Creativity is contagious. In fall of 2011, I was asked to be part of something that was virtually unknown, which has since exploded into an international phenomenon that’s shaping the global design and creative community. Mark Busse, a Vancouver-based designer, had the opportunity to create a chapter of a creative movement known as CreativeMornings, so he started reaching out to enthusiastic creatives to help organize, facilitate and run the event.
CreativeMornings was conceived in New York in 2008. Tina Roth Isenberg established an event with a simple concept: breakfast and a short talk one Friday morning every month. Each event would be free of charge and open to anyone. Over the years other cities started forming their own chapters through an application process and approval from NYC headquarters. Creative Mornings is now hosted in 140 cities worldwide and continues to grow rapidly.
Vancouver was the ninth chapter to join in on the action. I clearly remember our first gathering to discuss and coordinate the launch of our chapter. Mark led our team and handpicked our original set of volunteers. There were about 10 of us in the mix, a diverse group with various skills and creative disciplines. Ryan Mah and myself were placed as the A/V team, putting us in charge of filming and editing event footage, and posting it on the CreativeMornings website.
Originally, we were offered a space in the basement of the W2 Media Club in the Woodward’s building, right in the city, to host our monthly event. It was a space that could hold up to 100 people at maximum capacity, and I remember thinking that we would only ever fill half that. I didn’t expect such an impressive, consistent response from the community. Over the years, we have grown so large that our volunteer list has doubled, and our venue has now expanded to a theatre that holds upward of 200 people. We sell out every month with a waitlist that reaches upwards of 500 people.
I’ve now attended and volunteered for fifty five CreativeMornings events, and it has become part of my life; I don’t event consider it ‘volunteering’ anymore. It’s become a true movement, I feel extremely proud of what our team has accomplished, and I can’t imagine how Mark or Tina feel about their influence and contribution to the mix.
The first Friday of every month I wake up extra early and leave my home in Coquitlam at 7:00 am to arrive in downtown Vancouver at the SFU Woodward’s building theatre by 8:00 am. When I enter, approximately 200 seats are all in place, and the venues audio technician is checking lights and setting up sound. I take one big last sip of my coffee before unpacking the camera gear and setting up. Within 10 minutes other volunteers trickle into the theatre to ensure we have another successful, smooth event.
Once I’m set up I head down the hall to find the crowd slowly flood into the common area. A few of the volunteers are setting up breakfast sandwiches, coffee, tea and muffins for the crowd. I quickly grab a coffee refill and a veggie breakfast sandwich and head back to the theatre waving to a few familiar faces along the way.
The moment I’ve devoured the sandwich, which is complimentary to all attendees thanks to our awesome monthly sponsors, and catered by the kind people at Save On Meats, I quickly check the audio with the presenter and watch as the enthusiastic attendees finally enter the theatre at 8:45 am, right on time. The theatre’s silence promptly turns to a sudden peak of curious chatter as the early birds walk in to find seats with their coffees in hand and smiles as bright as the stage lights. It’s now 9:00 am and every seat is full with people standing in the back of the room. Mark confidently makes his way to the stage and begins to grab the crowd’s attention. Silence is met with a quick, sincere and warmly met thank you to the sponsors, and brief community announcements.
Mark then delivers a quick-witted introduction about our speaker. This month, Mathew Chow from IDEO took the stage with the global-themed topic of ‘Change’. Mathew gave a 30-minute talk, which touched on various ways we can personally initiate change. He discussed several projects he had worked on that reflect his take on change with the aid of bold, creative slides. Mathew’s talk was met with an enthusiastic applause, at which point Mark initiated the second part of our event: conversation.
Audience members gather into small groups of eight or 10 to discuss the lecture, what they learned, what resonated with them, and further explore the topic. This prompts some healthy debates. The groups then collectively come up with questions to ask the speaker. After 10 minutes of often-animated conversation, Mark jumped back on stage with Mathew and looked to the crowd for questions. This is probably the most engaging part of the whole event, and something the Vancouver chapter can be proud of initiating into the event’s platform.
At 10:00 am Mark wraps up the event with a few door prizes gifted by our sponsors. The inspired group slowly trickles out of the theatre as our volunteers start to stack chairs, and clear out the area. My job is only half done; I spend the next few days editing the video and posting it on to the Creative Mornings global website where every Creative Mornings lecture from every chapter around the world is hosted. Currently there are 3,000 talks and counting on the website from around the globe with various themes featuring many amazing individuals.
While I’ve described the Creative Mornings event, I have not fully shared my experience as a founding member. There are aspects beyond feeling good about taking time to give back to the creative community or helping out with this event. I’ve collected an outline of everything that I have absorbed over the years, all of which have been nothing but positive. I hope these experiences encourage others to participate and take time to create, volunteer, attend and discover events like CreativeMornings.
MEETING THE MOST AWESOME PEOPLE
Over the past five years, I have got the opportunity to meet and interact with some of the most inspiring and creative people. The likes of Bif Naked, Jessica Hische, Gregor Robertson and Vikram Vij to name a few of the creative individuals who have got on stage for CreativeMornings in Vancouver. These wonderful minds leave you inspired for the rest of your day.
The other volunteers and coordinators have become great friends over the years, and our group specifically takes time to set up group outings and gatherings outside of our monthly ritual. It’s these enthusiastic people who also encourage enthusiasm that brews constant inspiration in my mind.
It’s not just about the people on stage or the group of volunteers. If you are willing to wake up extra early on a Friday morning to gather with a group of likeminded individuals then chances are you are someone pretty special yourself. The audience members are just as interesting as our speakers and we proved that this year when we had the audience take the stage. As I’m usually busy with the cameras I only ever interact with the audience before and after the event. It’s refreshing to meet new people and catch up with those who have regularly attended over the years. All of these connections would not have been made had I not been part of the Creative Mornings Vancouver team.
LEARNING, GROWING AND TEAM WORK
I’ll be honest…I had no real idea how to use a camera when I first started filming with CreativeMornings. I had only just started learning about filming and camera gear through Ryan Mah, who led A/V at the time. It was over the few years that I’ve developed skills and immersed myself in film and editing. I’ve proceeded to feel confident enough to be able to take on other filming and editing opportunities as well, which further pushes my limits and provides more valuable experience.
As a freelance designer I rarely get the chance to work within a group or as part of a team. CreativeMornings provides me with that otherwise empty outlet where I can collaborate and work with a group of likeminded professionals. It takes a team of dedicated volunteers to organize and run the event every month, and execute countless tasks. We are fortunate enough to communicate so well that we rarely run into any issues or bumps along the way.
NETWORK AND OPPORTUNITIES
A room full of 200 creative, outgoing and interesting people packed in one theatre provides ample opportunities to meet and engage with creative individuals. Over five years, I’ve not only seen people connect, gain new friendships and acquire job offers. Two attendees who met at CreativeMornings ended up getting married a couple years later. If that wasn’t enough, two of our volunteers met through CreativeMornings and are currently engaged. CreativeMornings seems to really bring people together. You never know who you might meet!
I’ve made my own connections through CreativeMornings, which extend to Designed To Speak. A couple of our CreativeMornings volunteers assist in our Designed To Speak videos and photography. I met both Trevor Jansen and Jake Hermiston through our volunteering efforts with CreativeMornings. Both of them are always eager to assist with new videos, and it’s that mindset of helping others and providing new creative outlets that fosters a domino effect. This creates more creative outlets and collaborations.
Since I’ve been working behind the cameras for CreativeMornings I have also been approached for other filming and editing opportunities. These were solid projects that I would otherwise not had the opportunity to take on had I not been dedicating time toward the events. I’ve since been able to travel to nearby locations for work and have increased my client base. With so many people in the audience every month, it’s rather difficult to avoid opportunities.
PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER
I mentioned earlier that Vancouver was the ninth chapter on the CreativeMornings global roster. We keep close track of our community’s growth and let our audience members know how rapidly CreativeMornings is growing. To have been able to take part early and be the first chapter in Canada allowed us to see this community flourish beyond anything that I really could imagine. I don’t think Tina or Mark saw any of this coming either. CreativeMornings is no longer just a small event held in a handful of cities; it’s now something much bigger. It’s bigger than an event, and stronger than a group or society; it’s a global creative community that is unmatched in its mandate and execution. CreativeMornings is not just a breakfast lecture, it is a place of gathering for those who seek creativity beyond the digital, in an environment full of creative thought and discussion.
Different monthly themes and topics allow for a wide array of great potential speakers in Vancouver. I’ve seen some of the most talented and inspirational people, and it’s hard to fathom that we are actually able to host a high-caliber event when it comes to the names that have rocked our stage. Not only do the speakers influence you, but also their presentation opens minds to see a perspective otherwise unnoticed. Some of these individuals are well known and popular, and others are simply behind the curtain—but the result is always the same. By exploring so many stories, perspectives, and approaches to creativity I’ve amassed insights and discoveries that have increased my own curiosity, empathy and creative capacity.
CreativeMornings has dramatically changed my perspective of volunteering time as well as attending community-oriented events. It’s hard to believe we’re able to pull this off every month at no cost to our audience due to amazing supporting partners both locally and globally. I regret nothing and plan to volunteer with the CreativeMornings Vancouver chapter for as long as I can. Heck, if I ever move from this city I’m sure I’ll be close enough to another chapter to continue my volunteer efforts to this extraordinary community.
I tip my hat off to Tina for being so brilliant and allowing her idea to expand beyond the grasp of New York and our entire team at headquarters that keep the global ball moving. I also have to give heartfelt respect to Mark for spearheading this event in Vancouver and inviting me to take part since day one. It’s truly an honour to be part of this collaborative effort and I can’t wait for the rest of the world to join us city by city. I implore anyone who has not attended a CreativeMornings event to find a chapter near you and check it out. Your creative mind will thrive.
Photos by: Aura McKay, Trevor Jansen, Daniele Cotellessa, and Robert Shaer