What’s Your Creative Practice? Readers Respond

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In an earlier post (and in some gentle nudging of our colleagues) we asked you to share examples of your own creative practice.  These might be ways you find inspiration and re-charge,  ways you work together with your colleagues, or ways that you creatively approach our work as a field.  Casting a broad net for these ideas is critical to our creative success, ensuring, as Angela Kipp wrote when I asked to quote her in this post,

Good ideas should be free to share and encourage, not to be kept as a secret-only-passed-from-project-manager-to-project-manager-on-the-deathbed.

Here’s some tremendous responses from around the world we’ve already received–and we hope these to inspire your contribution to our project.

Where do you find inspiration?

For me, nothing beats walking my incorrigible dog. Getting out, away from my desk, clearing my mind, and not thinking about the challenge at hand actually helps me see the challenge more clearly. My best insights come when I am blocks from home. (Remembering them when I get home . . . now there is the real challenge!)

                                                                                              Susie Wilkening, Reach Advisors

Honestly, I would have to say that some of our most creative ideas have come from our rather quiet and remote natural setting and (for lack of a better term) free and unstructured “play” with the children who attend different programs or day camps at our site…On another walk through the woods, children started to identify their own landmarks and claim their own lands in the uncharted territory around them. Which led, quite naturally, to a program on 19th Century explorers, making maps, surveying the land, documenting flora and fauna, making sketches and collecting specimens.
In a nutshell? My creativity gets flowing when I am able to walk out into the untouched wilderness just beyond our parking lot in the company of children who remind me of my own inner child. That’s when the imagination gets flowing and the possibilities present themselves.

                                                                                           Ann Cjeka,  Program Coordinator

                                                                                      Ushers Ferry Historic Village, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

How do you work creatively with your colleagues?

For me the best way to be creative is to leave the premises and go somewhere crowded, such as a coffee shop or a bookstore. Sometimes I take the whole staff to these places and have a brainstorm there. To be out of my usual workplace (wherever it may be) seems to help already. But it’s also great to go to a good big bookstore where we can get inspired by different images (art, nature, design, cooking or children books), music and people talking about all sorts of topics.

                                                                                           Claudia Porto

                                                                                          Presidente do Comitê de Comunicação do Conselho  at COREM – Conselho Regional de Museologia 2a. Região
Rio de Janeiro Area, Brazil

But sometimes it’s good to NOT talk about work:

There are times in a creative team when thoughts and ideas don’t flow anymore. You can discuss for hours and nothing new comes up. You can stay up for long hours in the evening, it just doesn’t get any better. It’s getting worse. You begin to criticise one another instead of letting ideas flow. That’s the time to call it a day.

Even if it’s in the middle of the day: call your team together and let everyone drop the mouse, hammer, pencil, whatsoever. Important: Nobody leaves the team. Rally your team and go to the next restaurant or cafeteria, given to the time of day. There’s only one rule: don’t talk about the project and don’t talk about work altogether. This might lead in the beginning to silence, because no one is accustomed to that. But then, slowly, people will start to talk. About their children, pets, school days, sports, all things “allowed”. They will tell stories. They will laugh. The benefit: people will know and understand each other better. They will find similarities they haven’t realized before. Shared interests. Other ways of thinking. Other ways of lifestyle. Stay as long as it takes (especially as the project leader, others may leave early because of family duties and so on) and listen, listen good. It’s important to don’t go back to work on that day (no, not even the project leader!). But on the next day you’ll realize that all are empowered by a new spirit. You will find new ideas, ways you haven’t thought of before. But it needed this harsh break for a new beginning.

                                               Angela Kipp

Collection Manager, TECHNOSEUM

Mannheim, Germany

And sometimes you need to commandeer a space to think more creatively:

One thing that we’ve used on a project at the Canadian War Museum is a “sandbox”.  The idea was to create a space where anyone could come in and play around with ideas and questions that we were grappling with. It was a humble cubicle wall in a high-traffic space, with push pins, post-it notes and coloured markers. We used it to post questions, ask people to vote for preferred solutions to problems, and even help choose exhibition content. We put up sample text and invited people to edit and comment. We made an effort to provide results and updates so that people would know that their contributions were valued. We used the label sandbox because we wanted it to be playful and open to all.

Kathryn Lyons

Senior Interpretive Planner, Canadian War Museum

Where do you find creative ideas?  You listen to people, as one volunteer board member notes:

At the Granite Falls Historical Society, Andrew J. Volstead House Museum, I personally see our more creative ideas coming from outside the board.  Recently our small town had a play done for another event (through a grant) where these two young talented people from outside our area got historical stories , wrote a play and got residents from the town to participate, it turned out wonderful and will lead to more of these this summer.  This set our standards  higher for walking tours, etc. and showed us what is possible in portraying history.  The young people are also receiving our annual history award this year.

Mary Gillespie

And, sometimes, even your desk is both creative inspiration and product.  Jason Illari at the Fire Museum of Maryland sent a surprising and inspiring description of his daily practice.  (Yes, creativity should become a habit!)

When I found myself giving a speech about Tennessee history, fixing a broken hinge on a barn door, picking up chicken from the caterer, sending the auditor pdf files for an audit, and scheduling a conference call for a grants meeting online-all in one morning- at least for me I needed a sanctuary- I craved it…and it became my desk! How many people can honestly say their office desk is a sanctuary ! For the past 5 years or so, my office desk has become my sanctuary or canvas…

Every day I spend at least 1 hour, yes I said it, at least an hour of my time on my personal canvas…I imagine in my minds-eye a painting (my desk space) and my goal is to paint a beautiful painting  on the canvas throughout the day and then totally erase it by the time I leave work (I admit beauty is somewhat relative and that’s ok). Every morning I have a new canvas which MUST be empty by the time I leave work. (I guess working in the arts, the canvas verbiage was a natural fit) The painting is not my work, per say, though it greatly enhances my work …my canvas is my desk space, my pens, pencils, folders, coffee mug,my lamp, trash can, photo of Daniel, place where I put my car keys, place where I put the museum keys, clips, grants portfolios, chair, calendar on the wall etc etc etc etc. and email ….all the tools of the trade…and what happens when the artists tools are missing, broken, sloppy, not beautiful, scattered,  not adequate, mis-labeled, or in some one else’s art’s studio….. their craft is often hindered and not as effective. At lease this was true for me. I think the concept transcends just “being really really organized” because people organize things in their own way…but the canvas as a sanctuary, a place which is beautiful for each individual in their own way.

In the spirit of Angela’s comment that began this post, we don’t want you to hoard your stories about creative practice, we want to share them.  We want to hear about what you do on your own, what you do with your colleagues, and ways that creative work has expanded into both the museum field and your own community.  Don’t worry about perfection; we’ll help you edit them later.  You can send them anonymously if you wish in the comments below, or email either one of us:  Linda(at)lindabnorris.com or raineytisdale(at)gmail.com.  We’ll of course, ask permission before sharing them further.

Thanks to all those who’ve shared already–and to the rest of our creative colleagues– take that 15 minute break and share your story.

Image: Sandbox in Washington Square, New York City,  1980,  New York University Archives.


2 thoughts on “What’s Your Creative Practice? Readers Respond

  1. This is great—and inspiring! As someone currently investigating the well-being of museum professionals, I can’t help but think this kind of creativity contributes to the well-being of people who work in museums as well as to the well-being of our museums themselves. I think it can go the other way, too, that staff with good well-being may be in a better place to be creative, but what I love most in reading this is the idea that creativity improves visitor experience, yes, but that it improves the internal experience of museum work. Inside out!

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