Scholars' dreams come true

Jan 23, 2003, vol. 26, no. 2
By Carol Thorbes

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SFU professor of drama education Sharon Bailin stands beside a statue of Pliny the Younger, a Roman orator and statesman dating back to A.D. 113. Scholars believe that the Roman consul once owned a villa on the Italian site where the Bellagio study and conference centre now sits with the statue of Pliny on its grounds.

Time to think, an inspiring setting and fertile conversation - they are the wistful wishes of beleaguered scholars consumed by classes to teach, papers to mark and administrative duties to perform.

For a month, such wishes came true for Sharon Bailin, a professor of drama education at Simon Fraser University's faculty of education.

Bailin was one of 145 scholars out of 850 applicants who won entry to the Rockefeller Foundation's month-long residency program at its prestigious Bellagio study and conference centre in Italy, last year.

The program offers scholars worldwide a rare opportunity to research and exchange ideas in an inspiring setting. A well-rested Bailin talks freely about the brief life she enjoyed as a pampered scholar with uninterrupted research time, all living expenses paid.

“Every morning we woke up to the smell of fresh-cut flowers in our exquisitely furnished villa rooms,” remembers Bailin. “At night, weather permitting, we had cocktails and dinner on a raised patio over looking Lake Como, the mountains of Northern Italy and the Swiss Alps.”

Equally important to Bailin was how tied this academic retreat was to her research topic. The author of an award-winning book on creativity, Bailin is one of a few scholars doing a cross-cultural analysis of creativity.

Their research could greatly benefit educational theory on nurturing creativity in multicultural settings.

Bailin's research hinges on the belief that the a-cultural, psychological view of creativity, popular in modern western societies, may not apply in societies more embedded in tradition.

Bailin is looking at how different societies' philosophical beliefs shape their views about creativity.

What better place to research such a theory than at Bellagio, a village in the heart of Italy, the birthplace of the modern western concept of creativity during the Renaissance period.

Easy access to actual works of art gave Bailin a rare opportunity to examine the changes in how the arts were practiced and viewed during the Renaissance. The in-residence scholars' nightly presentations of their research before dinner at Bellagio also inspired Bailin.

“The presentations of a contemporary British composer and a U.S. visual artist demonstrated how much more self-involved artistic production is in modern Western society compared to the pre-Renaissance period,” says Bailin.

“But, then again, a conversation with a classicist about Roman society also reminded me of the importance of recognizing a society's view and practice of creativity can differ.”

The classicist had noted that although ancient Roman society revered the past and professed to discourage novelty, it was a society filled with innovation. Examples of such incongruity may play into Bailin's exploration of whether Western notions of creativity exist in other societies.

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