smith, Appalachian State University
Brooke Anne Hofsess, Appalachian State University
Key Statement: Creating intentional, flexible, and interdisciplinary programming cultivates a campus culture where diverse scholarship is supported and creative teacher-scholars feel valued.
Keywords: Mentoring, Creative Scholarship, Belonging
The faculty at Appalachian State University is composed of artists, photographers, sculptors, media makers, creators, composers, performers (dancers, vocalists, instrumentalists, and conductors), and academicians (theorists, historians, educators, therapists, and industry professionals). The nature of scholarly and creative activity carried out by the faculty in these areas is also diverse.
Scholarly activity, creative activity, and professional learning enable faculty to remain current in their areas of specialization, serve as role models for students, develop a strong recruitment base, and support the university’s core value of “faculty excellence in teaching and all forms of scholarship.”
Appalachian State recently created a position dedicated to faculty mentoring and career support. The new director in this position noted that “creatives” faculty infrequently participated in campus writing retreats or other learning community opportunities. To address this, the director designed and offered a Creatives Retreat across 4 days—similar to writing retreats—for those who self-identify as creative scholars across campus (see Figure 1). This programming supports ongoing dialogue in the academy about creative scholarship in terms of documentation, promotion, and institutional support (see, Adams & Meyer, 2011; Cantor & Lavine, 2006; Hays, 1989; Kezar et al., 2018; Miller, 2022; Rautkorpi, 2007).
Figure 1. Example of a product-in-process created by a faculty member during the Creatives Retreat. Image courtesy of Leigh Ann Parrish and Richard Elaver. Reprinted with permission.
The inaugural Creatives Retreat was a “hybrid” opportunity for Creative Scholars to devote dedicated time to their research and creative scholarship activities. Participants completed interest forms for facilitators prior to the retreat indicating the type of work they’d like to have as their focus during the retreat, where they might do that work (e.g., studio, outdoors, office, home), what support or consultations they might need for their work, their aspirational accomplishments, and any other details they wanted to share with the facilitators.
On the first day, we facilitated introductions, including information about our various creative projects and interests. Participants identified a word or phrase to guide them through the 4-day experience. As facilitators, we shared our Statement of Intent: “We intend to facilitate a creatives retreat (or workshop) experience where scholar-creatives feel inspired to work on their creative projects by a community of like-minded colleagues.”
Each morning, one of our facilitators led a Zoom-based creative focus activity, and a session where participants were invited to share tools, remnants, and sources of creative inspiration. Participants contributed photos and other evidence of their creative processes and products to a shared repository. Working independently or with collaborators, we encouraged participants to record their morning and afternoon goals, which were always open for revision. At the end of each day, we gathered again in Zoom to share, document, and celebrate our accomplishments.
At the request of one participant, we arranged for the group to meet in person (see Figure 2). We worked with our local arts center (two of our participants work there) to offer a Meet, Greet, and Make session. The participants lingered beyond the appointed time, delighted to connect in person.
Figure 2. Meet and Greet at the Turchin Center. Image courtesy of Garner Dewey. Reprinted with permission.
The program data we collected focused on processes and cultivating a sustainable creatives community. For example, we noted that interactions, support, affirmation, and curiosity among the 19 participants representing eight departments/units were evident. Combined chat files amounted to 27 pages of messages! Over the course of the week, participants supported each other in learning new software applications, troubleshooting through trial and error, brainstorming methods for creating complex exhibitions, and inventing new tools. These interactions often started in our Zoom chats (e.g., “Weld the tip to a circle of steel.” “Magnets?”) and then went offline to re-emerge in our closing session with a celebration of progress.
Participants also used the chat to reflect on what they were learning (or re-learning) about themselves as creatives. Many of the chats illustrated the importance of this program, including:
Yesterday was the longest chunk of time dedicated to my studio work in sooooo long. I learned so much about my materials, my process, my way of working just by actually doing the work. Late afternoon I finished the outdoor weaving I started in the morning, and am excited to get started on another in response to it.
I was just remembering how hard it is for me to start. Reconnecting to the creative process often means I’m in a totally different part of the river. - so much has drifted past.
After the retreat session, my work mode increased. I conducted online research. I felt motivated yesterday.
Yesterday was the first time I’d spent most of a day writing in a long time. Even so, I found that I got resentful of interruptions. Had to put my crankiness in check, but it made me more grateful for continuing today!
In addition to chat and Zoom, we interacted with co-created texts and images in Padlet, Google Slides, and in-person during the “Meet, Greet, and Make” event.
At the end of the week, we collected some final reflections from participants, including:
It was really interesting engaging with other people in different departments/colleges. I was unsure of the process of thinking and creating within some of these specific spaces, so it was great to hear from them.
It’s given me a great jumping off point. This was the culmination of weeks of work preparing for the project- brainstorming, sketching, sourcing supplies, watching videos, etc. It was really great to feel the project taking shape, which allowed me to think more deeply about the performative aspect and finishing the project out.
In the end, we were most struck by the intangible outcomes we observed among participants and the promise of more investment in supporting both creative scholars and learners (as whole people) and creative scholarship on our campus. Three key ideas emerged from the retreat that will inform future creatives retreats:
Cultivating a dynamic space of wide-ranging, interdisciplinary focus that values play as a creative academic pursuit and elevates diverse ways of knowing and belonging
Facilitating a community ethos based on generosity, collaborative problem-solving, and work in process.
Embracing permission for faculty and students to take creative risks, experiment, collaborate, stretch, and (especially) fail as a generative pathway to creativity.
Implications for Individual Creative Scholars
If your teaching and scholarly activities are focused on creative endeavors, we hope you find ideas here for supporting you and your colleagues. A few points to get started:
Participants. Gather contact information on programs and faculty on your campus and partnering institutions and agencies that are focused on creative endeavors.
Time. Find a period that might work for extended work time. It’s good to have multi-day offerings, because participants can make clear progress on projects that matter to them.
Invitation. Suggested wording: Invite colleagues, partners, and even students to work with you. Share strategies and inspirations that help you commit stretches of time to your creative work. Think together about how you might balance accountability, community, and belonging. Showing up for others helps you show up for yourself.
Goals and outcomes. Set goals and share them with others. Sharing goals and outcomes helps members see how others break large projects into smaller chunks.
Share. Tell your story on your campus and in your professional organizations and groups. Consider a showcase event to share your work. Success begets growth and spotlights the important work of creative scholars.
How might you or your institution support creative scholarship for faculty, staff, and students?
How might you incorporate creative expression in your course activities and assignments?
How might you practice reconnecting with creativity in your own life?
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