I’ve published seven books, mostly about education reform and the role and impact of athletics and music on our educational system and society. One of those, Sports in School: The Future of an Institution, is a book I edited. Once published, I vowed never to edit another. Asking a dozen or so individuals to write an essay and then managing not only the process of keeping them on track but also their writing styles was, at times, exhausting. However, it was necessary to bring context and stylistic consistency to the project. In short, it was like herding cats.
That said, there was a tremendous benefit to working with people with extensive experience and expertise in various subject areas. Working through an essay with someone with wisdom and expertise different from my own stretched my perspective, knowledge base, and worldview. It forced me to rethink many ideas, beliefs, and theories. Despite the headaches and frustrations, editing that book amounted to an advanced post-doctoral education. It re-energized and shaped my perspective and writing for the next decade. You can learn a lot by asking intelligent and successful people to organize their thoughts, processes, theories, and stories and put them to paper. It is educational and inspirational as you learn how they leverage their knowledge and talent to impact and drive change.
While I have done a fair amount of writing, speaking, and publishing on the transformative power of creativity and the role of music and the arts in our schools, communities, and society, there is still so much more to learn. And who better to contribute to a book on creativity than a bunch of “creatives” who have had tremendous success in applying out-of-the-box thinking to solve problems of all shapes and sizes and, in the process, transform their businesses, organizations, and communities?
So, in a moment of confusion, delusion, and lack of good judgment, I decided to ask a bunch of creatives…thirty-four of them…to each contribute an essay on how they leverage their art form and the creativity it spurs to transform their community, in this case, Lancaster, PA. Clearly, I had lost my mind.
From a former to the current city mayor to a pediatrician, from a bar owner to a mixed-media artist, from a CEO of a live entertainment company to an architect, and from a filmmaker to a hip hop “artivist,” the experiences, knowledge base, and perspectives are wide-ranging. The result is Lights on Lancaster: How an American City Leverages the Arts to Transform its Communities, an eclectic collection of styles and narratives ranging from the academic to the instructional to the personal. There is something for anyone interested in the arts, the creativity they inspire and develop, and how that translates into community impact and transformation.
This book could have easily contained another thirty, forty, or fifty Lancaster creatives who are leveraging their talents to make this city the vibrantly diverse and wonderful place that it is. Thus, I owe an apology to all of those who, while certainly deserving, have not been included. That said, it’s quite likely that my head would have exploded if this project grew to the point where I was responsible for herding sixty cats.
Focusing specifically on Lancaster was also enlightening as I have realized that Lancaster is not unique in being a home to a deep, broad, and impactful pool of artists and creatives. If you look hard enough, the potential to harness the arts and the creativity they inspire and nurture to transform communities exists in every city, town, or neighborhood. The challenge for community leaders is effectively seeking out, highlighting, supporting, and investing in the arts for community building, progress, and change. How can the potential synergies between and among artists, businesses, non-profits, and governmental agencies be leveraged to build community? While some may think of them as extra or merely something nice for a community to have, the fact is the arts are the glue that holds our communities and society together. They are universal in their impact and influence. Whether related to education, economic development, community building, public health, or social justice, the arts are indispensable for educating, healing, and building community.
That said, despite the challenges and headaches of herding over 30 creatives, it was well worth the effort. The experience was thought-provoking, mind-bending, entertaining, and sometimes a bit crazy. And clearly, the project is infinitely better as a result. It is a much deeper, richer, more expansive look at just how powerful the influence creatives and the art forms they employ can have on our world. That impact is pervasive, reaching and influencing virtually every nook and cranny of our communities and society. Hopefully, this collection of essays effectively illustrates that transformative impact.
In the end, I hope this effort expands the boundaries of how we harness the arts and uplift the creatives who employ them to transform the world, one community at a time, perhaps starting with your town, city, or neighborhood — even your block.
Lights on Lancaster will be released on October 3 and is available for pre-order through this link.