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Rebecca Monks | Are You Taking Part in The January Challenge?

'Creativity is the essence of who we are,' says Jo Hunter, founder of arts organisation 64 Million Artists. 'It's how we express ourselves. It's how make the most of ourselves.'

The company Hunter runs is rooted in that very idea: that there is creativity inside every single one of the 64 million people in the UK. We're all artists in our own way, and we all have our stories to tell. This philosophy translates to Hunter's social media output, and is exemplified by The January Challenge.

Jo Hunter, 64 Million Artists Founder

'The idea is simple,' the rules state. 'Each day in January, we'll send you a short creative challenge to do. It will only take 5 or 10 minutes to complete, it's free, and any materials you need should be easy to find (a pen, paper, a sense of humour).'

The challenges are crowdsourced, unique and thoughtful. It could be to write a poem or to draw a picture; make a collage, or build a tower of cards. Participants then share their efforts throughout the month, and are given a 'pass it on pack', to help news of the challenge travel far and wide.

When Hunter first began this challenge four years ago, 200 people took part and she decided to keep the momentum going. Now, 3000 people are set to participate, with an impressive social reach of 2.1 million.

'I had taken a month off work,' Hunter says, explaining how the idea came to her, 'and I got different people to set me different creative challenges every day to do. It really changed the way that I was thinking about things, the way that I saw people, and the way that talked about things.'

Hunter decided to formalise the venture, and share it with others because of the positive impact it had on her life. 'The January Challenge really made me take a risk every day and try something without knowing what was going to happen,' she says. 'It improved my mood, it helped me to solve problems quicker, and helped me to stop getting stuck in a rut.

'It pushed me to go to places I wouldn't have gone, or meet people I wouldn't have met. It's really easy these days to end up seeing the same people and doing the same things. It was really great to get out of that habit.'

This idea of getting out of your comfort zone resonated with the participants of the January Challenge, and as Hunter says, being flexible with your own creative output 'can help us to make the most of ourselves.'

'Sometimes, we don't show ourselves at our fullest,' she explains. 'Not being vulnerable with people can sometimes mean that it's much harder to make a connection.

'In the January Challenge, there's something about these little acts of vulnerability every day that help open people up. Yes, it's fun and it's silly. But there's some very deep things that happen as a result of it, because people are allowing themselves to express something about themselves that they might not have before.'

This exercise is an example of social media at its best. As Hunter says, sometimes social platforms can 'bring out bad qualities in people,' but as this challenge shows, 'it can also magnify the best of us'.

'When we're passive online, it's much easier to be aggressive or have an opinion on something or be anonymous. The January Challenge is about being active: going and doing and trying stuff out. People respect it, and it floods their channels with positivity.'

As a result of that positivity, a strong creative community has been fostered online. 'It's not just one organisation pumping out information,' Hunter says. 'It's 3000 people engaging and doing something, making it much easier to spread a message.'

That message is clear: creativity is powerful, essential, and ever-present in our lives - both online and off.

Are you taking part in the January Challenge? Let us know in the comments below or on our Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!

Banner Image: @caroline_south for Shore Projects produced via Whalar.