Connecticut Forum’s ‘Creative Artists’ Discussion Welcomes Well-Known Panelists

Trinity Students, Alumni, Faculty, and Staff Attend Event at the Bushnell in Hartford

​Hartford, Connecticut, May 25, 2016 – Trinity College students, alumni, staff, and faculty members attended the recent Connecticut Forum event, “Creative Artists,” at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Hartford. Trinity is among the Forum’s Education Partners, which support open dialogue, lifelong learning, and the free and active exchange of ideas.

(L-R) ​Moderator Alison Stewart leads a discussion with Bill T. Jones, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Nile Rodgers during The Connecticut Forum's 'Creative Artists' event on May 13. Photo by Nick Caito, courtesy of The Connecticut Forum.
The on-stage discussion May 13 featured panelists who are well-known for their creative pursuits: Bill T. Jones is a choreographer, dancer, theater director, writer, and co-founder of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. He has received the National Medal of Arts (2013), MacArthur “Genius” Award (1994), Kennedy Center Honors (2010), and multiple Tony Awards; Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the international bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, and the novel The Signature of All Things. Her most recent book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, explores the nature of creativity and the habits that will sustain a creative life; Nile Rodgers is a Grammy Award-winning musician, composer, arranger, guitarist, and co-founder of the band Chic (“Good Times”). He has produced some of the biggest hits in the careers of Madonna (“Like a Virgin”), David Bowie (“Let’s Dance”), Diana Ross (“I’m Coming Out”), and most recently, Daft Punk (“Get Lucky”).

To help guide the conversation, Trinsition Fellow Chanel Erasmus ’15 – who majored in theater and dance at Trinity – had the opportunity to go backstage during intermission to help select questions from the audience that would be posed to the panelists.

​(L-R) Cristina Pretto ’16 and Georgia Wetmore ’15 at the Bushnell for the May 13 Connecticut Forum event.
The evening’s moderator was journalist and author Alison Stewart. She began by asking the panelists which definition of the word “create” they identify with the most. For Gilbert, “to create” means “to grow.” “It’s about the process of what happens to you during the making of the thing,” Gilbert said. “My creativity is not my baby; I am its baby.”

The panelists may have led very different lives in three separate creative fields, but all spoke about their experiences with rejection. While Rodgers has many hit songs to his name, he told the audience that his failures far outnumbered his successes. “If you want to be a real musician, learn how to embrace failure, because that’s your normal life,” he said.

When discussing overcoming struggles with artistic block, Jones said he encourages dancers to acknowledge a cliché and push it to an extreme. “The sublime is awe verging on terror,” he said. Jones also talked about how he and his late partner Arnie Zane invented the concept of “contact improvisation,” which addressed the politics of bodies and challenged societal norms.

The panelists differed in their thoughts on the notion of suffering for one’s art. Gilbert said, “We’ve come to be obsessed by the idea of the tormented artist. I’m more interested in living for my art than dying for it.”

Jones, however, added, “I think life hurts, and art is oftentimes painful.”

​Greeting audience members outside after the event was the Hartford Hot Several Brass Band, which includes Trinity alumni, staff, and faculty among its members.
Rodgers, who had an electric guitar by his side on stage all night, played a few riffs as he shared the stories behind the creation of songs such as Chic’s “Le Freak (Aw Freak Out!),” Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out,” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Rodgers’ star-studded tales also included memories of Prince and Michael Jackson.

Themes of many of the questions posed by the moderator and by audience members included how the artists handle success, and how they continue to be creative throughout their lives.

Gilbert’s advice for encouraging creativity in children seemed to resonate with the audience. “You don’t teach it; you show it,” she said. “Foster your own creativity, and they will watch you. They cannot resist doing what they see.”

Next season’s Connecticut Forum events will be: “Religion in America 2016” (September 29, 2016); “The Future of Higher Education” (December 1, 2016); “Disruption!” (March 10, 2017); and “A Conversation Between…” (May 6, 2017).

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli