By Mary Moore, M.Ed, B.A, OCELT & Cheryl Willson, Brilliant Labs
Imagining what the world will look like in the coming decade can be daunting. Technology is advancing exponentially. Global systems are deeply intertwined. This increasing complexity is set against a backdrop of crises including climate change, exploitation, racism, and inequality. How do we help the next generation develop the requisite skills to navigate this complexity and contribute to a shared prosperity?
In 2020 the World Economic Forum shared their list of the 10 most needed future skills based on the prediction that “With the avalanche of new products, new technologies, and new ways of working, workers are going to have to become more creative in order to benefit from these changes”. A report by LinkedIn fueled the need for adaptive skills sets as repetitive tasked jobs will be “eliminated and automated” (weforum.org, 2020).
Earlier, in 2016, the World Economic Forum published a 21st Century Skills Framework which includes 10 SEL (Social and Emotional) learning objectives. These include creativity, adaptability, collaboration, and cultural and social awareness (Soffel, 2016). Other educators have emphasized empathy as the most important 21st century skill, particularly with the need for collaboration demanded by our interconnected world. (Guha, 2013).
The Role of the Artist
In an Inc.com article: Why the Future of Work Needs Artists, Natalie Nixon, Keynote Speaker and author of “The Creativity Leap”, identifies curiosity, abstract thinking, cultural fluency, and process orientation as key abilities the artist brings to the table (Nixon, 2018). As Nixon explains, integral to these skills are the abilities to think critically, anticipate unknowns, integrate diverse perspectives and disciplines, and perceive and explore varied and complex solutions. Lastly, Nixon writes that the artist is “A Distinctive Visionary”, and will play a key role in shaping our future. Nixon asserts that “the future of work depends on leaders with vision. To be an artist you must have audacious vision, because your work requires a unique point of view” (2018)
Not only do artists embody the kinds of skills required to confront the challenges going forward, their art can play a role too. Walter Osika, a researcher in compassion and empathy at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, highlights the importance of art in cultivating empathy. He states that “Artists can increase empathy in others through their work, eliciting that feeling from people who may be numb from all the terrible things going on in the world, making the viewer more sensitive and vulnerable” (as cited in Logan, 2021). In “Why Art has the Ability to Change the World”, artist Olafur Eliasson highlights not only how art can draw attention to important issues, but that “It can make the world felt. And this felt feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action” (Eliasson, 2016).
Artists and Educators in Action
COLE HARBOUR, NOVA SCOTIA — Nikol is an empathic and passionate grade 11 artist. Recently, her art teacher gave the class a list of big-world-problems: climate change, black lives matter, residential schools and human trafficking to name a few. Nikol’s art teacher is empowering students to channel their concerns, questions and activism into their art. For this project, Nikol chose Human Trafficking.
“When I looked at the list… it spoke to me because I’ve seen it [Human Trafficking]”. — Nikol Strachov, Grade 11 Student, Cole harbour NS, Brilliant Labs Graphic Art & Design co-op
Artists like Nikol feel and are propelled by empathy. They can make difficult topics accessible. They are not afraid to take risks and share their vision. In contrast, the Executive Director of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa said that “many governments are still in denial. There is even neglect when it comes to either reporting on, or prosecuting cases of human trafficking” (UNODC, 2009). Today, the UNODC urges that “governments need to address poverty, underdevelopment and a lack of equal opportunity, and raise awareness.” (UNODC, 2020)
Most of us feel helpless when presented with these global problems. It’s hard to imagine how an individual or community can fix all that has gone wrong. This feeling can be overwhelming. To help, the United Nations has created 17 sustainable development goals for 2030. It’s purpose is to challenge nations, organizations, educators and charities like Brilliant labs to act.
Art provides the opportunity to shine a light into the darkness and create a dialogue. We asked Nikol how she can focus on her work and not be consumed by the pain of this topic. “I put my music on and focus on the process”.
Nikol is naturally creative and when we consider the ‘skill-set’ needed for the future, we’re confident that she and other young artists, creators and makers will be ready to work.
Brilliant Labs is an Atlantic Canadian-based charity. We are a hands-on, experiential learning platform providing youth with opportunities to develop 21st century skills . When creativity, innovation and technology are applied to projects supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), along with a socially responsible entrepreneurial spirit, educators and youth can effect change within their classrooms, curricula, communities, throughout Atlantic Canada, and beyond. (All programming is free and is offered either in-person or virtually.)
Visit Brilliant Labs Magazine for more stories about youth, teachers and innovative projects.
Eliasson, O. (2016, January). Why art has the power to change the world. World Economic Forum. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/why-art-has-the-power-to-change-the-world/
Guha, A. (2013, August 8). Empathy: The most important 21st Century skill. The Learner’s Way. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://thelearnersway.net/ideas/2013/8/8/empathy-the-most-important-21st-century-skill
Logan, L. (2021). The Art of Empathy. School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://www.saic.edu/news/marketing-communications/art-empathy-0
Nixon, N. (2018, June 25). Why the future of work needs artists. Inc.com. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://www.inc.com/natalie-nixon/why-future-of-work-needs-these-hardcore-soft-skills.html
Soffel, J. (2016, March). Ten 21st-century skills every student needs. World Economic Forum. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/03/21st-century-skills-future-jobs-students/
UNODG 2009 https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/global-report-on-trafficking-in-persons.html