Capacities for imaginative learning

I’m a fan of core principles, or at least statements of core principles, because they offer such a productive launch point for a focused conversation. If you tell me what you believe to be at the center of things, we can explore together where we disagree on the basis of our thinking, rather than the tactics and strategies we use.

So, I was pleased that an associate pointed me to the Lincoln Center Institute, the education arm of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and their on-going effort to define and advance core principles of aesthetic education in public schools. Their nine ”Capacities for Imaginative Learning” offer some useful language to define the goals of integrated arts education. But to my eye, they also describe the core competencies of a vibrant and engaged cultural organization, or even an ”artful manager” (the following excerpted from ”Aesthetic Education, Inquiry, and the Imagination,” available for PDF download):

  • Noticing Deeply: To identify and articulate layers of detail in a work of art through continuous interaction with it over time.
  • Embodying: To experience a work of art through your senses, as well as emotionally, and also to physically represent that experience.
  • Questioning: To ask questions throughout your explorations that further your own learning; to ask the question, “What if?”
  • Making Connections: To connect what you notice and the patterns you see to your prior knowledge and experiences, as well as to others’ knowledge and experiences….
  • Identifying Patterns: To find relationships among the details you notice, group them, and recognize patterns.
  • Exhibiting Empathy: To respect the diverse perspectives of others in our community, to understand the experiences of others emotionally as well as in thought.
  • Creating Meaning: To create your own interpretations based on the previous capacities, see these in the light of others in the community, create a synthesis, and express it in your own voice.
  • Taking Action: To act on the synthesis of what you have learned in your explorations through a specific project. This includes projects in the arts, as well as in other realms….
  • Reflecting/Assessing: To look back on your learning, continually assess what you have learned, assess/identify what challenges remain, and assess/identify what further learning needs to happen. This occurs not only at the end of a learning experience, but is part of what happens throughout that experience. It is also not the end of your learning; it is part of beginning to learn something else.

Do the above describe the core values of your arts organization? Your management style? Your programs, educational and otherwise? If not, where would you suggest different language?


  1. says

    The Capacities for Imaginative Learning are now used throughout the Institute’s practice, in all professional development initiatives and, increasingly, in public schools that collaborate with the Institute.
    Perhaps the best way for any educator, arts administrator or artist to acquaint him/herself with the Capacities, and the Institute’s work in general, is through the National Educator Workshop, which will take place in New York July 6-17; or by registering for an online course. The latter is actually a series of four facilitator-guided courses that replicate faithfully the Institute’s hands-on method via digital medium, including a study of a work of art that was designed specifically to live in a virtual world.
    To find out more about both of these opportunities, visit

  2. Barbara Harkins says

    NEWs will take place in more cities than NYC this summer. For example, there is one in Chicago, West Memphis, Palm Desert, and in my current city of residence, Kalamazoo, Michigan. As stated, you can check them out at

  3. Katie Nixon says

    The idea of embodying a work of art and enjoying it with all your senses is a great idea. You have to receive the total sensory package when you experience a work of art, and arts organizations can help their audiences to experience the artwork to its fullest by offering a new way of seeing, hearing, or feeling a work of art that an audience member might not have considered before. Having an emotional connection to a piece of art is also key. It’s hard to forget the time you cried at the opera or jumped out of your seat with excitement at the theatre.

  4. says

    These capacities would work brilliantly if they were applied to our businesses right now – they could do with a dose of imaginative learning! I’m thinking specifically of the financial institutions where managers and bankers need to apply these principles to themselves first: notice deeply, question, make connections … then maybe, just maybe, they would stand a chance, and so would we, of some reconnection of integrity and success.

  5. audra says

    These ”Capacities for Imaginative Learning” would not only be very beneficial in one’s organization but also very effective in any endeavor concerning the growth of knowledge. I feel that these are timeless core concepts.

  6. Margot Parrish says

    I love this idea of an all encompassing connection, whether it be to a piece of music or a performance. One of the most important things to me when I take in a piece of artwork is my ability to make connections. If I can relate anything to another experience that I have had or something I have learned it makes it that much more real and important to me. I do agree that the ability to emotionally connect is important too and the involvement of as many of the senses as possible, but for me it is making connections between art and reality that makes the biggest impact.

  7. Charlotte says

    I that questioning and making connections are very important core values when it comes to art. Art, of all kinds, is unique in that it expresses ideas and feelings that are nearly impossible to express only in words. As the author Victor Hugo put it, “…expresses what cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent”. Questioning and making connections are the way to discover the relevance and meaning of the art, rather than arts for aesthetic purposes only. Realizing the purpose and meaning of the art is just as important as creating it.

  8. Amelia Rabelhofer says

    These core capacities are the basics of what i use in my organization with my team. Ours are a little more condensed though and relate to more of a creative process. The most important i think it to be able to define what you’re doing and know why you’re doing it so that you can evaluate it properly when it is done. Questioning is always a good thing. It helps look at things from a new point of view and continue to define your purpose.