Ben Cunningham

Ben Cunningham

“Artists don’t own creativity,” says Ben Cunningham, art professor at Millersville University. “It’s a skill that needs to be developed, much like an athlete working out. Through memory, through repetition, it gets better.”

Cunningham is one of five speakers who will discuss elements of creativity at the Senior Life Institute at Highland Presbyterian Church, 500 E. Roseville Road. The program begins Thursday and runs every other Thursday through Nov. 14.

Lee Barrett, professor of systematic theology at Lancaster Theological Seminary, will offer a keynote address this Thursday on “The Life and Times of Leonardo da Vinci.” Barrett’s talk will focus on the significance of literature and the visual arts during the Renaissance.  

On Oct. 17, Cunningham will discuss cultivating creativity. He will be joined by Donna Benson, a Highland member and past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education, whose topic is “Release your inner da Vinci.”

On Oct. 31, Chris Miller, founder of Innovation Focus, will join with Highland members and local creative individuals to discuss the creative spirit. Those on the panel include Barry Kornhauser, Nancy Mudloff, Freiman Stoltzfus and Paul Thorlakson.

The Nov. 14 event will feature Anthony Lascoskie, costume designer at the Fulton Theatre, who will talk about creating a character. The Rev. Roger Rabey, pastor at Highland, will bring insights into da Vinci’s life using photos from his recent sabbatical to Italy.

Renaissance man

Barrett describes da Vinci as the “quintessential Renaissance man. He was multidimensional.”

Professor Lee Barrett speaks during a seminar at the Lancaster Theological Seminary's Schaff Library.

Lee Barrett

He was an artist and a mathematician — areas, Barrett says, “we now tend to keep separate.”

People are familiar with his painting, but “he also was a sculptor in bronze, that led to casting bronze cannons and military machines that hurled rocks.” As an engineer, he designed bridges and fortifications.

And he had his own views on religion. Barrett describes da Vinci as “a religious maverick, blending Pythagorean theory with astrology and Christian thought.”

His success, Barrett says, allowed him to evade the condemnation of the church.

Cultivating creativity

Cunningham said his students often come to college with a belief that creativity just bubbles up on its own.

“Even though they’re coming in as declared art majors, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re that creative,” he says. “I’ve actually developed a tool called the Reflective Inquiry that walks them through a creative process.”

That includes idea development, historical research, using appropriate materials and discussing how they overcame the challenges they faced.

Being creative is a challenge, he says, and “there’s a responsibility that comes along with producing anything.

“It’s when they realize it’s work, there’s an eye-opening experience that tends to happen. There is a change in attitude and respect. This is a profession; this isn’t something that’s casual.”

Cunningham points out that artists build on their work and the work that has preceded them. And that is where he thinks an older audience — such as those who will attend the Senior Life Institute — has an advantage.

“They have a great deal of worldly experience, which they can draw upon.”

However, one of the disadvantages of age, he says, “is they have lost the ability to play. That is part of being curious as well.”

Registration for each session is at 9:30 a.m. The sessions last from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Lunch is provided. Individual sessions cost $18 each; cost for all four is $68.

For additional information, call the church at 717-569-2651.