Creative Collective gives students an emotional outlet to rediscover their creativity
Sarah Warren ’99 is an early childhood educator and children’s book author who creates biographies spotlighting the incredible work of BIPOC women. However, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder this past summer, Warren struggled to be creative. “I was grieving and angry, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t feel comfortable protesting because of COVID-19 and other safety concerns, so I was trying to think of other ways to be involved,” she says. “I felt very confused about how to participate and was feeling trapped by the situation.”
Several weeks later, Warren found Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, a 12-week guide to rediscovering your creativity. By using self-reflective techniques — morning pages, artist dates, and responding to weekly prompts — Warren “fell back in love with creativity” and began wondering if there were other people in the community who would benefit from Cameron’s words as well. She then contacted Vice President for Equity and Inclusion María Pabón about starting a creative support group on campus in response to the recent pushback against “Ole culture.” Together they launched a new Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion program called the Creative Collective.
“My hope was that the Creative Collective would create a circle of support. St. Olaf can be a wonderful place, but it can also be isolating. If students are feeling the stress of being in an environment that doesn’t feel safe, maybe this can be a safe, welcoming space where people can explore their creativity,” Warren says. “I want people to feel confident in their own ability, ego, mind, heart, and body. The value in finding your creative voice is knowing where you stand and knowing what you can do to move forward no matter how difficult things are because you know the best part of yourself.”
Creativity is self-discovery
The Creative Collective is currently made up of four core members, plus Warren. Roommates Allyvia Garza ’21 and Tija Atkins ’21 were inspired to join the program because of their ambitions to lead more creative lives.
“Creativity is a cathartic way to release emotions and invite new experiences in,” Garza says. “I’ve always been interested in doing something creative because it’s an integral way in how I see the world. Especially during this pandemic, creative work can be really transformative and help people cope with deeper emotions. It’s a way to get outside of your head and explore your thoughts without it being spelled out for you.”
“The Creative Collective helped with my creativity and served as an emotional outlet,” Atkins says. “I expressed and found myself throughout the process. It made me more confident to create what I want and to claim myself as an artist.”
Similarly, Sophia Evans ’23 wanted to step outside of her comfort zone and start using art as a form of expression. “I was so afraid of art because of perfectionism, which is a huge roadblock for a lot of people, but that’s the whole point of dipping your toes into something like the Creative Collective because there are no stakes,” she says. “Creativity is something that makes you happy and is something that allows you to express yourself. It’s not skill or talent necessarily. It’s about doing things that give you energy and how much in tune you are with what inspires you.”
Joanna Perez ’24 joined the Creative Collective a few weeks after everyone else and is appreciative of how everyone inspires and supports one another. “This group encouraged me to think more deeply about certain topics and actually have a conversation. It’s an easy and open space to share our thoughts, and you can be yourself without worrying about people judging you,” she says. “We were able to expand our creative minds because everybody learned from each other. From this group, I learned that something as simple as writing can touch people in so many different ways, and it’s incredible how creatively we can make art.”
Creativity is the future
According to The Artist’s Way, many people lose their creativity at a young age, especially if they have caretakers who are afraid of their children’s creative spirit. This is due to the negative stereotypes about pursuing a career in the arts, and results in people being dissuaded from expressing creativity.
“Growing up, there was a lot of shame and self-doubt that I wasn’t good enough to pursue what I wanted to,” Atkins says. “I had a lot of doubts from adults and other people, but that was because I wasn’t surrounding myself with other artists who understand. Now that I’m around other artists who are also passionate, that helps me become the artist that I was meant to be.”
However, creativity is not limited to raw artistic ability. According to Perez, everyone has passions that translate into creativity. “Anybody can be an artist or be creative if they really try,” she says. “It’s just about what you want to work at. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing, and that helps you find your calling.”
One of the reflective exercises in Cameron’s book is to imagine your inner critic and personify it in this way:
Imagine your inner critic — you know, the part of your mind that always tries to identify flaws and mistakes. Now personify that figure. Give it a name, a voice, and distinct characteristics. Visualize this new character and create art from its form. What do you see? Is it a monster? A movie character? An inanimate object?
In personifying your inner critic in this way, people are creating distance between themselves and self-doubt, which interferes with self-expression.
“Moving from a place where you are so reactive and worrying about what other people are thinking all the time to playing and doing these exercises to build yourself up, to enjoy the way that you think about things, it’s a special and precious way to approach the world,” Warren says. “To love yourself enough to have a little fun with how you express yourself. One of the activities is to think about your internal critic then personify it. By doing that, you can see that it’s just a voice. It’s not you.”
Creativity is healing
Creativity is not only a form of expression, it’s an opportunity for restorative rest. This is especially important for BIPOC communities where “self-care, healing, and freeing our soul is not something we practice regularly,” says Pabón. The Creative Collective provides a space for community building and learning how to care for ourselves.
“Students of color were just giving and giving and giving,” Pabón says. “But there’s an impact that giving has on us, especially during a time where there’s so much pain and healing that needs to happen. It’s important to teach our younger generations how to stop and care for themselves and each other because if not, we cannot continue to do important work. That is the power of this program: healing, teaching us how to care for ourselves and each other, and also helping us to create this freedom of our soul and who we are.”
While unintentional, Atkins recognizes the power of having the Creative Collective be made up of all women of color. This has given her a safe space to explore different aspects of her identity and grow as an artist.
“St. Olaf is a predominately white institution, and I’ve gotten so used to being the only person of color in a class. A lot of the times I felt uncomfortable to speak or my opinion wouldn’t be asked. But the Creative Collective, being in an environment where people look like me, it made me more comfortable to open up. I felt heard and I felt seen,” she says. “The Creative Collective is a safe space for artists to discover themselves. It’s healing and a journey of finding your inner artist. It’s just an amazing experience, and I encourage anyone to be a part of it.”
Sarah Warren ’99Moving from a place where you are so reactive and worrying about what other people are thinking all the time to playing and doing these exercises to build yourself up, to enjoy the way that you think about things, it’s a special and precious way to approach the world.
Garza echoes Atkins and shares that the Creative Collective has allowed her to be vulnerable with both herself and the other participants. “It wasn’t a conscious choice to be vulnerable. It was easy to talk about what’s happening on campus. Maybe there was an insensitive remark made in class, and we could unpack that together. It’s been helpful for having difficult conversations about race but in a lighthearted and connective way,” she says. “There’s no judgment or fear of sounding stupid or insensitive because we’ve already shared so much of our art and our childhood, so this new element of race, it wasn’t ever anything that I had to unpack too deeply. It was mostly listening and reflecting on each other’s experiences.”
Learning from one another and sharing each others’ successes is one of the most rewarding parts of being involved in the Creative Collective, according to Evans. By actively engaging in the process of accepting people’s life experiences and perspectives, Evans feels that she has become less judgmental.
“I’ve learned so much. I’ve become a better listener because all four of us are so different in terms of artistic styles. I’m listening to someone else’s excitement, and hearing how they’ve come through their own points in life, challenges, and accomplishments, I can get a window into their process. From that, I can find inspiration and apply that to my life as well,” she says. “We’ve touched a lot on acceptance of our imperfections and looking at mistakes as these little signatures of us and shaping those into really good things instead of things that we run away from. I’ve also taken a step back from being judgmental because I see things from a few different perspectives. There is no right answer to literally anything. It’s how you shape the situation.”
Tija Atkins ’21St. Olaf is a predominately white institution, and I’ve gotten so used to being the only person of color in a class. A lot of the times I felt uncomfortable to speak or my opinion wouldn’t be asked. But the Creative Collective, being in an environment where people look like me, it made me more comfortable to open up. I felt heard and I felt seen.
The Creative Collective is an intentional space for art, expression, and conversation. Members actively encourage each other to go beyond their limits and discover themselves as artists. Moving forward, Warren hopes to continue the Collective with diverse groups of people who all bring different perspectives to the table.
“It has not been what I imagined at all — in the best possible way. It feels like a place to talk about our dreams and creativity with people who are rooting for you. I feel really honored that I have this chance to get to know the women who joined the Collective. They are so daring, driven, thoughtful, and creatively bold. It’s been really exciting to get to be inspired by them,” Warren says. “I hope that we can continue, and I would love to keep doing this with anyone who wants to participate. Creativity should always be changing so it doesn’t get stagnant. It’s fun to be challenged to keep growing.”