Before the classes had begun, the Vanderbilt Curb Scholars were hard at work getting their year off to a creative start. They spent a week attending the Curb Center’s Opening Retreat, a series of workshops, exercises, and a field trip to The Farm, an intentional community located in Summertown, Tennessee.

From their experiences at the Retreat, the Curb Scholars enter this year with new methods of problem solving, innovative ideas for campus projects, and much to continue pondering as they begin another year as creatives in their academic work and elsewhere.

Throughout the week, the scholars examined the idea of utopia, traveling to The Farm with John Bielenberg as part of his “Ingenuity Blitz” program. They investigated the original ideas behind The Farm, such as being removed from big business, and how The Farm functions currently (they did have to take out bank loans, for example). Scholar Caitlyn Le noted that her expectations for this kind of community involved “a spool of sprawling fields overflowing with vegetation, angel-haired hippies dressed in loose white linens toiling away under the sun.” Instead, she writes that The Farm’s inhabitants “described the hundreds of people who once populated The Farm. In all their nostalgic meanderings, they must have been blind. Because around us, there was no movement. Nothing a Geiger counter could pick up.”  However, scholar Lucy Rahner importantly mentioned that “it was admirable that they’re trying to live intentionally at all. Putting a belief or idea into practice is hard, particularly if it involves moving across the country, relying on the generosity of others, and going against the grain of society.” Intentions of the community and its current state provided much for the scholars to consider as they began to form project ideas around the idea of utopia.

From their experiences with Bielenberg’s “Ingenuity Blitz” program, the scholars turned to project ideas for the upcoming year. One creative method nearly all the scholars responded to similarly was “thinking wrong.” Scholar Madeline Mooney noticed that “starting with a seemingly absurd, silly, stupid, or outlandish idea can actually lead more easily to a great, realistic idea.” Though “thinking wrong” was difficult at times, it seemed to lead the scholars to original, unexpected ideas for the semester. Scholar Grace Cowan reflected, “I was surprised that the ‘thinking wrong’ exercise we did in regards to utopias actually resulted in some pretty great and interesting ideas” and that thinking wrong is “a great way to get ideas flowing when you’re experiencing writer’s block.”

For example, scholar Tony Maina and the rest of his team developed a project that he describes as “an idea [seeking] to encourage people to ‘unplug’ from digital media and their devices and consequently reconnect with those around them.” He notes that the idea session began somewhat chaotically, but as a direction became clear, “[the team] spent more time valuing each person’s input and that fostered a feeling of collaboration.” In addition, all four teams of scholars left Opening Retreat with strong project ideas for the semester.

The experience of Opening Retreat also led the scholars to learn about creativity and the creative process in general. Reflecting on the Retreat and its exercises, scholar Jonathan Tari writes, “I began to realize that trying to analyze this activity, to pigeonhole and question it, was not going to help me at all. The entire workshop was simply a way of forcing us to be creative in order to prompt something real from us.” Furthermore, scholar Austin Channell realized his own “brand of creativity:” “I realized that my mind reaches novel conclusions by making novel connections between existing ideas and molding them into new conclusions.  In hindsight, I realized that many of my past endeavors had in fact been creative, though I had failed to recognize them in the moment as such.” Similarly, scholar Rachel Anand responded to looking back on her creative life, noting the value of a “creative and visual journey back through our lives,” which “[helped] us find meaning in the little things.  It was special to be able to look back on my life and see all the little building blocks that molded me into who I am today.”

As they head into a new year, the Curb Scholars are ready to take what they’ve learned and put it into practice, with several ideas at work already to make the Vanderbilt campus and greater Nashville community a better place. They all, as scholar Serena Deutch notes, look forward to the opportunity to use the Curb Center as a resource: “I see the ways in which the Curb Center will help me fulfill concrete innovative dreams that were previously just lofty meanderings of my busy, creative mind.” Importantly, scholar Anjelica Saulsberry remembered the end of the tour of The Farm, writing that “the guide left us with one important quote: Find what you love, and then pick a lifestyle that fosters that love.” The scholars intend to do just that this year: find projects about which they are passionate and then work hard to share them with the world.

Be sure to check the Curb Center blog throughout the semester for updates on the Curb Scholars and their projects!