Editor’s note: The author is a Lehigh University alumnus (’90) with a BS in Computer Science.
I love telling people that I graduated from Lehigh University. I remember being a student at Pennridge High School in Perkasie, PA when I needed to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life after graduation. My only college application was for Lehigh University. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. It was Lehigh or bust.
My time at Lehigh was challenging and unforgettable. I will always be an “Engineer”. My diploma was my ticket to wealth and corporate conquests. I spent the next 20 years of my life climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying the financial benefits that my employment brought me.
My comfortable life was then interrupted by serendipitous events that challenged my worldview. I met Ugandan artist Fred Mutebi in 2004 as a result of repeated visits to Uganda. He is an internationally recognized artist who has shown his amazing artwork in exhibitions and galleries all over the world. Fred immediately became my “brother from another mother”.
Our unlikely friendship was a blessing despite our differences. I was an analytical engineer. He was a free-thinking artist. I was a white American. He was a black Ugandan. I was raised with all the opportunities and privileges of suburban America. He was raised with all the struggles and obstacles of rural Africa.
Through his life and artwork, Fred taught me something that I had not yet learned in life: the principles of creativity. I had the intellectual knowledge of these principles, but now I was experiencing them applied in the life of a friend. I wanted to apply these principles in my own life.
- Creating something out of nothing
- Survival strengthened by perseverance and persistence
- Unconventional thinking
- Inspired by visions and ideas
- Ability to envision the final product
- Proficiency at overcoming obstacles and detours
Soon after returning from visiting Fred in Uganda during December 2007, I learned about ArtsLehigh at my alma mater. I spoke with the director, Silagh White, to understand the mission of ArtsLehigh on campus. She graciously invited me and Fred to come to Lehigh and participate in a program that was facilitated by the Global Union and Bill Hunter. We visited the campus in October 2008.
Fred spoke with Lehigh students. He explained his amazing multi-colored progressive reduction method of printmaking and his efforts to use art as an educational tool to reach the underprivileged and vulnerable children and communities in rural Uganda. He also spoke with students at The Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and conducted workshops with young students at Holy Infancy School and the Banana Factory. The principles of creativity were a part of his discussions with students.
Fred Mutebi and ArtsLehigh have made it abundantly clear to me how the principles of creativity can be applied to careers, businesses, organizations, and educational institutions. The arts can be a bridge-builder between people and countries. The arts changed my life.
Michael Kirkpatrick writes about his friends and experiences in Africa on Independent Global Citizen.