Engage with Us and with the Creative Museums Movement

Over the past few months we’ve been thrilled with the response to Creativity in Museum Practice. The most heartening part is that museum professionals are telling us it’s already making a difference: they’re boosting or renewing their own creative practices, talking to co-workers about creativity, and taking steps forward in their work. We love talking to colleagues about creativity–hearing your stories, answering your questions, strategizing your creative challenges–because our goal all along was not just to write a book and call it a day, but to start a creative museums movement that would spread throughout the field. So with that in mind, here are a few upcoming opportunities to engage with us and with creative museum practice:

If you’re attending the American Alliance of Museums conference in Seattle May 18-21, please join us for one (or both) of our creativity events:

  1. We’re holding an informal creativity meet-up in the skybridge between the two halves of the Museum Expo (Level 4 of the Washington State Convention Center) from 4:00 to 5:00 on Monday, May 19. We’ll have creativity tattoos, art supplies to trick out your name badge, and fresh pressed juices from Evolution Fresh. Bring your creativity questions and meet other colleagues working to build creative museums.
  2. We’re signing books in the conference bookstore (Level 6, Washington State Convention Center) from 3:00 to 5:00 on Tuesday, May 20. Bring your own copy or buy one from the bookstore.

For folks in the Boston area, we’ll be holding a workshop and book signing, sponsored by the Boston Emerging Museum Professionals, at the USS Constitution Museum from 6:00 to 8:00 on Thursday, June 5. This event is a twofer: Anne Ackerson, co-author (with Joan Baldwin) of the recent Leadership Matters, will also be there signing books and talking museum leadership. Creativity + Leadership = Creative Leadership–what could be better?

If you can’t attend any of these events, have no fear–we’ve got a couple of new online resources to help you engage:

  1. Colleagues from across the country joined us on April 30 for a lunchtime webinar sponsored by the New England Museum Association. We were blown away by the level of interest and discussion–it was NEMA’s highest webinar participation to date. You can replay the hour-long webinar here.
  2. On April 4 Linda spoke about creative practice with Carol Bossert on her radio show The Museum Life. You can listen to the hour-long interview here.

Every day, you inspire us. Together we can build a creative museum field.



Coming Soon!


We’re thrilled to announce that our book, Creativity in Museum Practice, will be available from Left Coast Press this fall (or of course, you can pre-order now).  We’re deeply grateful to all of you who shared ideas, comments, completed our survey, talked with us at conferences or on Twitter or dove into peer reviewing.  We look forward to continuing lively conversations with each of you–but for now, thank you all!

Last Call for your Creative Practice


We continue to receive great stories from you about your creative practices–both individual and institutional.  I shared some of our thinking as the keynote speaker at last week’s Small Museum Association conference and asked participants for some stories–and I got, among others,  this great doodle by Lauren Silberman.  We’ve collected new stories about a morning drive-time inspiration, a silly idea that required creative persuasion up the management ladder, and from Sarah Brophy of the Green Museum, a need for a view of green growing things to inspire her most creative work.

But we’re still looking for more–and hope that this week you’ll take a minute to jot something down and send it along.  It can be a just couple sentences or a few paragraphs on how and where you find creative inspiration,  how you and your colleagues work together creatively (a report of a great brainstorming session, a solution found, or a great failure),  or how we work together creatively fieldwide.

We want our stories to represent the broad diversity of our field:  so science and technology museum folks,  those of you who are directors,  collections managers and in charge of facilities,  we’re particularly looking for stories from you.

Please submit stories by March 1,  to me at linda@lindabnorris.com or Rainey at raineytisdale@gmail.com.   Our colleagues–that’s you–continue to be a tremendous inspiration in our own creative book process. Thank you!

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.

We Want Your Creative Stories!

P1100623We’ve been scribbling and revising and talking and scribbling and talking and revising away on our book manuscript.  But amidst all that, we now feel that the book will be immeasurably strengthened if we’re not just sharing our own creative stories, but also sharing more creative stories from you, our colleagues.

We’d like to hear from you about the ways in which you nurture your own creative practice.  It might be your own work—where and how you seek out inspiration,  where you find the space for creative thinking,  or the ways in which you share creative ideas with your colleagues.  It might be stories of your organization’s creative practice:  a brainstorming session that really worked;  a redo of a physical space to encourage creative work,  a hiring process that values creativity over degrees;  the ways in which an exhibit engaged visitors in creative thinking; a process that encouraged different museum departments to work together creatively solving a financial issue;  and any process that had you trying and failing, trying and failing, and trying and finally succeeding!

You can share your story anonymously if you’d like or identify yourself and your museum.  You can share it in the comments or email either Linda  (linda(at)lindabnorris.com) or Rainey (raineytisdale(at)gmail.com)  directly.  If we use the story in the book, we’ll check with you first and of course, provide appropriate credit.

But don’t hesitate!  Don’t worry if the story isn’t perfectly written, or if you’re not sure it’s what we want.   Send it along to enrich our book—and, by extension, the creative practice of your colleagues everywhere.

Image:   The Exploratorium collects stories of visitor experiences over the decades.

We ♥ Peer Reviewers

Jose Carlos Norte via Flickr

Jose Carlos Norte via Flickr

I know we’ve been a little quiet lately. It’s because we’re holed away, furiously working on the book manuscript, which is due to Left Coast Press on January 15. And because the deadline is fast approaching, we’re also starting to think seriously about the next step after that: peer review.

We’re working with Left Coast to identify some specific peer reviewers who represent different parts of the museum field, but we also thought we’d throw it out to you, our M&CPeeps, and see if any of you are interested in taking on the laborious but incredibly important task of reading and commenting on the manuscript. You’ve demonstrated your commitment to and curiosity about this topic by following our progress thus far; therefore we think you’d have some insightful feedback to strengthen the final result.

We’re looking for some colleagues to read the manuscript in its entirety, of course, but we’re also considering the possibility of having people comment on only one section of the book at a time, to make room for some reviewers who simply can’t commit to the whole thing. The sections are:

  • Theory: everything museum people need to know about the creativity research
  • Barriers: what’s stopping us from being creative and what we can do about it
  • Creative cultures, creative fields: issues like leading for creativity, hiring for creativity, and building field-wide infrastructure to support creative practice
  • Try This: no- to low-cost activities you can start today to ramp up your own–or your museum’s–creative practice

If you’re interested in participating in peer review, please email us at raineytisdale@gmail.com or linda@lindabnorris.com and let us know how much you’re willing to take on (the whole book or just a section, and if so, which section). From the responses we get we’ll narrow it down to a diverse and manageable group.

How Did Our Electronic Brainstorming Work Out?

trainingIn October, we invited you to participate in an electronic brainstorming session on ways to re-invent museum professional training.  We did this for two reasons:  first,  that we want our book to be as useful as possible and part of that is seeking out new tools, many of them cloud-based, that will allow us to be more creative and work more collaboratively.  Jeff Meade of the Smithsonian’s Ed Lab suggested Wallwisher and we thought it worth giving a try.

Second, we’ve been asking colleagues, as we talk to them about the themes in the book if they feel that graduate programs are preparing emerging professionals for creative work in museums.  And the answer, from everyone, is no.  That’s pretty concerning.  We were curious about what would happen if we asked the field–that’s all of you–about what training should be like.  Could we brainstorm a better solution?  We’ve all been through brainstorming sessions, but there’s increasing evidence that we go about it in the wrong ways.

We put the question up on Wallwisher;  encouraged participation through this project blog,  Facebook and Twitter, and set ourselves for a week of thinking, sorting and evaluating.We got some interesting ideas, some duds, and some inbetween.  Did we consider the experiement a success?  No,  but in the spirit of experimentation and of embracing our own flawsomeness,  here’s what we learned.

About Our Brainstorming

By opening up the process to all comers (crowd-sourcing as it were) we took a leap beyond what might be effective brainstorming in order to see if this online, open method would work.  We found that people had ideas, but it was rare for people to really build upon ideas;  creating and connecting what Tina Seelig calls “a soup of ideas” where they’ve been connected and combined,  and ownership exists among the entire group.   In her book InGenius,  she shares a set of guidelines for brainstorming inspired by Tom Kelly of IDEO in the form of questions.

What’s the room look like?  Our virtual room seemed a challenge–it seemed hard to step back and take in the full swath of ideas.  How could this be changed online?

Who should participate? We made it open to all comers and had participants comment anonymously.  Facebook brainstorms in what’s been described as “2 pizza size teams,”  in other words 6-8 people.  Our group had diverse opinions, but I think couldn’t quite connect.  Would not being anonymous have made a difference?  Should we have handpicked a group or does that risk limiting the pool of ideas?

How should the topic be framed?  In retrospect, our frame was not well-enough defined.  Did we mean graduate school?  or ongoing professional development?  Did we mean training for curators, educators, directors, conservators or even the general public?  A tighter frame might have led to more creative brainstorming.

What else should be in the room?  Because our room was virtual, in fact,  there was everything in the room.  Wallwisher makes it possible to link videos, websites, etc and some participants did so.  Should we have seeded our virtual space with some of this?  Perhaps.

How to start? We should have started with a warm-up,  a silly prompt to begin the process and to open up.

We believed that there were no bad ideas, and when we could (thanks Rainey for taking the lead on this) we encouraged others to build on them,  thinking about each idea as a seed and throwing out prompts, questions or follow-ons.  Seelig describes the process as “build, build, build,  jump!”   In our weeklong experiment,  we didn’t create enough jumping.  Interestingly,  we’re participating in Seelig’s online Crash Course in Creativity and this week have been using Wallwisher with a small group of fellow museum professionals to generate ideas for the problem of it being too hot to sleep.  We’re tasked with coming up with 100 solutions, and the process–of defining, of working with a small group, and of building and jumping–seems to be working much better.  We’ve been able to put our initial learning back to work.

About the Ideas

It’s hard to really re-invent something!  We’ll have another post coming up about what we learned, from all of you, about the future of museum training.

Flawsomeness--embracing those failures–is an integral part of any creative process–including our book writing.   If you participated in the electronic brainstorming (on sleep or training),  we hope you’ll share your observations here so we can continue the learning.

Help Us Envision the Future of Museum Professional Training with Electronic Brainstorming

PLEASE… by Jeppe Hein, Boston MFA

October 15-19, click here to participate

Have you ever taken part in an electronic brainstorming session? Have you ever even heard of electronic brainstorming?

Electronic brainstorming takes place on the Internet instead of in a conference room. A moderator proposes the topic and invites participants. As a participant, you work individually to post as many ideas as possible to an online bulletin board set up for this purpose. You can see everyone else’s ideas, and you are encouraged to build on the ideas posted by your fellow participants. Because it all happens online, many more people can take part, and you don’t have to generate ideas in the same place at the same time. Moreover, you can be anonymous, which sometimes makes the session more effective (ever been in a face-to-face brainstorming situation where the office politics prevented you from voicing a particular idea?). And because the session takes place over a longer period of time (ideas accumulate over hours and days as each person adds them at his/her own pace), the creative process can unfold a little more naturally.

As we write this book we have looked for opportunities to experiment with different tools for developing and expanding creativity. The more we read about electronic brainstorming, the more we want to run a session with our museum colleagues. So we set one up for next week.

For any kind of brainstorming–in real time or online–you want participants who have a deep understanding of the topic at hand but also bring a variety of different experiences and skills to the table. We though the future of museum professional training would be a great topic for our electronic brainstorming session because it meets both of these criteria. If we chose a topic related to collections or fundraising or family programming then only some of you would have the knowledge needed to come up with good ideas. But so many of you have been students or teachers in museum graduate programs, each with your own experience of what worked and didn’t work. So we hope you’ll join us to see what we can come up with together. What does Museum Training 2.0 look like? What new skills are we looking for in our 21st-century museum workers? How can we prepare museum studies students to improve the field from the inside out?

The session will run from Monday morning, October 15, through midnight on Friday, October 19. We’re using an online tool called wallwisher. No log-in is needed and participation is very simple; all you have to do is follow this link, which will take you to our brainstorming bulletin board. Take a minute to read the instructions at the top of the page, and then double-click anywhere to start posting ideas anonymously. Please actively build on other participants’ ideas as much as possible.

You don’t have to monitor the session the entire time–we suggest you check in for 30-minute spurts a few times throughout the week. We will periodically organize the ideas by theme to make them easier to digest. We will also weed out any comments that evaluate the ideas of others (this process is strictly about generating ideas, not evaluating them).

At the end of next week we’ll see what we got and assess how well the electronic brainstorming went. We’d love to hear your feedback at any point in the process–through email, in the comments section here, or on the wallwisher wall itself.

We’re looking forward to meeting your ideas!

Crash with Us!

We’ve just both signed up to take Tina Seelig’s online course on creativity, which is offered free through Stanford University’s Venture Lab.  Yep, that’s right, free.  Thousands of people from around the world will be taking the course, which  “is designed to introduce you to a set of tools for generating new ideas individually and as part of a team, including opportunity identification, reframing problems, connecting and combining ideas, and challenging assumptions. We will also discuss team dynamics, creative communication, and cultures that support creative problem solving.”

Tina’s book InGenius:  A Crash Course in Creativity,  has already been extremely useful to me in thinking about my own creative practice and creative work in museums.  I’m looking forward to deeper thinking and some hands-on project work guided by her–and multitudes of creative thinkers.  The course, which begins the week of October 17,  has several team projects and participants are encouraged to form their own teams.  Rainey and I hope that some of our museum colleagues will join us in the course and we can work on team projects related to some of the thorny problems that museums face today.

We know that creativity happens when we gain new experiences and expand the networks we work with–both in and outside of the museum field.   This is an amazing opportunity to do just that,  so sign up, let us know, and we’ll figure out how to find each other on that first day of class!

Attending AASLH This Year? Come to our Meet-Up!

We’ll both be at the American Association for State and Local History conference next week (October 3-6) in Salt Lake City.  If you’re also attending, we’d love to talk to you about creativity. We’re holding a Museums & Creative Practice meet-up at the conference on Thursday, October 4 from 12:00 to 1:30. Bring your lunch and join us in the South Foyer of the convention center–we’ll have a little Museums & Creative Practice sign.

At the beginning of the meet-up we’ll update you on the project and run through the most important things we’ve learned so far, with the goal of sending you home from AASLH with some quick hits you can immediately start using at your museum. Then we’ll spend the bulk of our time working together on a brainstorming activity designed to help all of us find new ways to approach one of the core functions of history museums and historic sites.

Can’t come to the meet-up but want to talk to us about creativity anyway? Shoot us an email (linda@lindabnorris.com or raineytisdale@gmail.com) and we’ll find some other time at the AASLH conference to get together.