My Tipping Point: Becoming a Philadelphia Creative Connector

Introductions, conversations, brainstorming and, of course, cocktails

I received a letter in mid-August that I had been named one of Philadelphia’s “76 Creative Connectors” by Leadership Philadelphia. My “awesome” was pretty much immediately replaced with “what is that?”

I continued to read the letter and saw that Creative Connector was a term coined by Malcolm Gladwell, which he expounds upon in his book The Tipping Point. So then I thought, “Did I read that?” I thought I had, and there was his later book, Blink, right there on my shelf, but where was The Tipping Point? Did I read it or just hear so much about it that I thought I did, like maybe having read Paradise Lost, and most likely having seen The Maltese Falcon.

So. A very cool honor, no matter what it is, right? The letter said that the announcement would be made in early October, and that media might contact us and there would be some sort of reception in late October. Good news, I figured, because it bought me until October to figure out what being a Creative Connector is.

But a few days later, I got a request to fill out a survey. A long, long, detailed survey. This is an unusual nomination, an honor really, but now I am being studied, as in “LEADERSHIP Philadelphia’s Connector Project identifies under-the-radar leaders, studies them in order to teach others to connect, and celebrates their success.”

A few days after I filled out the survey, NewsWorks WHYY contacted me and asked me to write an essay about my experience as a Creative Connector, so it all got a lot more real and a lot more complicated.

I had to (re-?)read The Tipping Point in order to “get it” well enough to write the essay. The essay was tough; I had a lot of false starts and difficulty with what my objective was. One night I was at a Painted Bride Quarterly meeting before one of our bimonthly events, and I remembered something a friend I met through the Painted Bride Art Center said about our 20-year friendship. I introduced a Rutgers PBQ alum to a Drexel PBQ editor, and had the epiphany I was waiting for: connections. In my essay for WHYY, I simply told my story of my life with PBQ.

Writing the essay really did help me to wrap my mind around the term, which was great, because by the time it was announced, and the PR and communications arms at Drexel picked it up, I’d say about 30 percent of the folks who stopped me on campus or poked their head in my office door or sent me emails, had the courage to follow up their “Congratulations!” with, “What does that mean?”

A few days ago, I started sending them to Jennifer Child’s video on WHYY Newsworks. Childs is artistic director of 1812 Productions and interviews herself as the character Patsy, a S. Philly native. Her very funny video explains the Connector concept.

My running joke has been: What is going to happen when 76 Creative Connectors are put in the same room? On Tuesday, I found out. We Creative Connectors were convened at World Café Live. (Interesting in itself, no? I have convened before, but I don’t know if I’ve been convened.)

The biggest difference between this group and other large events I’ve been to was that everyone said hello, everyone came toward you with his or her hand out. Mouths were moving all over the room, and I couldn’t have flown under the radar if I tried. The energy was palpable. The room itself was smiling. Many people already knew each other, but I guess that’s no surprise, either. At one point, my son called, and I had to leave the room, but I felt comfortable leaving my bag on my chair because after all “Creative Connectors are hubs of trust, seen as trustworthy and credible.”

We had assigned tables and since “Creative Connectors engage with diverse groups,” I sat among people from wide-ranging disciplines—graphic arts and web design, dance, architecture and photography. The vice-president of cultural tourism for the city, Patricia Washington, was there. The photographer Jacques-Jean Tiziou poured water for everyone at the table because, after all, “Creative Connectors consider the common good as well as personal agendas.”

Liz Dow from Leadership Philadelphia and Chris Satullo from WHYY Newsworks gave presentations and taught us all more about the concept of connector and the objectives of the program. We were told that we are being invited to a big soiree with all three rounds of connectors. (So, now I have until the end of November to imagine what a room with just under 300 connectors will be like!)

Each table then brainstormed ideas about organizations and artists’ needs. No one interrupted; no one argued; everyone really listened to one another and optimism abounded. One of the ideas we hit upon was a big success because, after all, “Connectors convey a vision that generates excitement.”

The whole experience was exhilarating and exhausting. We went upstairs to make more connections and have cocktails. Most of us made a beeline for the bar because, after all, “Creative Connectors think strategically, act decisively.”