How Diversity Inspires Creativity

How Diversity Inspires Creativity
Zeny Shifferaw

If we peel back the layers on some of today’s iconic cultural moments and mainstream trends, we’ll see that the inspiration behind these ideas often comes from diverse subculture communities. Ironically, these communities were at one point—or still are—regarded as insignificant or left out of the mainstream discussion.

The reasons why innovative ideas are born in these communities can vary: it could be a means of survival, an act of rebellion or purely a new form of self-expression. Either way, there is no denying diverse subculture communities have fueled mainstream culture. Let’s take a look at a few instances where we’ve seen this play out.

The 2019 Met Gala was a statement-making moment where the hottest celebrities rose to the occasion and upheld the Met Costume Institute’s theme of the year. This year, the theme was “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” inspired by the camp aesthetic known for being over the top, exaggerated and a theatrical expression through fashion. Lauren Fisher of Harper’s Bazaar says, “Camp can be theatrical, it can be ironic, it can even be humorous, but no matter what, camp is a crucial way of capturing and expressing the zeitgeist of any time period in culture.”

While celebrities dressed in their best rendition of camp, Emmy-award winning screenwriter Lena Waithe used this moment to remind people of the significant contributions the black LGBTQ community had on camp. “Black Drag Queens Invented Camp,” written on the back of her tuxedo and on display for the world to see as she walked the red carpet. The black queer—often still marginalized—community, of which RuPaul has been a standard bearer for, used camp as a creative output (drag balls, voguing, vernacular, etc.) which now inspires mainstream culture.

Lena Waithe at the 2019 Met Gala

Another example, and perhaps one a bit more obvious is the influence of hip-hop culture. Born in the culturally diverse—yet also marginalized—black and brown community in the South Bronx neighborhood of New York City. In the 1970s, DJs were hard at work creating a new sound with the invention of sampling, breakbeats and scratching techniques. Couple that with outdoor summer parties, a new form of self-expression through movement (break-dancing), rhyming on a beat (MCs/rappers), and you get the birth of hip-hop. What was once seen as a radical creative output for a community evolved to an established musical genre. Now, hip-hop culture permeates every facet of mainstream culture from fashion to music, to sports to more.

Question Brainstorming

Our world is filled with a diversity of thought, experience, beliefs, self- expression, cultural practices and more, which means the opportunity to create and the sources of inspiration are
endless. The U.S. census indicates that “by 2020 more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group.” In a time where nothing is one dimensional and everything monolithic is being challenged, it behooves us to seek inspiration from beyond the spaces we find comfort in. If we absorb the people, places, opinions, and experiences that are different than our own we may find the inspiration for our a-ha moment. The only thing I ask is that you properly credit whomever or whatever serves as your source of inspiration.

What inspires great ideas? To me, the vibrantly diverse world we live in is likely a significant contributor. So the next time you are in a brainstorm or looking for that big idea, take a step back and challenge yourself to be more curious. Maybe the breakthrough you’re looking for will only come by breaking out of your own echo chamber.