“The time-honed tradition of politicized mischief is back … “

Eli Rosenberg, The Brooklyn Paper

Don’t just brainstorm, artstorm!

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“Often such little small cultural experiments open up space and possibility for the bigger changes to happen. The real seeds for revolutionary changes can grow in artistic practices.”

John Jordan
In Sum

When seeking to awaken collective intelligence, brainstorming can only get you so far. “Artstorming” invites participants to jump directly into the unmediated experience of creation, engaging the full spectrum of our creative intelligence. Better ideas, and often amazing creations, result.

Brainstorm sessions should be a great way for groups to arrive at an idea that is better than an idea that an individual could have come up with alone, but they often don’t work that way. In a big group, the ideas of a few people who feel confident enough to share their half-baked musings tend to drown out the rest. Yale researchers actually found that brainstorming can reduce a group’s creativity. So when collectively designing an arts action, instead of brainstorming, try artstorming!

When artstorming, instead of a blank wall where people write up ideas from the group, everyone stands up and starts improvising together with all the tools at hand. Instead of theorizing about what would look or sound good, they try it out. It starts with physical movement (proven to enhance creative output), then some form of improvisation (word association, or improv theater games) which prepares the brain to take risks.

Artstorming is useful because it:

Makes space for multiple intelligences and fluencies: Artstorming creates space for the spatially, kinesthetically and musically gifted folks who might be alienated from a verbal brainstorm.

Invites people to be fully present: By engaging the full spectrum of our creative intelligence, artstorming taps into parts of us that might be snoozing most of the time. These parts will be badly needed in an arts action.

Supports creativity: In an artstorm, people’s honest expression of the feelings and ideas that brought the group together in the first place are safe to come out and play, so more expression happens.

Is anti-capitalist: That’s right. Hakim Bey asserts that under capitalism we have become increasingly alienated from our direct experiences with each other and with our art. Artstorming is an opportunity to reconnect with ourselves, our art, and each other.

To design an artstorm, begin with the simple question, “What art could we use to effectively tell X message to Y audience to achieve Z result?” (X, Y and Z are figured out prior). Use a brainstorm (not all brainstorms are bad) to list all of the different art media possible, including both visual and performance arts. Next, break up the room into groups that will artstorm using one to three media of their choice to develop their message. After ten minutes, have each group report back and give each other feedback so each can arrive at a focus for the next stage. Allow people to switch groups at this time if they’d like. Now the real artstorm begins, focusing on a single idea from the first round with a group of people who all want to make it happen. Invite people to take turns experimenting, with minimal verbal feedback. Eventually, groups will hit on an idea that works and morph into a group-led process of artistic co-creation.

Potential Pitfalls

Some people may find an artstorm terrifying. Don’t force people to do it or assume everyone is comfortable working this way. For those who declare discomfort with spontaneous creative work, give them a different role: say, offering verbal feedback to ensure that the groups are staying on-message.


Levana Saxon is an organizer and educator with Practicing Freedom, using participatory action research, popular education and Theater of the Oppressed to generate collaborative community-led change. Over the last seventeen years she has trained and facilitated thousands of children, youth and adults. Some of the groups she has worked with include the Paulo Freire Institute, Rainforest Action Network, Center for Political Education, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Youth In Focus, El Teatro Campesino and multiple Oakland Public Schools. She currently co-coordinates the Ruckus Society’s Arts Core and facilitates trainings and dialogues with the White Noise Collective (www.conspireforchange.org), which she co-founded. She can be found at www.practicingfreedom.org.


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