Disney Imagineers Visit Institute of American Indian Arts Main Campus Creative Problem-Solving is the Order of the Day

Closing Ceremony (L to R) -- IAIA Distance Education Coordinator Stephen Fadden, (back turned), performing an honor song in gratitude for the generous sharing of knowledge and expertise by Carmen Smith and the Imagineers;  Disney Imagineers:  Nancy Seruto, Yves Benyeta, Carmen Smith, David Crawford, Zsolt Hormay, Debbie Peterson;  Dr. Robert Martin, IAIA President, Eric Davis, IAIA Marketing and Communications Director

Closing Ceremony (L to R) — IAIA Distance Education Coordinator Stephen Fadden, (back turned), performing an honor song in gratitude for the generous sharing of knowledge and expertise by Carmen Smith and the Imagineers; Disney Imagineers: Nancy Seruto, Yves Benyeta, Carmen Smith, David Crawford, Zsolt Hormay, Debbie Peterson; Dr. Robert Martin, IAIA President, Eric Davis, IAIA Marketing and Communications Director

SANTA FE — Key members of The Walt Disney Imagineers Team, the unique, creative force that dreams up, designs, and builds all Disney theme parks, resorts, attractions, cruise ships, real estate developments, and regional entertainment venues worldwide, visited the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) campus on December 10 & 11, 2014.  The gathering was organized by Dr. Robert Martin (Cherokee Nation), IAIA President;  andCarmen Smith, Vice President Creative Development, Exclusive Strategies for Walt Disney Imagineering.   This is not the first project that IAIA has executed in collaboration with the talented staff from Disney – Disney/ABC Television group and IAIA have worked together on a Summer Television and Film Workshop for many years.

As creativity is central to the mission of IAIA, Dr. Martin invited the Disney team to discuss the creative, innovative, and problem-solving processes and principles that guide their work.  Disney Imagineering’s unique strength comes from the dynamic global team of creative and technical professionals building on the Disney legacy of storytelling to pioneer new forms of entertainment through technical innovation and creativity.  Members of the team visiting IAIA included Carmen Smith;  David Crawford, Executive R&D Imagineer;  Creative Executives Zsolt Hormay and Nancy Seruto;  Yves Benyata, Executive Creative Director for the Paris portfolio of Disney attractions;  Laura Cabo, Architectural Design Studio Executive;  andDebbie Peterson, Executive, Creative Development for Walt Disney Imagineering Florida.  The main goal of the visit was to communicate to the IAIA participants the value of teams working collaboratively to create, build, and accomplish complex tasks that are truly incredible and beautiful – to enhance IAIA’s mission to empower creativity and leadership in Native arts and cultures

The gathering began with a campus tour on December 10 followed by a get acquainted dinner at The Compound.  IAIA participants in the program included Dr. Martin;  Alex Shapiro, Director Institutional Advancement;  Ronald Solimon, (Pueblo of Laguna), Director Center for Lifelong Education;  Patsy Phillips, (Cherokee Nation), Director for IAIA Museum;  Bill Sayre, Director of Institutional Research;  Carmen Henan,(Eastern Shoshone) Dean of Student Life;  Nena Martinez-Anaya, Enrollment Management Director;  Laurie Logan Brayshaw, Director, Sponsored Programs;  Lawrence Mirabal, Chief Financial Officer;  and Eric Davis, Marketing and Communications Director – plus staff members Marth Becktell and Ryan Flahive, faculty members Courtney Leonard (Shinnecock Tribe), and Daniel Banks;  plus 6 members of the IAIA student body.

The name “Imagineering” combines imagination with engineering. Building upon the legacy of Walt Disney, Imagineers bring art and science together to turn fantasy into reality and dreams into magic.  They possess a broad range of skills and talents, and thus over 140 different job titles fall under the banner of Imagineering, including illustrators, architects, engineers, lighting designers, show writers, graphic designers, and many more.  Most Imagineers work from the company’s headquarters in Glendale, California, but are often deployed to satellite branches within the theme parks for long periods of time.

After introductions and a loosening-up exercise, the workshop began in earnest on December 11.  Each member of the Disney Imagineering team gave a presentation based on their own personal experiences within the Disney organization.  Stories included addressing cultural and language differences on foreign projects, design and construction narratives, and research and development ideation.  Because of the scope of most Disney projects, teams tend to be multi-national, multi-cultural, and exist only for the length of a particular project.  Due to of the high level of complexity, it is critical that each team member quickly knows and understands their particular role.

Most of the Disney programs involve storytelling – and the team was well-versed in that area.  But each project has a different story, (as explained by the Imagineers), and how to tell the story is as important as the story itself.  Each story starts with inspiration:  to share it you then need to do research and develop an execution plan.  As was shared by the team, “chaos is the enemy”.  Organization – even in a creative environment – is one of the keys to success.

In addressing the creative aspect of these programs, a key factor that many of the presenters addressed was “backstory” – what factors from the past (real or imagined) impact the current project – and how that can be integrated into the final design.  Another was “creative discomfort”, a concept that celebrates the diversity in the team — and postulates that differences in opinions and viewpoints ultimately lead them to the best and most creative solutions.

Based on their experiences working on projects throughout the world, many of the Disney team reinforced the idea that you need to understand a situation before you can judge or criticize it – and that communication is the most important part of any team project.  When communicating your thoughts, it is crucial to think about the needs of others and be aware that stress impacts both your communications and reactions to other peoples’ messages.  The Imagineers also stressed that it was important to “learn from the past, to guide you through the present and lead you into the future”, a truly important concept indeed.

Dr. Martin believes that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with – and learn from – an amazing group of creative and intelligent people.  The Imagineers reiterated the importance of collaboration and flexibility in facilitating problem solving.  In summing-up the event, Dr. Martin stated that “Carmen Smith and her Imagineers are some of the most amazingly talented, creative, and nicest people with whom I have had the privilege to work;  and I hope that this event continues to grow Disney’s close, collaborative relationship with the IAIA family”.

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