Creativity in the Commons

Cascadia Worship & Arts Workshop

I got packed to get ready to go to the Cascadia Worship & Arts Conference in Seattle, Washington on Thursday evening.

On Friday morning, I started driving at 8:30am. I thought I had given myself plenty of time to drive from Abbotsford, Canada down to 415 Westlake Avenue, in the South Lake Union district of Seattle, for the Early Bird Workshop hosted by Coastland Commons on Creativity in the Commons.

As I was wondering where everybody was, I learned the wifi password at the 415 Westlake café and discovered at 12:55pm that the venue where I was supposed to be meeting at 1pm for the workshop was at University Presbyterian Church, about a 15-minute drive away. I had a 10-minute walk to the car, plus a 15-minute drive, plus a search for a parking spot before I could get to the workshop venue. After all that effort to make sure that I arrived on time, there was no way that I could be less than a half-hour late for a 2-hour workshop.

The Creative Process

I arrived at the workshop in time to see people finishing the collective works of art that the attendees were engaged in. I was invited to participate, but it seemed a little late, and I didn’t have the full context of what people were doing, so I instead grabbed my phone and took some pictures of the group.

The group responded to the artwork that they had created together, lifting up individual sheets of paper to discuss the impressions that each had about each work of art.

One had started out with a lightly drawn circle in the middle. The finished piece had heavy rectangular shapes that appeared to frame the round shapes in the middle. We were asked, “What do you see?” I said that I saw Powers of Ten.

I was referring to a 1977 film by Charles and Ray Eames for IBM.

A film dealing with the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of adding another zero

I learned that this creative exercise was meant to be a visual representation of the similar collaborative work that people engage in when going through a song writing process. These weren’t the steps that they used, but I am drawing from the human-centred design process to add some structure (headings) to what we were doing.

  • Inspiration
  • Ideation
  • Implementation


Next, one of the leaders of the workshop read aloud the story of Jonah.


For about 5 minutes, we wrote in an unedited stream of consciousness about our impressions of the story. In the background, a piano was being played, improvisationally.

Based on the responses that we had, we were to draw out of our writing the words and phrases that caught our attention. We could circle them or diagram the connections between ideas.

On a whiteboard, we gathered ideas from the group, writing down key words, phrases, and verses from the story.


With the words and phrases on the board, the group began to work with the pianist to put words to the melodies that people would hum or sing. The downward movement of the melody became a common theme for the words of the song that expressed the emotions of loss, suffocation, asphyxiation, impending mortality, darkness, disorientation, and a deep sense of overwhelming desperation.

Throw me in. Throw me in. Toss me over. Leave me here.

At the end of the conference, a group of the artists from Coastland Commons, who had led the workshop, performed the song we had created at part of the final plenary session, just before we all participated in the sacrament of communion.

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store