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June 14, 2016

The Next 20: Prem Gill

The Next 20: Prem Gill

This year is ArtStarts' 20th Anniversary. As we celebrate our accomplishments and impact, we are also inspired to think ahead about what the next 20 years hold for young people. What role can art and creativity play to support our next generation to thrive in the future?

To help us explore this question, we sat down with 20 community leaders across different sectors and asked them to share their story and thoughts on the relevance of art and creativity. Over 20 weeks, we'll share these stories with you. We hope that they will inspire you to join our community of supporters so that together we can continue to build a bright future for BC's young people.

This week's Next 20 community builder is Prem Gill, CEO of Creative BC. With a background in communications and the broadcasting industries, Prem's dedication to the advancement of the creative industries in BC granted her one of the Globe and Mail's Top 10 Women Who Matter in Film and TV. 

What have been some key influences in your life?

Media has always been a key influence in my life and I am a huge consumer of content. When I was in Grade 5, I remember someone in my family subscribed to Consumer Reports – the magazine that provides product ratings and reviews – and I was so amazed by how all that information was gathered in such a useful way. This inspired me to want to be a consumer advocate and help people have the information they need to make the decisions they want.

Growing up in the Charlie's Angels era I didn't always see myself represented in media and the arts in general. I knew I wanted to help change that. After high school, I remember looking at the course catalog for SFU and when I saw the Communications program, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. Storytelling as a way to enable and support people to tell their stories is what puts that fire in my belly.

How would you define creativity?

Creativity is about taking an active approach to life. It inspires risk-taking and encourages you not to expect perfection right away or all the time. In reality, letting go of our expectations for perfection is really hard. We want to hire the best staff, write the winning proposal, buy the right couch, bake the perfect cake, have positive conversations with our family, but we can't expect a positive outcome every time. We can't always win. We can't always do everything. 

Part of my creative practice is to make time in my schedule for grounding activities. Whether it is exercising with my trainer or spending time with family, I make sure to schedule it in so that nothing else can happen during those times. Our family ritual is to get together every Sunday for dinner and when I spend time with my parents, siblings, nephew and nieces, I feel nourished both literally and spiritually. 

What does creativity look like in your personal/professional life?

When I joined Creative BC less than a year ago, one of my first tasks was to develop the organization's strategic plan. Being new to the organization, I knew this was going to be a big and challenging project.

Rather than taking a more traditional approach to strategic planning I decided to take a risk and use a creative approach called Design Thinking that was first coined by IDEO. Design Thinking brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. I connected with the UBC Sauder School of Business', and with their support we managed to bring 80 people together (board, staff, government, industry and other stakeholders) and worked through scenario building and storytelling to draw out the framework of our plan. During the first few sessions, I saw the uncomfortableness and I remember thinking – oh no, is this going to work? But we pushed through the discomfort and ultimately came out with a powerful plan at the end.

What sparks your curiosity?

I like to question things. Being new to Creative BC, I'm the one who asks "why" a lot. I'm not trying to be contrarian, I'm just interested in being open to opportunities to do things differently if it can help us move forward. I often remind myself that I don't have all the answers and that I don't know everything and that is what inspires me to keep exploring. If you think you know everything, you become less curious.

What do you think the world will be like in 20 years?

Technology is going to have an increasing presence in our lives – I don't know about you, but Googling something seems to come up at every dinner party. I am interested in how technology will continue to integrate in our lives and whether our ability to connect with others across geographic boundaries will help us feel more connected or more isolated. 


At ArtStarts in Schools, we want to ensure that young people across British Columbia have opportunities to develop their curiosity and creative potential and to build skills to thrive in the next 20 years—and beyond.

You can help us realize our vision by donating today and joining our community of supporters.

Learn more about ArtStarts in Schools and the work we do and discover additional ways you can show your support.

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