Idea Blog

Apply now: Curb Fellow in Media, Art, and Public Policy, 2014-15

Posted on: March 10th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Applications accepted through Friday, March 28.

The Curb Center is pleased to announce a continuing fellowship opportunity for advanced graduate students in the humanities or humanistic social sciences at Vanderbilt University. For the academic year 2014-15, the Curb Center offers a year-long fellowship to support a student who has completed his or her comprehensive examination and is interested in policy issues raised by media or the arts.

Candidates should be engaged in research that promises to illuminate challenges or opportunities that face any cultural field, including (but not limited to) music, publishing, the graphic arts, film, television, theater, literature, the entertainment industry, or digital media.  Policy concerns may involve race, class, gender, social or political concerns, economic issues, legal questions, government regulation, copyright, urban planning and development, public humanities and heritage preservation, indigenous cultures, international trade and diplomacy, distribution and access, artistic careers, nonprofits, new media, medicine and the arts, creativity and well-being, arts entrepreneurs, public support of the arts, arts education, and more.  We are also willing to entertain proposals that would allow a student to do research on an arts and cultural policy issue related to a dissertation nearing completion.

For more information and application instructions, click here.

Using Google Forms in the Classroom (HASTAC Cross-Post)

Posted on: February 7th, 2014 | 0 Comments

This post originally appeared on on February 7, 2014. The original post and comments can be found here.

Weekly course assignments can be a headache for both instructors and students. Students lament having to print them (let alone do them), and instructors lament opening several hundred emails in the course of a semester. However, there are times when such assignments are pedagogically necessary.

A friend and I both used weekly reading assignment in our history courses last semester as a way to gauge student understanding of material and develop students’ abilities to summarize and interrogate readings. Although my friend teaches high school and I was a TA at a university, our students had a communal complaint about the assignments: “I don’t have the resources to print the assignment,” which was followed up with a “Can I just email it to you instead?” Read More

Tepper named dean of ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

Posted on: December 27th, 2013 | 0 Comments

After ten years of exceptional research and practice at the Curb Center, Steven Tepper has accepted an appointment as dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University. Steven’s opportunity is an extraordinary one, and a testimony to his expertise and stature in the field of arts careers, creative practice, and arts policy.

Sad as we are to see him go, we are also overjoyed for Steven’s success. For a link to ASU’s press release click here, and to read a note from Steven, click here. Read More

Conversations/Conversas with Ashley Larson

Posted on: December 18th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Ashley Larson talks “Conversations/Conversas,” the Vanderbilt Art Dept & University of Sao Paulo collaboration

People often ask me (family members especially), “why are you learning Portuguese?” or “why do you speak Portuguese?” The answer I frequently give is that I have always had a love for the Spanish language and so when I was earning my bachelor’s in Latin American Studies at Cal State Fullerton and they told me that an intermediate level of Portuguese was required, I responded with enthusiasm. Who wouldn’t want to learn a new language and a new culture? Many people think that Brazilians speak Spanish…wrong! The giant of the South American continent speaks Portuguese which is a romance language, like Spanish, but they are not the same. Brazil should not be ignored or grouped with all of the Spanish-speaking nations around the world. Trivia time: Brazil is actually larger than the continental U.S.! It is the B in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and has officially arrived as an economic powerhouse. Unfortunately, the country still has one of the highest rates of unequal wealth distribution; the poor are very poor and the rich are über rich. But, let’s talk about culture and ART! Brazilians pride themselves on being creative and artistic. As most of you know, the 2014 World Cup will be in Brazil. but did you know that the Brazilians have invented a different way of playing ‘futebol’ (soccer)? Bet you didn’t! The “Jogo Bonito”, which literally translates to ‘beautiful game’, is a way of playing soccer that combines style, beauty, and cunning. They even play to the beat of Samba music for artistic inspiration and motivation! But their creativity doesn’t end there. AND … it is not contained within Brazilian borders! Read More

What is a Victorianist doing at the Curb Center? Or, Everything Old Is New Again

Posted on: September 24th, 2013 | 0 Comments[

[Guest post by Elizabeth S. Meadows, @MorbidVictorian, new Faculty Director of Curb Creative Campus & Curb Scholars Program]


Early this summer, Sotheby’s, the famed auction house that brokered the sale of such iconic works as Vincent van Gogh’s Irises and Edvard Munch’s The Scream, announced that a version of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Proserpine will be sold at auction in November.  Proserpine is, according to one assessment, “one of the most internationally recognisable images of the nineteenth century,” and the estimated price of this variant done in colored chalk is $1.8-2.7 million. You’ve seen this image before; Rossetti’s “Proserpine” has appeared on postcards and posters as well as in textbooks, works of literary criticism and art history, genealogies of artistic movements, biographies, and—of course—museums, and even more importantly perhaps, their gift shops.  Nonetheless, my first reaction was simply shock—“You mean you can buy that?!”  Perhaps naively, I had thought that Art-with-a-capital-A can’t be bought, sold, or owned. Read More

“Frantic & exciting”: Clayton reflects on week one of his Coursera LOTR MOOC

Posted on: September 17th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Curb director’s Coursera course launched September 9th

Professor Jay Clayton got 40,000 new students this week, and for a moment, the thirty-year writer and lecturer is at a loss for words.

“It’s been … dizzying!” he finally laughs.

Fifteen minutes after “Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative” launched last Monday afternoon, more than 1000 people had watched a video, and the tech team had discovered (and corrected) two errors we had made in setting up the site. “It’s frantic and exciting at the same time,” Clayton says. “It’s an intense experience of media saturation, of all these multiple channels coming at us at once. “ He pauses then begins to laugh. “And it’s close to overwhelming!”

Of the 40,000 registered, around 5000 are also interacting on Facebook, another group is on Twitter, and then there’s the actual course’s forums—one on J.R.R. Tolkien, the author; another on the game Lord of the Rings Online; another on games in general; and still another for each week’s material—already hold over almost 3000 posts.  Additionally, there’s conversation on the Coursera channel inside the online game, where only people in this course come to chat. “Hang on, I promised I’d say something to them,” Clayton says as he turns back to his laptop where, as Vainamoinen (named for the Finnish minstrel who inspired Tolkien’s Gandalf), Clayton pops in to say hello. Read More

Tepper: technology doesn’t fundamentally change what people want from life/work/social encounters/culture; it changes how we go about achieving these human goals and desires

Posted on: September 5th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Last month’s NYTimes cover story, “High Culture Goes Hands On,” argues that the renaissance of the “quest for experience,” revived by web 2.0 technologies, has museums scrambling to provide “the kinds of participatory experiences available almost everywhere else,” and this has author Judith H. Dobrzynski concerned: “Some of these initiatives are necessary, even good. But in the process of adapting, our cultural treasuries are multitasking too much, becoming more alike, and shedding the very characteristics that made them so special — especially art museums.”

So of course, we asked Steven Tepper to respond:

Very thought provoking piece.  I think Judith tends to lean toward the elitist definition of art in most of her writing, but she raises some excellent points about balance.   As a sociologists who has studied technology’s impact on society, my general conclusion is that technology doesn’t fundamentally change what people want or desire from life/work/social encounters/culture; instead, it changes how we go about achieving these human goals and desires.   So, people have always wanted both sublime, reflective experiences and deeply, social and interactive experiences. They have always wanted experiences that they can share with others.    Technology has changed where, when and how we can achieve these goals.   This is one of the challenges facing any institution—commercial or non-profit.  We build structures and organizations to deliver these experiences in one way, and then technology (especially today), provides people with a host of alternatives and we are slow to adapt.   The real challenge, it seems to me, is to be smart about “modalities” rather than content.  How do people want to experience moments of sublime reflection or intense and passionate, multi-sensory “experience?”  Museums and other organizations need to be open to new modalities — but not change their mission or necessarily their content.   People can still have a deep and reflective experience reading a book on a Kindle, in spite of what all the book lovers said about the demise of reading.   If you are in the business of promoting “reading,” then you should be agnostic about how people get the book or what form the “reading” comes in.   So, fundamentally, what business are museums in and what modalities exist today to help them better succeed in that business?  That is the big question.

Getting Unplugged by Harvey Burrell

Posted on: August 14th, 2013 | 0 Comments

“If you aren’t being challenged, you die”

-Soren, Noma Restaurant Farmer


In light of the Media Immersion workshop I am co-teaching this week, I thought now would be a good opportunity to think about how to introduce people to design thinking practices for the first time. Learning about design thinking is a bit like getting unplugged from The Matrix; the experience is completely foreign, yet still entirely too real. These freshmen will have to use parts of their brains that have atrophied after years of neglect. I want to help them get their feet wet without hurting them, so I can’t have them pulling their creative muscles.  However, I know they are very bright, and since we all have the capacity to be creative, I will need to give them some space.

What will be most difficult is overcoming the judgmental environment that pervades freshmen orientation. It is hard to think of a place more critical and less open to new things that exist outside of the norm than freshmen orientation. Friendships are made and broken on nothing more than a whim. It is like a mass of eager humanity breaking against the hardened brick walls of this prestigious campus. The pure number of people one has to meet requires shorthand notation to help expedite the process. But for those of us at the Curb Center, it is the opposite of what we need. Creativity can only thrive in an environment free of negativity. We need more “yes and” or “plus 1ing,” as we creative types like to call it.  Our goal is to help push these kids towards discovering the new and obscure. I hope to push them and lead them to some experience that breaks them from the safe and routine.

I have reduced my teaching strategies down to a few bullet points that I, for the most part, understand and hope make some sense to the rest of you…


A few of my thoughts:

-       Regular name games are lame. We can do something better.

-       We should do something that we can all fail at, because at least we are failing together. Let’s see if we can break some synaptic connections.

-       Propose a big problem. But keep it relevant and/or local.

-       Ask them to “think wrong” about it. For example, what is the opposite of how you would typically solve this problem? Get wrong. Get weird. Come up with solutions that should make me feel stupid just from having heard them.

-       Ideally, these kids will walk out of here wanting to keep thinking wrong, not just saying yes, but asking why and demanding to know how they can squeeze the university for everything it is worth.


NB – Why name games suck:

-       Because knowing your name doesn’t make us friends, but knowing you have a brain might make me want to listen and listening is where it all starts.


Tangible practices:

My two favorite games:

Thinking Wrong – Pick a problem. Sit in groups of two with sharpies and a pile of post-it notes, spending ten minutes coming up with the wrongest, worst, stupidest ideas you possibly can. Then share with the group.

Crazy Eights – Now, you have five minutes to draw eight possible solutions. Yes, that means 40 seconds per drawing. Better move fast. Now proceed and be bold!



One-on-One: Steven J. Tepper talks Creativity Camp at the University of Hartford

Posted on: August 5th, 2013 | 0 Comments

One-on-One: Steven J. Tepper talks Creativity Camp at the University of Hartford

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Steven J. Tepper guided colleagues at the University of Hartford (Connecticut) through a week of creative experimentation. As happy as we were to see him back in the office, we were even more curious about how others are practicing creativity on their campuses. Here’s part of our conversation.

Curb Center: Steven, before the week was over, Dr. Sharon Vasques, Provost of the University of Hartford, was writing about interactions in her blog. You were on campus as part of the school’s Distinguished Teaching Humanist program, and you were working with Professor T. Stores of the Department of English, who happens to be their Distinguished Teaching Humanist at the moment. So what did you two cook up?

Steven J. Tepper: The invite was to come to the University of Hartford and work with 22 faculty from a variety of disciplines to explore different approaches to creativity and to think about how to integrate creativity more directly into their own classes and throughout the Hartford campus.  Over the course of the 4 days, we took a variety of creativity tests and then discussed their usefulness for assessment; we talked about the cognitive, psychological, social, economic and anthropological approaches to creativity; we participated in “speed dating” where each participant pitched a course and got rapid-fire feedback from 5 different partners over the course of an hour; and we did several hand-on creativity exercises and discussed their relevance for our own research and ways such exercises might be deployed in the classroom.

Curb Center: Is it true that you incorporated improv into your design? Where did you get such an idea? How did that go over? (Did it send anyone sneaking out the back of the room?)

Steven J. Tepper: As you know, the Curb Center has been a big proponent of improv as a technique for developing our creative muscle.  We have invited Second City Improv multiple times to participate in our annual creativity boot camp and we have used improv with our Curb Scholars.  At Hartford, we used improv both to loosen up the conversation and create an atmosphere of fun and spontaneity, where all ideas are welcome.  But improv teaches very important capacities as well that might be useful in the classroom – dealing with ambiguity; deep listening; the notion of teamwork and building on other’s ideas; and a willingness to talk about anything, to make random associations, until a “scene” or a storyline emerges that might actually lead to a productive idea or solution.

No one left the room, so I count that as a success.  There were moments where people felt deeply uncomfortable – but there was great trust in the room and we worked through moments of feeling uncomfortable and typically ended most exercises in fits of laughter.

Curb Center: What did you notice most about the questions and/or the ideas participants were bringing to the conversation? What are faculty curious about? Concerned about?

Steven J. Tepper: The faculty were very passionate and committed to creativity in their own work and teaching.   I think there were several concerns expressed over the course of the workshop. The first was that there is no consensus on what we mean by “creativity.” Several in the group focused on the idea of “non-routine” problem solving; but other argued that creativity does not necessarily have to be problem focused.  Creative work can be exploratory, playful and problem-seeking, rather than focused on solutions.   There was also considerable discussion about whether there was a difference between creative and critical thinking.

Faculty were also concerned that many students are so grade focused that they are risk-averse and would rather have very clear assignments than assignments that might be more ambiguous and require more creativity.

Others were concerned that the creative energy sparked during the workshop would be hard to sustain once the pushes and pulls of daily university life started up again in the fall.  They wondered about how universities can create structures that foster creativity and collaboration on a regular basis, rather than it being some extraordinary activity that faculty engage in above and beyond their normal duties.

Curb Center: Dr. Vasques noted how she is interested “in particular” by your “articulation of creativity as being made up of teachable competencies that can be applied across the curriculum.”   Where are we with identifying those competencies and finding ways to encourage them in our students? In each other?

Steven J. Tepper: I think we have a good sense of what would be included in core creative competencies.  An initial list includes:

  • Improvisation
  • Analogical and metaphorical thinking and remote associations
  • Idea generation
  • Conditional thinking and counter-factuals
  • Expressive agility
  • Radical revision and critical feedback
  • Creative collaboration and nexus work
  • Flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity
  • Empathic reasoning
  • Epistemic curiosity
  • Problem Finding
  • Pattern recognition and deep observation
  • Abstraction
  • Risk taking and learning from failure
  • Ability to consider the ethical, social and policy consequences of  innovation

In terms of assessment, I think we still have a ways to go. There are some good creativity tests that measure whether students have mastered some of the capacities, like idea generation, but few existing instruments truly capture the complex set of skills and processes involved in creative work.

Curb Center: In these workshops, what are you hoping for for the participants? For the campuses you are visiting?

Steven J. Tepper: I think my hope is that participants leave with very specific skills and ideas that they can take back to the classroom. I would also hope that my visit generates some sparks and some enthusiasm among a core group of faculty, as well as the administration, for doing something big around creativity – to consider an initiative that would draw on their unique creative assets to animate the campus and re-think how they connect with students and collaborate across the campus.

Curb Center: I know preparing for and participating in these workshops takes enormous effort, but they also bring significant benefit for both you and the participants. What do these workshops bring to your own research & reflection?

Steven J. Tepper: I am always energized by the opportunity to work with colleagues across the country. Many of the faculty at Hartford were already skilled teachers and had experience teaching creativity to their students.  I came back with several new ideas for my own classes.   I also realize how lucky we are at Vanderbilt that Mike Curb had the vision to endow a Creative Campus program and that everyday we wake up and have resources and university-wide support to implement the types of ideas and programs that w

ere discussed throughout my four day visit at Hartford.

Curb Center: What’s next on the horizon for you and this topic?

Steven J. Tepper: There is so much more work to be done.  I have just written a case statement for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters that argues for the importance of integrating the arts across campus as a key foundation for any creative campus initiative. Once the case statement is published next month, we will visit with higher education associations in Washington, DC, and work with universities across the country to begin conversations around creativity, arts integration, and higher education.

Curb Center: Thanks, we’ll catch up with you again soon!

Click herefor Steven’s CV, and check back for more One-on-One’s with Curb Center faculty, staff, scholars, and fellows!

What Exactly Is It That You Do? by Curb Scholar Harvey Burrell

Posted on: August 2nd, 2013 | 0 Comments

I have spent the summer dodging the question: “What exactly is it that you do?” There is no simple answer. The technical answer is that I work for a design consulting firm, whatever that means, by the name of Future Partners. Future is known for helping companies jump the ingenuity gap aka companies that need help solving tricky problems. Turns out the path to ingenious solutions is rather circuitous. While working with Future I have shot lots of guns, swam in blood lake, drank beer with a member of the White House staff, ate gas station pork chops, and somewhere in the mayhem, I designed a social venture that helps the citizens of Hale County by selling cool bikes. The brand Catfish Bikes was inspired by a love of all things stunt and daring and the once thriving catfish farming industry of rural Alabama. I have worked with two other interns on everything from designing the bike to building the website and launching the brand. We also shot a series of odd videos to help promote the bikes.

Turns out launching a social enterprise is a total mess, but we bush whacked our way through it. The idea hatched during the two-week intensive blitz process in Greensboro, AL. I then traveled to Half Moon Bay, CA to continue working with my two other interns at the Future headquarters. In addition to the development of the Catfish Bikes and the Hot Potato Hack (more to follow on this later), we have also been working on a myriad of Corporate Social Responsibility projects for Microsoft and Genentech, but I don’t want to put you to sleep, so I’ll skip that stuff.

And since I like to sum things up, here are a few of my take away thoughts from the last six weeks:

-       think wrong

-       move fast

-       break sh*t when you can (ideally not yourself)

-       know what dent you want to make in the universe

-       popcorn and bud light is a suitable idea generation tool

-       Last but not least, remember that this is supposed to be fun. The hardest thing to create is fun. When you find that first spark of fun, protect it above all else. If what you are creating isn’t fun, then it doesn’t matter how nice your logo looks. Make it f*ing fun!